By Benny Cartwright
Every year, as summer is ending and people start back to their routines, I am often asked by many community members how they can get involved. People know that I’ve been significantly involved in the community and city politically, civically, and socially, for over two decades and when they get a spark for getting involved, they often come to me.
I spend a lot of time responding to messages from people or meeting over drinks or coffee (iced tea for me!) for one-on-ones to learn more about what the person’s interests and passions are, so I can give them customized recommendations on people they should network with and organizations they should consider engaging with. I love doing this!
And sometimes, bringing me great pride, people take me up on my recommendations and find themselves immersed in the community. I get even more excited when people come back to me years later, when I didn’t even realize that they got involved in the community, to thank me for helping them take that first step and sharing with me all the great things they have done. Those are my proudest moments in my community work.
But far too often, people thank me immensely for sharing with them and then once life gets busy again, they lose that initial spark they had and go back to their normal routines. Others try to get involved with the community but find a lot of barriers to getting involved — barriers that are placed by many of the very organizations and people who publicly encourage others to get engaged in their community. I’ll write more on that another day, but it’s another major reason many people who want to join a board, run for office, or even simply volunteer, just give up.
And these people who are often let down and turned off from getting involved – be it because of barriers placed by the “insiders” or just the complexities of finding their way in a community full of different organizations, leaders, and insiders – are usually very smart, capable individuals with incredible experiences that would benefit the community.
By the way, when I speak of community, it can mean anything: your neighborhood, an identity-based community like LGBTQ, your city, or even a group of people who have formed a community around a common interest.
I pay a lot of attention to local politics and the issues that hit closest to home. So many of my friends and neighbors are really struggling with the incredibly high cost of living in San Diego, have conflicting feelings about the unhoused community and its effects, and feel like their voices are not being heard by any level of government or leadership.
Friends and neighbors on social media regularly share about having to move out of their current residence due to rent increases or their building be torn down to make way for something new – which is probably out of their price range.
People worry about a whole host of issues that affect them at the local, state, and national levels, and feel absolutely helpless to make a change or get involved. They think there is a class of people who run things and we just have to live with it. And of course, there is some truth to that, especially in our system where the wealthy-poor divide is becoming greater and greater.
But at the most local levels, YOU have the absolute opportunity to get involved and share your voice. And there are a lot of political insiders on both ends of the political spectrum who don’t want you to know that. San Diegans have historically been pretty apathetic about local politics and there are some pretty powerful groups on all sides of the aisle who have managed to spend a lot of money in elections and lobbying to hold the power. And we haven’t always seen the best results.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Everyone has a right to get involved, be it in a local community association, a community planning group, a city or county board or commission, and even a run for office. And of course, the best way to make your voice heard is to vote, vote often, and vote critically.
Remember, no one knows who you vote for (unless you tell others) so if you feel that a change needs to be made with whomever represents you, vote accordingly!
And if you’re not seeing the representation that is speaking to your interests, step up – or encourage that friend of yours who is always talking about running for office to step up.
Our day-to-day lives are greatly affected by the decisions made at the most local levels, be it city councils, county boards of supervisors, and even water and schools boards. We are at a time in history where “politics as usual” is not working anymore, and we need people with fresh ideas, perspectives, and who are not connected to the establishment to get involved with these processes.
Those who think it sounds overwhelming to just jump into running for office right away, have so many ways to learn and get their feet wet, first. Volunteering for a campaign is one of the best ways to do so, but also consider running for a seat on a community planning group. These advisory boards make recommendations to the city (or county, depending on what area the body is in) on land use issues. These groups operate like mini councils and you are able to learn quite a bit how land use decisions are made. Those who care about how their community will look and feel over the next 10, 20, or 30 years should definitely check one of these out.
Speaking of planning groups, the Uptown Planners is the local planning board for the area that encompasses part of University Heights, Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, Mission Hills, and Middletown. This board has had quite a few shake ups in the last few years and we need good folks to bring some reason back to the board.
I happen to be running for a seat in their special election happening on Saturday, Sept. 2 and Tuesday, Sept. 5, and if you live in the Uptown area, I’d really appreciate your vote. Information about voting is at bit.ly/UPElection23.
That aside, this fall, I really encourage you to think about what concerns you most about any community you are a part of and how you can jump in to make a difference. The sky’s the limit and there is no one stopping you. Some will try, but there will be an equal number of people rooting you on. And I am always happy to meet with you to discuss ways you can take your spark to the next level — even if you end up losing the spark or going in a different direction.
Let’s get you involved and make change in our communities! My contact information is in the bio section below this column.
Lots of love!
–Benny Cartwright is a longtime activist and community leader. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram @BennyC80.
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