Civic engagement starts at home


Even if the reputation and rebirth of our city is at stake and there are no shortage of civic subjects to complain about, the will to create change that characterized the provincial election campaign and student strikes last year has yet to be seen or felt with the same passion gearing up for the municipal decision on Nov. 3. So how do we engage a new generation of municipal participants and leaders?

Published September 14, 2013 | Gazette
Written by Laura Beeston

A 2006 study undertaken by Elisabeth Gidengil of McGill University's Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, with Université de Montréal's André Blais and Patrick Fournier and Eugénie Dostie-Goulet from Université de Sherbrooke, surveyed eligible voters age 19 to 31 on the island of Montreal to try to understand this phenomenon as well. The professors found that those who abstain from the civic process have often spent less than six years living in Montreal and that participation in elections is reflected predominantly in their larger insertion into the social life of their respective milieu. Participation, then, must move beyond election tokenism and into everyday practice. ... But how to get people to commit is another task entirely.

"The short answer is that civic leaders have to take risks to engage citizens and citizens have to accept responsibility," said Renee Sieber, an associate professor at McGill University who studies the intersection of technology, social theory and social change. "Citizens and politicians need to take on the reality that democracy does not only mean voting - that's the minimum - and then both parties have to make an investment ... and engage directly."

And buying into the belief that the entire city has been taken out of our hands, even if it sometimes feels that way, will leave us defeated, said Anurag Dhir, who co-ordinates community engagement with the Social Equity and Diversity Offices at McGill University. A long-time civic participant, Dhir honed his volunteering chops with Santropol Roulant. "I tell people who want to get involved, but don't know how, to simplify it. Our communities are more local than ever. You can start in your apartment block. It's about getting back to what is right under our noses and making connections."

Read the full article here.