A little less conversation, a little more action
How to bring civic engagement to your book group, mommy group, study group, quilting group, fellowship group, exercise group... any local group!
Most of us have small groups that support us socially. What if each and every one of those groups was infused with a tiny dose of civic action? Here are some ideas and tips to get the ball rolling without losing members of the group or cultivating conflict:
1. Agree to disagree from the beginning. No two people agree on everything. Any time you get a group of people together, there will be disagreements. Your aim should not be to convince, but to encourage action. There will be times when one member’s actions are diametrically opposed to another’s, and that is okay.
2. Make time. Make time during your gatherings to encourage group members to talk about what actions they have taken since the last gathering, and what actions they plan to take before the next gathering. Even better, allow time during the gathering to take a 2 minute action of any kind: call a representative, make a donation, do fact-checking or research on an issue. Each person can pick their own action! Many of these actions are easy on a smartphone, but by no means is technology necessary. Gather around the landline and take turns calling if you don’t have internet access. Write a check and put it in the mailbox.
3. Give power to the individual. If a member of your group is uncomfortable with this idea, give them the space they want. If you schedule time at the beginning of your 7:00 meeting, assure them that they can come at 7:10 and miss the civic action portion of the gathering. If someone wants to be present but not take action, embrace their presence.
4. Listen and encourage. It can be really be defeating to listen to reasons why people around you aren’t taking action when you are. Aim to cultivate encouragement around action; even action that you think is wrong-headed or ineffective. It is more important to encourage action than to convince anyone that their chosen action isn’t right or good enough. Let actions that bother you serve as motivation to take further action of your own.
5. Show appreciation. Grassroots activism is thankless. Most of it is done on a volunteer basis. Lots of mistakes are made. Sometimes even the most effective and worthy movements do not succeed. So take the time to appreciate one another. Pass a note to a group member who has inspired you or did something that you know was a tall order for them. Bring flowers and hand them out to the group when morale is low. Bring baked goods. Never underestimate baked goods.
If you don’t have a small community you trust, cultivate one. Remember, it doesn’t have to be politically focused, although it certainly can be. We’d love to see Civic Syrup groups popping up in coffee shops around the state! We will be rolling out a Civic Syrup podcast in the upcoming months. Listen to the podcast and then get together to talk about it and determine what actions suit you.
Here are more tips on having a great conversation: http://www.ted.com/talks/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_better_conversation