The Citizen’s Handbook: Practical Assistance for Those Who Want to Make a Difference

3 Feb

“Practical Assistance for Those Who Want to Make a Difference”

This morning I was looking for some organizing tools for planning the 2010 Three Rivers Bioneers Conference and discovered  The Citizen’s Handbook, produced in Vancouver, BC.

Developed to encourage citizens to become active participants in shaping their own communities, the Handbook provides guidelines for tackling problems locally. Though many of the resources mentioned are Canadian, the U.S. is referenced frequently and the strategies shared are largely universal. I highly recommend taking a look at this resource and sharing it widely.

What happens when people stop observing and start acting?

“When people become involved in their neighbourhoods they can become a potent force for dealing with local problems. Through co-ordinated planning, research and action, they can accomplish what individuals working alone could not. When people decide they are going to be part of the solution, local problems start getting solved. When they actually begin to work with other individuals, schools, associations, businesses, and government service providers, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.”

How can my involvement change anything?

“When citizens get together at the neighbourhood level, they generate a number of remarkable side effects. One of these is strengthened democracy. In simple terms, democracy means that the people decide. Political scientists describe our system of voting every few years but otherwise leaving everything up to government as weak democracy. In weak democracy, citizens have no role, no real part in decision-making between elections. Experts assume responsibility for deciding how to deal with important public issues.
The great movement of the last decades of the twentieth century has been a drive toward stronger democracy in corporations, institutions and governments. In many cities this has resulted in the formal recognition of neighbourhood groups as a link between people and municipal government, and a venue for citizen participation in decision-making between elections.”

In the past several decades, people have moved around more, become less connected to their communities and less likely to know their neighbors. This is not inevitable, and small actions can help redefine our neighborhoods, making them safer, healthier places to live.

“Active citizens can help to create a sense of community connected to place. We all live somewhere. As such we share a unique collection of problems and prospects in common with our neighbours. Participation in neighbourhood affairs builds on a recognition of here-we-are-together, and a yearning to recapture something of the tight-knit communities of the past. Neighbourhood groups can act as vehicles for making connections between people, forums for resolving local differences, and a means of looking after one another. Most important, they can create a positive social environment that can become one of the best features of a place.”

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