Young Involved Philadelphia (YIP) partnered with fifteen other advocacy organizations in Philadelphia to host a civic engagement fair on Nov. 1, only days before municipal elections.
Attendees met representatives from nonprofit, governmental, and advocacy organizations at The Bourse Food Hall. The civic engagement fair was the first event in YIP’s ten-day annual State of Young Philly which, this year, focused on the importance of neighborhood engagement.
YIP President Kate McGlinchey explained the “Know Thy Neighborhood, Love Thy Neighborhood” theme was inspired by a forum the group held a few months before.
“I think Philadelphia is a very neighborhood-driven city,” said McGlinchey. “People always say where they’re from by neighborhood … not just by city. So, I think there’s that interest in being in their neighborhoods, working in their neighborhoods and helping improve their neighborhoods.”
Organizations represented at the event included YIP, HIAS Pennsylvania, CARE, North 5th Street Revitalization Project, Temple University Master of Public Policy, SEAMAAC, Repair the World Philadelphia, Green Philly, Census 2020, Bethesda Project, The Spruce Foundation, Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative, USA250, Habitat for Humanity, Philly Reading Coaches and The POWER of Professional Women in Philadelphia.
Even though the 2019 election is over in the city, issue advocacy and activism doesn’t stop. There are a variety of ways Philadelphians can stay active in politics and advocacy all year round.
Register to Vote and Cast a Ballot
The municipal election in the city was held on Nov. 5, but there are less than three months until presidential primary elections begin. Essentially, Philadelphians have the opportunity to vote every six months between primary and general elections for off-year municipal, midterm and presidential elections.
Groups like the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition (SEAMAAC) help Philadelphians register to vote ahead of elections.
Asian American voter participation is the lowest among American ethnic groups, according to SEAMAAC Director of Development and Communications Andy Toy.
“We need to have a voice, and with that voice, we have people who are engaged and part of the communities,” said Toy. “Part of our mission is to get people out to vote.”
2018 United States Census data backs up his claim, showing that Asian American turnout was more than 17% lower than white turnout and more than 11% lower than black turnout.
Ahead of the municipal elections, SEAMAAC registered approximately 465 people to vote using the Rock the Vote App, Toy added.
The deadline to register to vote in the presidential primary in Pennsylvania is March 29 with the party primary elections held April 28.
Register to vote online in Pennsylvania here.
Find a polling place by searching a Philadelphia address here.
Build a Relationship with Elected Officials
Voting is an important part of civic engagement, but it is not the only way to advocate for interests. Elected officials and their staffs take calls, receive letters and emails, and meet with constituents to discuss policy issues, specific legislation, and other concerns.
CARE is an international nongovernmental organization that advocates for global poverty relief, with an emphasis on women and girls. As an organization, CARE focuses on advocating for legislation, like the Safe from the Start Act (H.R.4092), and building beneficial relationships with legislators.
Dan Berger, the Pennsylvania CARE Volunteer Chair, attended the civic engagement fair on behalf of the organization.
“We talk so much about how voting is important: have to vote, have to vote, have to vote, and then people do that and don’t do anything else,” said Berger. “You can really — if you put the time in — develop a relationship with an individual member of Congress. You just got to put the effort in.”
Find Pennsylvania state and federal elected officials’ office information by searching an address here.
Attend Community Organization Meetings
Throughout Philadelphia, there are organizations that advocate for hyperlocal communities or civic engagement in general.
The North 5th Street Revitalization Project focuses exclusively on improving the area between the 4800 and 6000 blocks of North Fifth Street. Grassroots Advocacy for South Philadelphia (GRASP) encourages civic engagement, specifically in South Philadelphia.
YIP, according to McGlinchey, hosts events throughout the year to get young people excited about civic engagement and advocacy.
“The best thing would be to just come to one of our events, meet some people, and ask questions to see what they can connect you to,” said McGlinchey.
These community organizations allow Philadelphians to be in a low-pressure environment in which everyone is interested in being civically engaged even if they don’t know exactly what that looks like yet.
Community organizations can help Philadelphians newer to civic engagement become generally involved, but there are also organizations that specialize in a certain set of issues like homelessness, sustainability, or historical preservation to name a few.
Advocate for a Specific Cause
After consistently voting and engaging in one’s community, it may make sense to become active on a specific issue.
Volunteer and Community Engagement Manager Jeffrey Isaacson represented Bethesda Project, which works specifically with Philadelphians experiencing homelessness, at the civic engagement fair.
“We always love getting out in the community and letting people know about us and the issues we have with some of the upcoming events and ways to address homelessness,” said Isaacson. “I think a lot of people talk about it or see it. We like to connect people more deeply with the issue.”
Philadelphia is full of niche nonprofits, so everyone can find a cause. For example, Green Philly works to make sustainability more accessible for Philadelphians, and USA250 promotes awareness of the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Michelle Feldman recently started communications and outreach for USA250 but has been involved with civic engagement organization since she graduated college.
“I think it’s important to be introspective and have a very clear idea around what it is that you care about, what it is that’s going to get you up in the morning,” said Feldman. “Then the next thing is finding out what organizations are actually making change around those issues … It’s about consistent presence, consistently volunteering, consistently showing up.”
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