How to Get Involved with Local Government
September 8, 2017 | Kathryn Kellogg
Last Updated on April 9, 2020
This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting up with some AMAZING like minded individuals to talk about all things zero waste. There was also a ton of zero waste snacks!
I mean, is there anything better?
I made a pact to myself that 2017 was the year of getting out from behind the computer screen and more face to face interaction. I’m failing pretty hard at that goal, but the year is not over yet!
Being able to easily brainstorm and talk about future projects was so inspiring and it really got me thinking about what are the next steps after individual action?
Individual action is an insanely awesome and powerful tool, but what happens when it starts feeling like a regular Tuesday?
I talk about this a lot when people ask me, “What do you find to be the biggest zero waste challenge?” I never have a good answer because living a zero waste lifestyle is just about changing your habits. Once you’ve changed them, you don’t notice that anything is different.
It doesn’t take any more time or thought, it’s just simply the way you live.
So, where can you go? What’s next?
I was thinking about this after the get together. I think the next step is group action, then putting pressure on businesses, then working on policy change. Then it goes right back through it again. The policy puts pressure on business which puts pressure on groups and then individuals.
I’ll cover each section in this blog, but I’m starting with policy.
I haven’t talked about it much, but I currently serve on the beautification commission in my city. I have always thought being an active citizen is important not only when it comes to voting in November but on all levels of government during all seasons.
Yes, I am that nerd who’s canvased and phone banked for local politicians.
I was hoping that after serving on the commission for a couple of months, I’d be able to offer you some amazing tips on how you can help enact change on the local level.
Local government is almost more important than the federal government. If you want to start seeing change fast, this is where you need to start.
But, it seems scary right? Like how do you even get started? I’m going to break it down into some super simple steps. I’ve provided a workbook at the end of this post so you can keep it all organized.
find your way around city hall:
Ok, so this one might seem obvious, but knowing how to get to and around city hall is important.
A lot of meetings will happen at this building, and I’m not sure if you’ve ever visited your city hall, but this building can feel like a maze.
I’ve had meetings all over City Hall, and it’s so easy to get lost and turned around.
It’s great to visit and know where you’re going before you’re running 5 minutes late to a meeting.
check out your local .gov:
I’m willing to guess your city has a website you’ll be able to find out A LOT of information from what boards and commissions operate, who serves on them, and the times and dates of their next meeting.
You should also be able to find city council members information and the city clerk.
All of these people are here to serve you the citizen. If you would like to get involved, you can always send them a nice email and they’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Don’t be afraid to send an email!
find a board or commission:
I serve on the beautification commission and from first-hand experience, we would love for you to email us or come visit us in a meeting! Seriously!
Google “boards and commissions in (your cities name, and state)” There will be a handful of boards and commissions. Find which one you feel identifies most closely with your project.
If you want to solve a litter problem, you’re probably not going to want to contact the budgeting committee.
It might be tricky to distinguish which commission is the BEST one. Send an email to whomever you think is the closest, and typically they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
email with an idea or even better a plan:
An abstract idea is a great place to start, but I’m hoping the workbook provided will help you come up with an even better plan.
Let’s start with a really common idea, a neighborhood clean up. Let’s say you’d like to host a neighborhood clean up, and you want the city’s help.
How would you need the city’s help?
Now think of some ways that those things could happen. Could the city add it to their newsletter? Share it on the cities social media page?
What type of tools do you need? Do you need a large dumpster to put all of the litter in? Do you need trash bags and gloves?
How many people do you need to help run it? Could you do with one volunteer?
Really think about what this event looks like, and what you need help with.
write it all down:
You can write down multiple options. You don’t have to decide on one perfect solution. But, come to the table, virtual or physical, with some ideas to show you’ve thought about it and are willing to help!
The board or commission will take your request under consideration. Depending on how they work within your local government will depend on the next steps.
Most likely they will be able to help you through public works or another branch or they will go through their assigned city council member to bring it to the city council to vote on.
It can feel like this process is distant, but make a friend with a member on the board and follow up with them. They can keep you in the loop.
Then hopefully your project is approved! Go you! You got involved and made your city a better place!
I hope you found this post to be helpful. Let’s keep it going and all brainstorm in the comment section. What’s a project you’d love to see happen in your town? What could help your town be a little greener?
I would really love to see a plastic bag ban, or a carryout bag fee enacted in my city. If anyone has any ideas or experience in this area I would love to hear about it.
There are A LOT of cities that have put bag bans in place. You should take a look at their legislation, and approach a board or commission in your town to help you with the drafting. This will need to be voted on by your city council, and you’ll most likely need to organize a group of volunteers to help get signatures to prove viable interest for the council.