Like any good Somerville citizen, I see civic engagement as a necessary part of my residency. Before the word ‘politics’ was something to avoid in most conversations, it was a word people used to generalize their relationships and involvement with the community. Somerville has a culture of getting fired up, demanding change and voting to make it happen. Additionally, the history, population and location of this town make it both small enough for an individual citizen to make an impact, and big enough for that impact to carry relevance in the greater Boston community.
The messy part of talking civic engagement is its intersection with partisan politics. For the record, your guy Townie Tim is a proud independent. That said, not picking a side does not disqualify me from getting involved everywhere I can. Tip O’Neill liked to say “All politics is local,” and while there was a partisan opinion baked in that phrase, it was more about voting along the lines of the needs of your community. In my humble townie opinion, the more local the issue, the less it has to do with a national party, and the more it has to do with a group of my neighbors.
In college, your primary engagement with the community is with the student body on campus. This is a great place to start because it is a microcosm of your post-collegiate career. However, because of Tufts’ position in Somerville and Boston, there is a lot of opportunity to affect local change while you are a student.
Now, I can think of two main reasons it can be hard to visualize how to get involved with the Somerville community. First of all, you probably moved to Somerville to go to Tufts. The good news is that almost half the folks in Somerville are in a similar boat; they moved here from somewhere else. This is a transient community, but an engaged one nonetheless. Be proud of your background and use it to bring new perspective to the challenges of this community.
Second, understanding the needs of a dynamic community can be intimidating. This will be true regardless of where you live, but it cannot prevent you from trying. The sooner you get over the fear of understanding a community, the sooner you can step in to help it. However, I do have a warning in this piece of advice: A lot of damage can be done in trying to fix a problem you might not understand. In my experience, unless you are a policy expert, you might never fully understand a particular topic. This is why your approach to civic engagement should be honest and humble. Maintain the posture of an active, curious and open neighbor in all of your community efforts.
Now, time to get moving. There are several Tufts organizations that engage in the community through workers’ rights (Tufts Dining Action Coalition), housing (Tufts Housing League) and the environment (Mystic River Watershed Association). I look forward to seeing you in the community.