The CivCity Initiative was founded in November 2014 to tackle a seemingly intractable problem in American democracy: widespread disillusionment and apathy toward government at all levels, and an increasingly toxic political discourse.
Low voter turnout, particularly in local elections, is the most obvious symptom of disengagement. But this crisis in our democracy goes far beyond the election cycle. It’s reflected in how we view our year-round responsibility as citizens, and in how we perceive our relationship with the people we elect to oversee the work of local, state and federal government.
Using Ann Arbor as a proof of concept, CivCity is working to achieve a dramatic cultural shift, expanding the set of people who are knowledgeable about their government and who are eager to participate in local civic life – because participation is easy, expected, and even entertaining. Starting in our community, we can build a replicable model for civic literacy and positive engagement nationwide.
How will CivCity achieve such a transformation? This nonpartisan effort will be pushed forward on multiple fronts. There’s no silver bullet, no single solution. We need a saturation strategy, infusing our community with dozens of opportunities to learn how our government works and to discover ways to participate. We need to reach out to members of our community who aren’t traditionally part of local civic life, including low-income residents and youth. Partnerships will be crucial – CivCity’s success will depend in large part on our ability to leverage the networks and reach of other organizations in the Ann Arbor community.
Our vision is that on any given day – every single day – residents will encounter touchpoints as they move through their daily routines, reminding them of local issues and civic events, helping them learn about their local government, and motivating them to take action – in ways small or substantial.
What might that vision look like in practice? Signs in front of every coffee shop alert customers to agenda highlights of upcoming city council meetings. Local bars host Civic Trivia nights. Kids learn about the importance of civic infrastructure at school, and enlist their families to clear the stormdrains on their street. Book clubs organize cleanup crews for neighborhood parks. Churches, mosques and synagogues host local candidate forums. Co-workers discuss proposed nearby developments, and decide to contact planning commissioners with their feedback. New residents are greeted with a CivCity Welcome Wagon packet, including information about their local elected representatives and where to vote.
CivCity will be successful when civics becomes so ingrained in our daily experiences that we don’t think of it as something special. Civic engagement will be a fact of life, one that contributes to our community’s quality of life.
To achieve this ambitious vision, CivCity needs your support! Please donate online by clicking here– and we hope you'll consider making a monthly recurring contribution. Or send your check to: The CivCity Initiative, 118 S. Main St., Ann Arbor MI 48104. CivCity is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so your contributions are tax deductible.
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Founder & Executive Director, The CivCity Initiative