What thoughtful civic engagement can look like and how to begin
With Canada facing a federal election September 20, we have a fresh invitation to ask ourselves what we value. Each small step – like voting and signing petitions to defend the marginalized and oppressed – are contributions to God’s restorative work. This is part of our calling as people of peace, and it’s a crucial way to seek the flourishing of our neighbours.
Becoming an engaged citizen
Getting involved in politics is often incremental and cause-driven. For Alida Thomas of Vancouver, the director of research and programs for an international development NGO, those causes include refugee crises, Indigenous activism, climate change, and the rights and roles of women. She became a member of a political party in her early twenties and works with organizations that do public policy research or advocacy on these topics.
“Something shifted where I stopped believing that politics is a thing that was happening out there,” she says. “It became really clear to me that politics affects the lived experience of my neighbour, the lived experience of my friends, and my own lived experience.”
Recently, Thomas partnered with Hannah Marazzi and Ben Roy to co-edit a book tentatively titled Opt In: A Beginner’s Handbook to Canadian Politics, written by authors spanning the political spectrum. “One of our main pitches to people is that you don’t need to be an expert on everything to be involved politically,” she says. Politics “belongs to all of us and it requires all of us.”
The book, to be published by fall 2022, provides an overview of levels of government, political parties and evergreen public policy issues. It also discusses how to engage in healthy discussions about politics and how to avoid being taken in by misinformation. Their goal is to encourage active citizenship.
Change is slow – keep persevering
Dale Aalbers, an administrative assistant to a Member of Parliament, has seen many issues he cares about not go the way he hoped. He still believes it’s important to have his convictions voiced. A recent example is Bill C-7, which expands eligibility for euthanasia to people who are not dying. Despite opposition, the new bill was passed in March 2021, opening doors for people with disabilities and mental illnesses to become eligible for medical assisted dying.
Aalbers believes the alternative viewpoints of those opposing Bill C-7 added another layer of humanity to the discussion, causing politicians to wrestle with whether the bill was going too far. “If we don’t get involved, there is a serious risk of the things that are important to us kind of getting lost,” he says. Change “doesn’t always happen at the speed or the pace we’d like, but we’re still able to bring things to a national discussion.”
Choosing our leaders
When it comes to voting wisely, it’s essential to pray, ask good questions and access trustworthy research. Find Canadian thinktanks that focus on topics that interest you and follow their reports. These organizations are already doing the research and creating space for debate and conversation on public policy. They are excellent resources to help inform your vote.
It’s also critical to identify reliable media sources and read from a variety of outlets. Each source will have its own set of biases. Avoid using social media as your primary source. Each platform’s algorithms will make suggestions based on what they think you already think, funnelling people into viewpoint silos. Remember the basic rule of thumb you learned in high school English class: find the original source for any piece of information.
When considering voting for a candidate, look at his or her individual character and the goals of the party. Aalbers suggests asking questions like: What deeper societal changes is this party proposing to bring about? What could be the outcomes of those changes? What is this party progressing toward, and does that new vision leave room for the values you care about?
Voting, volunteering and working in politics are some of the ways we can advocate for our oppressed and vulnerable neighbours. These actions express God’s love and heart for justice to our communities and government.
“Incremental involvement is so important,” says Thomas. “If that starts with finding an issue that matters to you that you read a little bit more about and sign the petition, that’s amazing. That is using your voice for our collective belonging.”
To continue learning about civic engagement, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has a broad list of resources and guides available at www.TheEFC.ca/CivicEngagement. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez from Unsplash.