Civic Diary 4/9/2016 – Community

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

So my latest Civic Diary is on community.

As I document my experiments in being a better citizen (which I haven’t exactly defined, but we’ll learn along), I wanted to share my latest finding on community.

My local writer’s group needed me to take over a writing event as the person running it at the time had a change of schedule and wouldn’t be doing so for quite some time.  I took over out of a desire to help out – it’s a good group that focuses on getting together and writing.

At that point I suddenly thought about my other activities in communities.  Helping at a museum.  My video gaming group.  Movie nights for another club.  All those little things (remember when I mentioned the power of weak links?) that create alliances and bonds.  I saw how important they were.

All these little bits of community involvement are important as community is important.  Community ties us together, community helps us connect, community builds something bigger than us.  If you want to be civicly engaged, building some community, virtually any kind, is important – and lets you use other interests to do good.

Some community seem trivial?  That Steven Universe fan group could also let people network to find jobs.  Your anime club can do charities.  Your doll collector group might be a place where you can offer your skills in accounting to someone with tax questions.  Multiply those opportunities over a lifetime and you can see how important community -any community – is to being a citizen.

Obviously, I think we need to consciously think what kind of community we should build. I will doubtlessly go on about that more in the future.

A few more thoughts on community building:

  • * Real community is built by real people – be it face to face or with your real name, yu need to connect as human beings.
  • * Functional community is integrative, not divisive.  A community ma address a problem, but it does so with a larger purpose of bringing people together.
  • * Community should be connected to the “big picture” even if the big picture is “man we all have hard days, let’s have a movie club every Friday night.”  Insular communities have a way of being very non-civil.
  • * Community has some kind of identity. It needs to know what it is.

So there’s my thoughts.  What’s your community?

– Steve

Civic Diary 4/7/2016

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

So remember my post on Citizenship? Where I’d post monthly or so on my experiments in being more civicly engaged? Taking it in a slightly different direction.

Welcome to the Civic Diary.

I figure as opposed to a monthly roundup, I’d share my experiments sort of whenever. That way I can get feedback and ideas and it may inspire others to do likewise on their attempts to be more engaged citizens.

(I also figure it adds structure to the whole endeavor).

I should note this is not an attempt to show off – nor should it be for anyone. This is more chronicling a journey to see if it helps anyone – but it is a journey, since I’m not there yet.

So what did I learn since last time:

  • If your town/city or whatever has a Twitter, Facebook, newsletter, or RSS feed get it. A lot happens locally that can affect our life and the lives of others, and there’s often many chances to get involved. It also keeps you aware of issues from the bottom-up. Here in Silicon Valley just one week into following my town I already feel more educated.
  • A lot of citizenship seems to be about the power of weak links (just like networking) – many small, not really strong connections that you leverage when needed or that add up. In the case of citizenship that combination of friends, RSS feeds, retweets adds up. No one little bit of citizenship-connection is going to be The One that makes you some epic civic wonder – its having many options and inputs.
  • Libraries – if there’s a local library get their newsletter, check their page, etc. Libraries provide a lot of social services – you can find a class, keep up on community news, or even do presentations or each.
  • Keeping up on news is invaluable to citizenship – on all levels. That seems obvious, but when you’re thinking “how do I be a better citizen” regularly (say, in making an effort like this) you see how valuable the news is.
  • Everyone has their own “news rhythm” that keeps them informed. Maybe you check once a day, maybe regularly, whatever. Just develop one.

Finally, I also find keeping a civic diary like this helps me think about how to be a better citizen. So hey, why not try your own.

– Steve

An Experiment in Citizenship – March 2016

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Anil Dash tweeted out some suggestions on political engagement awhile ago that got me thinking. And, yes I lost the links and am too lazy to search for them as I’m busy being politically engaged.

Anyway, his rough ideas was to at least follow your representatives and write them regularly. I’m always thinking about how to be more civically engaged, and this struck a chord. I wonder often “what should we as citizens do” for our friends, family, organizations, country, and world. How should one be politically engaged – and, bluntly, what is the minimum we should expect of people.

I’m obviously a bit obsessed with the idea (I wrote a book on civic geekery). His posts have led me to this – an experiment in “projectizing” my civic engagement to find a good way to be regularly, appropriately engaged as a citizen.

So here’s what I’m doing – I challenge you to do the same.

STEP 1: Join And Follow

First, find reliable organizations that support causes you believe in, and follow them – via Twitter, newsletters, what have you. Make sure you’re getting reliable information so you’re informed.

Many of these organizations also support petitions, raise funds, do marches, etc. That gives you plenty of ways to get involved.

Oh, and if you can, actually join them and slap down that membership fee. They probably need it.  Some even have magazines.

STEP 2: Follow Your Representatives

Second, find and follow your representatives – at least on the national and state level (and try county and city). Follow them on Twitter or Facebook, get their newsletter, whatever.  Make sure you have a way to know what’s going on, and find the right web pages to write them.

STEP 3: Pay Attention

OK, so you’ve got:

  1. Organizations you follow.
  2. Your regular news feed (you have one, right)?
  3. News from your various representatives.

So you’re informed. Next . . .

STEP 4: Get active

Now simple, pay attention so you’re aware of what they’re doing, what they’re saying and what’s going on – and look for a chance to make a difference. Retweet. Sign the petition. March. Hell, take that part-time opening to do a vote drive.  Whatever.

STEP 5: Reach Out

Once a month (minimum) pick an issue you’re concerned about and write your appropriate representatives. Maybe this time it’s your Senator next time your city council. Whatever, just make sure your concerns don’t sit around in your head – go tell the people you bloody well elected what needs to be done – and be civil.

Chances are if you follow the news, you’ll quickly find things to talk about.
I’ve tried this for a month, and it’s already pretty informative. Among my findings:

  • My Representative is far, far more LGBT-right friendly than I knew.
  • Not all my state representatives are as high-tech as I expected (one guy isn’t that big on social media)
  • My new city is damned engaged in development and listens to people (I found some of that out when I dated someone from the city staff).

Also my monthly reach-out to my national reps was over North Carolina’s hideous anti-Trans/anti-LGBT laws. So I let my voice be heard on that – I got one response (sure it was boilerplate but it was something)
So, you up for this? You up to take the challenge? I challenge you to do the same thing – and blog the results, post to Facebook, whatever. Let me know when you do.

(Oh, and by the way, beyond this stuff, you should be voting and closing other forms of civic engagement like speaking or literacy programs or other stuff.  I may write more on that)

  • Steve