We celebrate the Fourth of July this week, that annual observance of the adoption of our Declaration of Independence that also includes baseball, cookouts, pool parties and fireworks. This year we at the Alexandria Times hope you also spend a moment taking part in a bit of civic engagement.
Or, to be more precise, we hope you take a little time to talk about civic engagement with your friends, family and neighbors. Because if you are reading this, you are likely already engaged with the community, whether it is just keeping tabs on the issues swirling around City Hall or regularly offering officials advice — or criticism — at public meetings.
You are plugged in. You are in the know. But in a city of nearly 148,000 people, by last count, we can always do better. Surely, you know one or two — or more — folks who pay little to no attention to what happens at City Hall or at the headquarters of Alexandria City Public Schools?
It’s easy to understand, too. Life is hectic, times are still tough and the metropolitan area is famously awash with transplants from elsewhere. And that is why we are turning to you, our readers, to serve as emissaries. Being civically engaged does not necessarily mean spending one Saturday a month in city council chambers or following every meeting of the planning commission or school board (although that’s to be applauded).
Civic engagement is many things and can be as easy as checking out one of the many media outlets that serve this great city, talking to a city councilor, scanning a meeting docket or catching a few minutes of one of those epic Saturday public hearings at City Hall that are helpfully recorded and posted online. Technology, in particular, has made engaging with the municipal government and other residents easier than ever before.
Civic engagement also does not mean agreeing with everything our elected leaders are doing or the positions our neighbors have taken. A few of the most engaged residents in town are city council’s fiercest critics on issues like the waterfront redevelopment plan, taxes, public debt and the role of food trucks and cyclists in Alexandria. All it requires is getting involved in the debate, somehow, somewhere.
After all, the Founding Fathers we take time to remember this week between hot dogs and sparklers did not unanimously agree on breaking ties with Great Britain and embarking on the road to independence. They debated the issue vigorously and fought passionately on their political and philosophical positions.
They were also all civically engaged.
This year, see if you can spark a conversation with a friend or acquaintance. Maybe it’s about that new development you heard was potentially going in down the street. Perhaps it’s about the debt City Hall likely will take on if and when it embarks on the Potomac Yard Metro station project.
Who knows what will get someone else motivated and involved? But it’s always worth a shot.
In a rapidly changing city, every new voice added to the debate makes the discussion — whatever it is — that much better.