This Independence Day weekend, we had a lot on our minds. Part of the frustration many of us feel with political matters these days stems from the distinct impression that we’re not being heard. Here are some ways to take advantage of the channels for civic and political participation, how they work, and why it matters.

Definitely prod those whose job it is to help speak on your behalf. You have a lot of representatives in Oakland. Start with these folks:

Block and neighborhood level: Your NCPC: Want to address crime in your neighborhood or find out when the next NCPC meeting is? Your Neighborhood Services Coordinator can tell you what’s being done, when groups meet, and who the neighborhood Problem-Solving Officer is, among other things.

Neighborhood and city district level: City Councilmembers tend to be directly involved with their districts and focused on neighborhood-level concerns as well as city-wide ones. Not sure which district is yours? You can find that out, too. There’s always the Mayor’s Office if you want to address something at the city level.

County government questions: If you have a question or concern that the county handles, such as voting rights, districting, or something like getting a marriage license, you can find them here.

Other ways to make sure your voice is heard

  • Oakland is host to dozens of events where public comment is sought, often about upcoming projects or how public resources should best be used. Go to them. See what’s up. Before the event, visit the organization’s website and see if there is a procedure for speaking if that’s something you think you want to do.
  • Know that being one of those speakers suggests to those listening that you are representing more than just your own opinion–that others have similar positions–so you’re sort of speaking for them, too. Being brief and direct counts, and helps a lot, as does coming up with a “bumper sticker” version of what you want to get across, and opening and closing with it. It makes what you say memorable and easy to pass along.
  • Contributing to organizations already doing what you wish someone would do is a great way to help gang up on issues that are important to you, and tackle them with others who are just as passionate about them. There are often lots of ways to contribute, too: giving your time, your expertise, your money or other material resources, or even just doing a little publicity work for them, all adds up, and it all helps.
  • If none of that is satisfying enough, consider running for office yourself. Wouldn’t it be awesome to get real citizens into office instead of rich guys for a change? Think about it, gentle citizen. Yes, it takes a lot of money these days to run for office, but there are some excellent organizations that teach citizens how to run for office, including fundraising skills. One example is The White House Project, which specifically trains women on how to get into the public office pipeline, and offers frequent trainings. Dozens of other organizations do the same kinds of things for other populations.

This country was founded on the idea that the citizen should be the most powerful person in it, that the country belongs to us. With the amount many of us have to work just to try to make ends meet, along with the loss of high school civics classes to funding cuts, civic participation sometimes seems like something we wish we could do, or find out more about, if we had the time. It’s important to remember, though, that we have the power even to change those things that make it difficult.

See part 2 of this series here.

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