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Advocacy News

Highlights of KUT's Civics 101 event
By Cynthia Griffin
Posted: 2024-05-28T15:17:59Z

Joanne Richards, Advocacy and Education VP, and I found last night's panel discussion on Civics informative. The event was well attended, and a diversity of viewpoints were explored. The panelists were Amy Stansbury of The Austin Common, city hall reporter for KUT Luz Moreno-Lozano, and Megan Dias, a political science PhD student at UT. 

The evening began with a discussion on Civic Duty. The moderator, Jenn White of 1A, asked if the term itself reflected a past generation. The panel thought the term sometimes felt cringeworthy, another task to add to an overly long list of responsibilities individuals are already struggling to complete. 

Civic engagement or civic culture was suggested as an alternative, as was the idea of civic engagement beyond voting, including activities that enrich and connect a community of residents.

An audience member who has served on a city commission for the past eight years asked for community support in getting more residents to participate on boards and commissions at the city level, many of which never fill. After the event, I spoke with this individual, and he will reach out to see how he can engage with The League on this topic.

The panel and other audience members discussed the barriers to participation in city government, including the language and jargon of city government, including Robert's Rules, meeting times, and transportation.

Demystifying city government processes was suggested as one way to gain participation. Educate on the workings of the City Council, for instance. How can we provide a primer, an insider view, to lower the emotional and social barriers to participation? Can we do a better job of educating about individuals on the City Council, their backgrounds, their areas of expertise or interest, and their positions to date?

One of the panelists suggested bringing city government to neighborhoods with fewer resources rather than requiring those residents to travel into the city to participate. Perhaps events could be hosted in the far corners of the community rather than downtown.

A UT student cited the recent defunding of DEIB on campus as a new barrier to participation for minority students. He asked for suggestions on where to get involved. Joanne and I both spoke with the student after the program.

The panelists were all female, educated, and in their 30s. They suggested that engagement at the micro level, at the block level vs. neighborhood or by zip code, may generate more participation. 

The moderator asked the audience how many people had civics classes in school and noted that civics isn't taught any longer. Is there an opportunity to reach even younger individuals to ensure later engagement as adults?

The responsibility of businesses to support and educate on civic matters was raised. Program engagement by City Chambers was offered as an example. 

The panelists suggested a way to get younger adults engaged may be by emphasizing that their vote represents others in their communities who may lack access to voting. 

Kelly Duvarny Advocacy and Education Committee Member

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