ColumnsThe Suffragist

Voting Is Just the Beginning. Civic Engagement Is Key.

Democracy needs our help

As we close out The Suffragist — can you believe it’s been a year already?! — I want to thank you for delving into the history of the women’s suffrage movement and our current voting process with us. As we’ve discovered, our right to vote and take part in civic engagement is not something we should take for granted. Many people fought long and hard, some suffering and dying, so we can vote today.

Maybe you’ve already voted by mail, like I have. Or maybe you’re planning to vote in person during early voting, from Oct. 15-31, or on Election Day, Nov. 3. However you vote, just make it happen, and make it happen as soon as possible, both to avoid the lines and, if our president has his way, dodge whatever shenanigans his radical sycophants are planning to pull at the polls. (Note: Per state law, only certain individuals are allowed inside the polls.)

Finally, and I can’t believe I must say this: Only vote once because voting twice is a felony.

Then, I beg you, please don’t stop your civic engagement with voting. Consider becoming more involved in our democracy because it needs you to care now more than ever. Perhaps it’s too soon to make this plea, since we’ve all been through so much already and the final days of Election 2020 seem set to be absolutely cray cray, but since this is my last chance to appeal to you through this column, I must plant the seed.

I realize it may be overwhelming to try to figure out where you fit into the big picture right now, but at least think about it because your contribution matters. If you want change, sometimes you’ve got to push for it from the inside.

Tune in to local government

There are many ways to become more involved. A good place to start is to tune into meetings of the

Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg Board of County Commission. You can do that online even when we’re not enmeshed in a global pandemic. And there are local journalists who live-tweet the meetings too, like The Charlotte Observer’s local government reporter Alison Kuznitz, who does such an excellent job you can literally read the meetings on your phone.

City council members vote on the city’s housing ordinance in 2019. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

If you’ve got a scheduling conflict, there’s no reason why you can’t catch up on the meetings at your leisure via the city’s website, where you can find agendas, audio and video from city council meetings dating back to 2006. So if there’s a particular topic that you’d like to focus on, use the search bar to find what our city’s elected leaders have done about it historically, and that way when you sign up to speak during the city council’s public forums, held the second Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m., you can show up armed with facts.

You can register to speak at county commission meetings, too. Local elected officials are not mind readers, so speak up! (Or email them if public speaking makes you queasy.)

I encourage you to spend time on both the city and county websites to learn about how your government works for you and how you can serve our community. Sign up for email alerts. Sign up to volunteer for county or city boards and commissions focused on numerous topics from environmental stewardship to domestic violence to budgetary issues and everything in between.

If you’re not sure where you’d like to begin, start by connecting with local branches of political parties. Perhaps you’ll find your path to civic engagement through them.

Tune in to state government

Just as you can sign up for email alerts from city and county government, you can also tune into our state government in the same way. Spend some time on the North Carolina General Assembly website looking up your representatives and the bills they propose, sponsor and vote on. Find out when the next session begins and how you can listen in real-time.

North Carolina General Assembly and legislative offices in Raleigh. (Photo courtesy of WikiCommons)

Many nonprofit groups have lobby days in which they take a field trip to Raleigh and spend time with their legislators educating them on whatever the topic du jour is. I’m not being sassy when I say that legislators aren’t all-knowing; sometimes they need someone like you to show up in their office — or to call or send a letter — to educate them. Let them know your expectations.

There are too many state agencies to list here, but if you’d like to get involved at the state level consider your interests, then learn about the agencies that regulate those interests. There are all sorts of boards and commissions, public meetings and other ways to get involved and help shape the decisions being made that affect your life.

Galvanize through civic engagement!

Whatever you do, don’t allow this one election — this critically important and draining election — get you down. Instead, use all of this angst as fuel to make our little corner of the world a better place.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything it may be this: Our actions, or inactions, can have major effects on our fellow citizens. Never doubt that your vote, your voice and your contributions are important.

Please, take some time after you vote and once we make it through the counting process, which might take a little longer than we’re used to, to get some rest. But also spend time reflecting on how you can help push our society forward in a way that is meaningful to you.

The time for assuming “they” have got things covered is long over, because “they” clearly only have their own backs. The time for revamping our political system, our institutions and our willingness to focus on “we” instead of only “me” is here.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. Your absentee ballot must be postmarked — not mailed, postmarked — by Election Day to be counted. However, you should return your absentee ballot as quickly as you’re able. You can drop it off at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office if you don’t want to mail it. Remember, if you missed the Oct. 9 deadline to register to vote, you can still register and vote at any early voting site between Oct. 15-31

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