Columbia University in the City of New York

Five Tips for Civic Engagement from Awakening Our Democracy Panelists

If civic engagement is on your list of resolutions this year, check out these thoughts from AWAKENING OUR DEMOCRACY, Columbia’s lunchtime conversation series on disparities, justice and other issues at the forefront of our community and the nation’s consciousness. 

Awakening Our Democracy: Feminism, Media and the State of the Union” featured Juju Chang of ABC News, Jamil Smith of MTV, Columbia Journalism School Professor and author Helen Benedict, Barnard Professor of History Premilla Nadasen, and author and founder of Marianne Schnall, who offered these ideas.

See the full discussion including audience Q&A on the University Life YouTube channel, plus photos from the event, here.

1. Volunteer, Donate and Support Nonprofit Organizations

“There are many organizations that have banded together…for whom you can volunteer,” said Professor Benedict.

“We need to make sure that we support programming that feeds the ideals that we support,” Jamil Smith said.

2. Engage Your Electors

“It’s important to keep pushing your senators and congress people,” said Benedict, “And calling is more important than emailing; they get the calls – they don’t really get the emails.”

Local and state-level efforts and activism matter, Smith reminded. “The time to get involved to make sure that rights that we’ve earned and fought for are protected is now,” he said.

Related Resources

Dozens of committees in the House of Representatives consider bills and issues, and oversee agencies, programs, and activities within their jurisdictions. Get the full list of committees and learn about each, from education and the workforce to oversight and government reform and more, here.

Find your congressional representative by state or last name, along with the committees on which they serve, here. Get a list of senators, here.

3. Use the Internet to Amplify Your Cause

Juju Chang suggested a quantitative and viral approach to growing support for initiatives, “Take the metrics, take the research, get funding - whether it’s (to) non-profits or city (government). And go viral with it.”

Social media can be a powerful tool for sharing information, she said.

4. Do the Work to Solve the Problems You See

“Find out not just what we’re protesting against, but what we stand for,” said Marianne Schnall.

Smith agreed, “Do the work, get involved. Hear stories directly and get involved with solving the problem.”

5. Keep Positive and Look Forward

The panel also encouraged kindness and looking forward. “Take this as an opportunity to wake up and hold a positive vision for the world that we want to have,” Schnall said.

“As you move forward and think about how you’re going to engage, keep love and compassion at the center of it,” added Professor Nadasen.


Read more from these AWAKENING OUR DEMOCRACY panelists, here.