Senator Berta Gardner

October 17, 2016

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

1500 W Benson Blvd. #220
Anchorage, AK 99503
Phone: 907-269-0155
Call Me: 1-800-331-4930

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What does civic engagement mean to you?

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

An image of the original United States Constitution and popular image used in civics education.
An image of the original United States Constitution and popular image used in civics education.

Last Friday, the twelve members of the new Civics Education Task Force held their second meeting. Born of legislation sponsored by our chairman, Senator Gary Stevens, the task force began meeting in September and will continue to meet until January.  Sen. Stevens has been troubled by poor voter registration and turnout in the state --a concern I share.  The goal of this legislation is to look for ways to instill a sense of civic engagement in our students - not just with an occasional trip to the voting booth but by participating in community life in a more interactive and personal way.  So, what is civic engagement?

Some years ago I was privileged to be in Barrow during a whale harvest festival.  A woman approached me angrily, complaining about the International Whaling Commission.  When I asked questions about whaling she spoke to me strongly and passionately about the cultural importance of whale harvesting.  She explained why it was so important in her culture and community, especially for young men.  She told me how easy it is for boys on the cusp of manhood to get caught up in trouble if they don’t see an important role for them in their community.  For these young men, being part of  a whaling crew was a “coming of age” ceremony, giving them a sense of service and obligation, of being part of a team with responsibilities beyond the critically important task of delivering a sacred food source to their community. 

Listening to the task force presentations and discussion, my understanding of that whaling conversation shifted.  I recognized that what she was talking about was the true meaning of civic engagement.  It’s a feeling of connection to a community and having a sense of purpose and accountability to the people around you.

Most of us have circles of people we interact with and influence.  The size of these circles depends on how involved we are in our communities.  Someone actively working towards improving aspects of their neighborhood, community, city and state, is much more likely to feel a stronger sense purpose, accountability and connection to the people they know, and places they live.  Someone who is less engaged, may not feel the same sense of connection or investment and could easily feel isolated and indifferent to the people and places in their area.

What does civic engagement mean to you? I want to know.  For me, voting is definitely important but is just one small part of civics.  Think about your circles.  How many neighbors do you know in your community?  How many groups do you belong to outside of your family and work?  What inspires you to give back?  I look forward to reading your answers.

I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.

signed: Berta

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