Make an impact in your community by becoming a Civic Champion
By CAROLINA ALBAN-STOUGHTON
As a young student in Oklahoma, Sue Loftin took a civics class not really knowing the impact a particular hands-on project from that class would have later in her life. “We were required to pick an item that was to be heard by the City Council. Once the topic was selected, we were required to research the issue and present our position to the City Council. These types of experiences I was fortunate to have in a public high school in Oklahoma,” said Loftin. She is now the founding partner of The Loftin Firm, P.C., Vice Chair of Public Policy at the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce and a constant presence at Carlsbad City Council meetings. “I attend local jurisdiction hearings (City Council, Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and similar hearings) approximately 3-5 times a month. I attend in two different capacities: as part of my profession as a land use attorney and as an individual or working with groups pro bono to present a specific position on an issue.”
While getting involved in the community and letting her voice be heard by local legislators is part of Loftin’s life in Carlsbad, there are many people out there who would like to get more involved in issues affecting their communities, but feel overwhelmed or don’t know exactly how to start. Loftin has been in that same place before. “I spent years not expressing my political views because I did not want to be misclassified, placed in a bucket or spend hours arguing, rather than discussing the issues. I realized my silence, along with many others’ silence, was providing an empty space for ideas and positions to take control with which I strongly disagreed. Now, I speak up – sometimes with a hostile response. Taking a stand on an issue or political candidate will provide you with a sense of involvement. You will learn your voice does make a difference.”
Civic Champion workshop
An election year is always a good opportunity to become more engaged in a community’s civic life. This year, the phrase “all politics is local” rings true in Carlsbad as the following seats are up for election in 2018: Mayor, District 1 Council Member, District 3 Council Member, City Clerk and City Treasurer. In addition, there are a lot of state races that will be decided, so staying informed is our civic duty. That’s why the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce is offering a Civic Champion workshop, which will help people navigate the ins and outs of the election process, learn ways to get involved in campaigns, how to hold elected officials accountable once the election is over, and how to remain engaged during non-election years. “The main idea here is to teach people the multiple ways they have to get involved. This means doing things that go beyond casting a vote, which of course, it is incredibly important,” said Toni Padron, Executive Vice President/COO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce. Padron believes a lot of people wrongly think that their votes don’t count and get disillusioned with the process, when the opposite is true. “At a local level, every vote makes a difference, and being informed, supporting a candidate, volunteering makes you realize that you are not powerless,” she added.
The workshop will include presentations by experts on the electoral process, political campaigning and civic engagement, such as San Diego Registrar of Voters, Michael Vu. “Whether it is voting, helping out on a campaign or volunteering as a poll worker, being actively engaged in our electoral system strengthens our democracy (our nation). Our country’s ideals and freedoms have always rested on the firm ground that it is through the electoral process that we are able to achieve them. Exercising our right of self-governance only occurs when we have a participatory electorate and the more who participate, the more it fortifies and unites us as a country.” Vu also added that besides voting, running for office and becoming a poll worker are also ways to become civically engaged. “There are anywhere from 7,500 to 9,000 poll workers and election workers that assist us with carrying on a major statewide election. Giving of themselves, volunteer poll workers are the connecting point between the work of the Registrar of Voters and our citizens. Many who serve find the experience so meaningful that they return time and time again. Being a poll worker not only demonstrates our rich and fundamental tradition of giving our citizens the right to vote, it also gives all of us a sense of community.”
Also speaking at the workshop will be nationally recognized political consultant, Tom Shepard. “One of our fundamental rights as Americans is to support the candidate of our choice for public office. That support can take the form of an endorsement, volunteer activities or a monetary contribution. Going beyond making a personal contribution, a supporter can contact friendsand business associates by mail or phone or host a small gathering at their home or business to introduce the candidate and encourage others to contribute,” said Shepard. Shepard will present on two occasions, first focusing on how constituents can support a campaign’s fundraising efforts and then on ways elected officials can be reached and held accountable after the election.
The Civic Champion workshop will also teach attendants about the opportunities available to get involved in a candidate’s campaign. Furthermore, for those who see political campaigning as a long-term goal, the workshop will show participants ways to get their foot in the door, especially between Labor Day and election day, when the needs are critical. “All candidates and campaigns need volunteers to help them with the various tasks necessary to win. The ways to help include helping candidates staff a booth at a street fair, walking precincts, writingletters to the editor or posting signs throughout a city or district,” said John Hoy, associate with California Consulting, who is also a presenter at the workshop. As the world has changed, some campaign needs have changed too, while other traditional tasks have remained the same. “Common current needs are website design experience and social media management skills. Also helpful is being handy with a hammer, staple gun and a ladder for sign placement. Writing skills are always in demand for drafting of letters to the editor and opinion pieces. And finally, competitive campaigns always want a strong door-to-door presence, so a willingness to walk precincts and talk directly with voters on behalf of a candidate is always important,” said Hoy.
Beyond the elections
The second part of the Civic Champions workshop will focus on how to remain engaged after the elections. Whether people’s favorite candidates win or lose there is no need to sit back until the next election cycle. “An American patriot once observed that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Attend council meetings, research issues of concern and engage in public debate via letters to the editor, commentaries submitted to local blogs or publications. Volunteer to serve on citizens’ committees. Become a source of information for your neighbors and friends regarding issues of concern,” said Shepard, who adds that “most local elected officials are conscientious about soliciting and accepting advice and feedback from constituents.”
In the age of social media, many constituents like to reach out to their legislators using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. But as former Deputy Press Secretary for former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Principal of Laing Strategic Communications, Rachel Laing, explains there are appropriate ways to actually be heard and stand out. “The No. 1 tip of engaging with an elected official over social media is to be respectful. Many elected officials are happy to engage over social media, and it’s a great way to get questions answered or share thoughts, comments and information with them. But always act as you would if you were face-to-face with that official. Even if you’re furious or disappointed with something going on, you won’t be effective if you take a berating or hostile tone.”
The city as the hub for civic engagement
Attending City Council meetings are always great ways to be involved in your community and stay up to date with upcoming legislation that may affect you. While Sue Loftin knows how to do this very well, she is aware that many people don’t know where to start. “The first step in learning how to express your opinions at a public hearing (City Council) is to attend a public hearing to watch and listen. Before speaking at a public hearing, learn about the issue on which you wish to speak, write out your speech, then attend the hearing and speak. The first time can be intimidating, but keep at it until you can enjoy your important participation.”
To learn about proper decorum during a City Council meeting, the workshop will include a presentation by Carlsbad City Clerk, Barbara Engleson. “Problems with communication typically begin when one person feels disrespected, slighted or cheated out of something. Civility, be it at council meetings, or at any time, encourages listening, the free exchange of thoughts and ideas and perhaps most importantly, it honors the process that allows for all those who would like to be heard, to be heard,” said Engleson, whose presentation will give anyone who would like to attend City Council meeting, the tools to make sure it is a good experience.
Also representing the City of Carlsbad will be Assistant to the City Manager, Jason Haber and Community Services Manager, Marie Jones-Kirk. Both will teach workshop participants the different ways to get involved with the community and to stay up to date with ordinances, available grants and volunteer opportunities, and most importantly, how to be a leader in your own community.
The Civic Champion workshop will be held on August 16th and August 23rd at the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce. Voter registration will be available on August 16th.