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Action of the Month: 5 ways to amplify your civic engagement

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Every month, Équiterre suggests an action to help make our communities and our systems more resilient. But these individual actions will only have a meaningful impact if they are part of a broader reform process. Changes must be collective to positively transform our economy, our social systems and our relationships, not just with our fellow citizens but with the environment as well.

Every one of us needs to “do our part, one step at a time.” That will always be true. But stepping out of our comfort zone, getting out of our bubble – no mean feat since the onset of the current public health crisis – is an important and powerful vehicle for change.

So let’s get mobilized! Here are a few ways to help you accelerate change by becoming actively involved in the democratic life of our society.

1 - Organize people on local level: it’s way more fun when you’re working together

Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” This inspirational quote has never been more meaningful.

Recent victories against TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline and against Gastem, which had sued the township of Ristigouche-Est, are good examples. These victories were made possible by dozens of groups of local citizens who had banded together to take on the giants. In each case, it all started with a simple meeting of concerned citizens to discuss the issue and figure out a way to work together!

The first step is to identify an issue that you want to rally people around (a local issue, a project you’d like to see completed, etc.).

Here’s a good example: Charles Montpetit, a member of Équiterre, spearheaded the movement to rethink the way Publisacs (plastic bags filled with promotional flyers) are distributed in Montreal. His citizen activism and the thousands of people he has rallied behind it are having a massive impact on the city’s reflections on waste management. And the initiative will likely have a ripple effect other parts of the province as well...

2 - Call your elected officials (yes, it works!)

 

It may sound like a quaint idea in this day and age, but calling your MNA’s or your MP’s constituency office or calling your municipal city hall is an effective way to express your opinions and concerns about environmental or other issues to your elected officials.

A fast and effective way to make a personal connection - you’d be surprised what an impact it can have! Your elected representatives need to be listening to the people who put them in office. Even if they’re not politically aligned with your ideas, the prospect of losing your vote should be motivation enough to listen to what you have to say and to give it due consideration.

Members of the National Assembly
Members of Parliament

3 - Get involved in city council meetings or public consultations

 

Provincial and municipal politics are closely connected. Both levels of government typically want to be aligned with the decisions taken by one another.

Reaching out to your city councillor or mayor, either as a first step or in tandem with your overtures to provincial officials, can speed up efforts to place the environment and local green issues at the heart of the province’s policy agenda.

The only problem is… many city councils have been holding their meetings behind closed doors since the start of the pandemic, a real impediment to democracy, especially considering that these sessions could be held virtually. So, what can we do about it? Call your local officials and ask them to remedy the situation, or contact your local media outlets to denounce the situation.

As citizens, we are entitled to a seat at the table. Whether you want to raise concerns about a regulation or a controversial bill, hold people accountable for actions that could harm your community or the environment, or ask questions during a BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement) virtual hearing, taking part in and defend the civic engagement process is always constructive, and not as complicated as you might think.

We may not always get the desired outcome, but participating in the process helps us better equip ourselves. We get to hear directly from policy makers, discover the tactics employed by our “adversaries”, and fine-tune our strategies towards achieving our objectives.

4 - Get engaged on social media

 

Social networks are among the best tools for mobilizing people and, now more than ever, among the most practical. They enable us to reach record numbers of people in record time.

Use your social media profiles to express your opinions, share your experiences, post photos and showcase your efforts to effect change and to do good for the environment.

A tip: As they say, “sometimes less is more”. Share your wisdom with your friends but don’t beat them over the head with it. Choose a couple of causes or key issues that you’d like to focus on. It’s important to choose your battles – a few pointed but measured actions will generate a greater impact than a never-ending flow of recriminations.

However, if you’ve identified an environmental issue you want to rally people around in a more concrete way, it can be useful to create or join a specific Facebook page or group on the issue to reach like-minded people. After that, the real work starts: you’ll need to get – and keep – your group involved and dedicated to the issue, and to get as big a buy-in from the public as possible.

5 - Throw your hat into the ring!

 

We all like to complain about the decisions made by governments at all levels. Politics is often viewed as a battle between “us” and “them” (and the “them” are either opposed to change or are too slow to bring it about).

Change from a civic or an activist perspective (including the ideas listed above) is done from the outside of the halls of political or economic power. But you can also effect change from inside… you can get elected! Why not? The next municipal elections are in a year from now. Opportunities abound to achieve change from the inside! You can get elected to your city council. You can join a corporate board, an advisory committee or the executive of a political organization, student association or local PTA chapter. You can even get elected mayor of your town and, who knows, as an MNA for your riding! You can then leverage this power as a tool for change.