Guest post by Catherine Flowers for the Office of Civic Engagement blog2017 Practitioner in Residence at Duke Human Rights Center@FHI

I was fortunate to have parents that were activists who imparted many lessons about civic engagement that are still impactful today. In my current work as an environmental justice activist, I have employed many of those lessons. From them I learned to continue to pursue the goal of a just society even when it seems illusive. I have also learned to fight for a sustainable earth even as poor communities are increasingly the dumping grounds of chemicals, the extraction industry and all things dirty and unhealthy. In my fight to change this paradigm, we can use civic engagement to create environmental justice nationally and internationally.

The United States Constitution is a document that all citizens should read. Despite the fact it was written with some flaws, it is still an amazing document. The key to making it a living and breathing document written to ensure liberty and justice is civic engagement. Civic engagement is an inoculation against tyranny, especially environmental tyranny. In my view, citizen’s knowledge of the constitution is one of the valuable tools in our arsenal as we use civic engagement to fight for environmental justice and against man made climate change.

One major factor in civic engagement is the right to vote.  Every vote counts. If voting was not important, there would not have been a fight to ensure that all American citizens had the right to exercise it. Adversely, there would not be moves to limit the franchise through gerrymandering and other means. Beyond voting, run for office. In some communities, the same people have had a monopoly on elected positions for generations. In others, people vote out of desperation because no candidate really represents their interest, or they simply stay home. Therefore, if there is no candidate on the ballot that inspires you to exercise your franchise, you should run for office.

For those persons that are elected to office, let them hear your voice. Attend town hall meeting, write letters and most of all, check their voting record.  A key to understanding the voting record is to find out who is funding the candidates. Pull their campaign finance records. Find out what positions they have taken that lines up with their voting records. Likewise, it may help determine why they have not voted for certain issues. It may explain why they are supporting environmental devastating industries and are opposed to measures that would limit climate change.

Exercise your right to peaceful protest. Standing Rock was a great example of how people exercised their constitutional right to peaceful protest. It was a beautiful example of the constitution in action. Around the country, local governments are moving to limit the right to protest. Protest can take on many forms. Writing editorials to give voice to your concerns.  Beyond Standing Rock, people are now asking questions about the banks that funds pipelines and asking them to divest. Find out if your town, city or state government is investing pension funds in industries that create an unlivable earth. Help shape the narrative that cause people to take action. Civic engagement is necessary to impact climate change and environmental justice. We are either part of the problem or part of the solution. I choose to be part of the solution. Please join me in that effort.

Photo by Emily Stewart.