Last month more than 5 million people rose up to make their voices heard at the Women’s March on Washington. It was an impressive display of solidarity, not just in Washington D.C. but in cities across the United States and throughout the world. But one day of marching isn’t the end—it’s now that the hard work starts, and it will be a marathon, not a sprint.
When it came to the Women’s March, it was local grassroots organizing that helped turn out the biggest peaceful protest in U.S. history. Moving forward, it will also be at this local level where collectively we can best fight against any federal policies that threaten civil rights, dismantle healthcare and social protections, or defund crucial organizations that support arts, humanities, science, and the environment.
Though the challenges ahead have global impacts, resistance can only come from sustained local activism in our communities and cities. By helping and supporting each other and fighting for the causes we care about at the local level, we build the foundation for a strong collective voice at the national level.
So how can business leaders take action? Here are some ways to support local activism in your community:
Get involved in local politics
Can you name your city council representatives? Do you know what community board you belong to? If not, it’s time to start familiarizing yourself with your local government. These are the first line of people making key decisions affecting your neighborhood, your neighbors, and the businesses around you.
New York City in particular has a robust community board system, with 59 boards each made up of approximately 50 volunteers that play an important advisory role when it comes to matters such as land use and zoning. Most boards have their own websites, which you can find in the city’s CB directory. Meetings are always open to the public, and the agendas are usually posted ahead of time on the website.
The boards regularly accept applications for members annually or throughout the year when there are openings. A new 2015 rule even allows residents as young as 16 to become community board members—this is a great way to introduce future leaders to local politics!
If you’re also looking to influence the political agenda at the local level, it may be beneficial to join a local political action committee or organization. Just be sure to do the research behind any political group and its funders to ensure that the group aligns with your party and goals.
In the spirit of empowering women to take get involved in politics, we recommend the National Organization for Women NYC chapter, which advocates for women’s rights at the state and congressional level, as well as She Should Run and Emily's List, an organization supporting women who are interested in running for public office.
Do your civic duty and volunteer
If politics isn’t the right avenue for you, there are still plenty of ways to do your civic duty and contribute to the local community. This is a great way directly address the issues you care about as they relate to your city, county, or state, whether that’s volunteering for a local organization or mentoring local youth.
Since President Obama set the national goal of engaging 100 million Americans in service by 2020, many cities have since set up online volunteer databases where individuals and businesses can find local opportunities. New York City was the first to heed the call, launching NYC Service in 2009. Other major cities also offer databases, including L.A. Works, One Good Deed Chicago, and Volunteer Houston, among others.
Businesses can also volunteer their expertise as part of their civic duty. In the field of law? The New York Legal Assistance Group is looking for volunteers for the recently launched NYCitizenship program. In the field of environmental protection and green energy? The Green Neighborhoods Program seeks volunteers to promote local care of trees, forests, and wetlands. Business leaders are also to encouraged to join #MentorNYC to help mentor and shape the city’s future leaders.
Support local education programs and non-profits
Inspiring as it is to hear about the ACLU shattering fundraising records in one weekend, it will be increasingly important in the coming years to continue supporting local programs and nonprofits in your area—particularly those under threat of losing federal grants or funds. This includes but is not limited to organizations supporting arts, humanities, science, even refugee resettlement programs.
At Creative Business, we’ve been particularly troubled by the potential cuts to agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, which has an annual spend of $148 million. Although a tiny fraction (0.003%) of the federal budget, the funding provides important grants to independent artists and arts, music, theatre and dance organizations all over the U.S. to help fund everything from arts education for underserved communities to preserving local folk arts and heritage.
To discover and support organizations near you that rely on federal NEA funding, check out the website to see a national list of grant award winners organized by state or discipline/field.