This guest article is by ELGL member Matt Hirschinger, Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Arvada, CO. Read all of Matt’s other articles at the Social Justice –> Government homepage.
The seventh project I completed as part of my ongoing coursework and effort to take a broad look at the ways we can implement social justice into local government was for the Colorado Association of Municipal Clerks (CMCA). Their request was a two-hour webinar as part of their official certification training program to cover the most applicable lessons from my intercultural communication class. Although the recording is reserved for those who paid their fees for the class, I can share the PowerPoint and notes.
At the end was my call, my encouragement for the Clerks to share civics, that they above any other group within a local government setting understand how government operates at the local level. After all, even the smallest jurisdictions will still have a Clerk. They do have their ethics to remain neutral. That neutrality doesn’t prevent them from sharing how our processes work, especially to those traditionally left behind. The trick is to be proactive, and share civics BEFORE the controversial issue comes up, BEFORE sharing such information becomes a political matter.
Beyond Clerks, all of us have the means to share civics, to let our family, friends, neighbors, and social networks know what we do, how we do it, why we do it, and bit by bit remind people where their tax dollars go. We can show them what good work is being done outside their line of sight. We all struggle with trying to get the public to notice our work, competing with the endless amounts of information and entertainment just one click away. We all can take a few steps to inform our own social circles of what’s happening.
Our work is not boring. Our work does have an impact.
Remove the jargon, the technical nuances, the number crunching, and highlight the public good that comes from our labor. We facilitate informed community decisions, we protect people’s lives and properties through direct and indirect ways, we solve problems in the short and long term.
My friend works for the city. My neighbor’s part of the streets crew. My old classmate from high school’s a police officer now. These personal connections add up, strengthened if we put in the extra effort to remind our loved ones of our work in local government.
And if we want to go a step above and beyond? Share our work to those trying to make a difference whether they’re volunteers, activists, and/or advocates. To be clear, this isn’t suggesting we go around any open records requests or compromise any ethics or organizational policies with sensitive information. It’s more of saying, “I’m a Clerk” or “I’m a Civil Engineer” or “I’m a Permit Technician” followed with, “and here’s what I do.” It’s helping those active citizens be a bit better informed to better enact the change they’re seeking.
Beyond the public service of making just a few other people more aware, more engaged with their local government, comes professional credibility and opportunity. I’ve been sharing civics in my own way through ELGL, and it’s paid off. At the start of this series back in January 2020, I made the claim that “For me, a degree in the Humanities is very much a calculated, intentional effort to make myself marketable, to be well-versed in the skills and knowledge that will become more and more desired in our profession. With matters of equity, I believe that moral and practical considerations are one and the same.” This year, I proved these words true. When I completed my last project for my previous community my role was phased out. In two months I had a job offer for a much larger community where one of the reasons I was hired on was my DEI knowledge and skills made evident by this series.
Share civics. Share our work, our passion, our successes, even our failures. It will help those around us, and it may help each of us along our own paths too.