OUR VIEW | A Representative City Begins with Early Civic Engagement


There are endless reasons to get involved locally in any community, at any time, to proactively affect its tenor regardless of background, political persuasion or income level. In fact, it should be the very plurality of class, ideals and values in a city like Alexandria that leads to discourse and action among neighbors, the government, schools, public safety officials and the rest of the civic spider web that weaves together the citys composition.

Programs like the Tenants and Workers Uniteds community organizing internship is a seed planted to instill critical thinking and action on topics like immigration, health care and education among the citys youth in the summertime no less, when many students use their vacation time to forget what they learned during the previous school year.

The organizations that sponsor the program, TWU, the New World Foundation and the Young Elected Officials Network, work particularly to benefit what they see as marginalized sects of society: immigrants, blue collar workers and the poor. These are their causes. Agree or disagree with their values, the entire city benefits when students (rising juniors in high school) become civically engaged at an early age, excited to play active, starring roles in their community, rather than the role of an extra.

Civic engagement has been a hot topic in Alexandria lately. Politicians know that it could be at higher levels, and residents opposed to moving municipal elections to November worry that while voter turnout may increase, the votes will be uninformed. This situation can be remedied with programs that foster and promote activism from an early age instilling in young men and women their right to tangibly manifest their opinions so that thinking and engaging civically becomes second nature, keeping their voices in city-wide conversations.

Mobilizing programs like these across various neighborhoods in the city, with various demographics, promoting various causes, is what is needed to start a dynamic conversation among residents of all persuasions, backgrounds and ideals. Emphasizing the benefits of community activism at an early age would influence a culture of involvement in city affairs among not just minorities, but whites as well, leading to a more interconnected city that is more representative of its population.

As the citys budget becomes tighter under the strains of the economy, youths involved in and passionate about community activism will be the ones willing to volunteer their time and energy, initiating and supporting nonprofit organizations (a theme the city government has made paramount since the faltering of the national and local economies) to help enhance the governments shrinking social safety net.

But it is not the governments sole responsibility to promote service and engagement. It relies on connections between individual families, teachers and prospective activists themselves to drop social networking sites like Facebook in favor of real, live social networking sites like Alexandria.