NONVIOLENCE • EQUALITY • YOUTH • ECOLOGY
CIVIC ENGAGEMENT CIRCLES
May of 2016, in Bakersfield, CA a team of staff and students from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Center began a pilot project aimed at creating a model that would help increase civic engagement. The project was both diagnostic and prescriptive. We were experimenting from May to August with the best methods for creating grassroots discussion as to “why more people do not become civically engaged.” We also developed a method and delivery system that we have developed through the fall and winter. We created Civic Engagement Circles. The Freedom Center has successfully carried out more than 15 Circles, along with various other forms of creating discussion and providing knowledge and inspiration encouraging and assisting individuals in becoming actively engaged in different forms of civic engagement.
PURPOSE OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT CIRCLES
Democracy disappears without active participation of the populace in various forms of civic engagement. Civic Engagement Circles focus on three areas of social participation that is absolutely necessary for a stronger democracy:
- Involving one’s self in the strengthening public educational intuitions, especially public K-12 schools and community colleges. For schools and colleges to better serve the interests of the populace, civic engagement of a much larger segment of the people is essential.
- Involving one’s self in community development and active participation in community-based organizations is a major step toward improving the quality of life, not only in a neighborhood, but in a city, state, and in the nation.
- Political awareness and voting. The structure of government is, in the final analysis, reflective of “How we take care of one another.” To reject voting is to reject being a part of caring for one another; it adds to meanness, bigotry, and harming the interest of the vast majority.
Civic Engagement Circles involve four specific areas of work and reflection:
- Community Organizing
The Circles are being organized for the purpose of gathering groups of 10-15 individuals. The sizes of the groups are important because the purpose is to generate discussion, and to generate ideas on how best assist ourselves and others in becoming civically engaged. Research shows that groups of 10 – 15 provide for the most robust exchange. The Circles are arranged in family homes, fellowship halls, community-based organizations, schools, and senior centers.
The Civic Engagement Circles focus on geographic areas where low civic engagement exists. The Freedom Center researches various data banks to cross-reference voter turnout, parental participation in schools, and the number of civic or neighborhood volunteer groups in a particular neighborhood. Research guides the locations where we focus the Circles. This research is ongoing, and there is opportunity for youth and adults to develop experience in the science of social mapping and research.
Social mapping and seeking out individuals and groups within specific geographic areas requires rudimentary elements of the science of community organizing. Staff, youth, interns, and volunteers study and practice the capacity to effectively and genuinely build relationships across racial, cultural, and class distinctions. Community organizing develops cultural proficiency. It also helps develop humility and an understanding that the power to be civically engaged resides not in the organizer, but in the organized.
Outreaching requires the development of trust. One must study and practice basic elements of cognitive and behavioral psychology. The conduct necessary for effective outreach also requires the study of history and knowledge of the past, present, and future struggles confronting the sectors in which one is actively outreaching to. The science of outreaching includes the basic methods of forgetting one’s self so as to develop and understanding of the dreams and doubts of someone else.
Facilitating small group discussions requires the study and practice of the science of teaching. There are many methods involved in developing within a small group a collective trust and appreciation for one another’s voice and ideas. There is a thin line between teaching and talking too much, and coaching others to speak up and boldly present their worldview and their proposals for change. Facilitating calls for understanding one’s own ideas, while simultaneously understanding those of another. Teaching is not about affirmation of one’s ideas, it is about assisting others in connecting with, and communicating their own ideas, and assisting individuals in the task of developing a body of group ideas that most of the group accepts. This is necessary for individual and community change.
WHAT: Community-based Civic Engagement Circles
WHY: A better quality of life and democracy require greater civic engagement
WHERE: Northwest Alameda County, California (Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Emeryville)
WHEN: Ongoing and year round.
HOW: Organize, train, and supervise young adults and adults to facilitate small group discussions based on creating discussion circles throughout the designated area.
Train 20 facilitators
Produce 140 Circles in 18 months
Identify 50 individuals from the 140 Circles who will help connect people from their Circle to join in civic engagement opportunities.
For a stronger democracy,
Roy D. Wilson, Ed.D