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Civic Engagement – Role of Elected Officials

Guest article by Mike McMahon. (Posted at Mr. McMahon’s request…)

Ever since I was elected in 2002, I have struggled with my responsibility to engage the community. While I have received positive feedback on my ability to provide information about school board proceedings, communications is a two way street. How do I ensure that all of the voices of the community are being heard?

In the old days (pre-2006) I used a number of different methods. I listened to public comments at school board meetings, read the newspapers including letters to the editor and received Emails. In 2006, things began to change with the appearance of Alameda-focused blogs. Ever since then a number of local blogs have appeared ranging from news reporting sites to specialty blogs on real estate, gardening or slow food.

A recent Pew Research survey on The Internet and Civic Engagement published these findings:

Whether they take place on the internet or off, traditional political activities remain the domain of those with high levels of income and education.

There are hints that forms of civic engagement anchored in blogs and social networking sites could alter long-standing patterns that are based on socio-economic status.

Those who use blogs and social networking sites as an outlet for civic engagement are far more active in traditional realms of political and nonpolitical participation than are other internet users. In addition, they are even more active than those who do not use the internet at all.

The internet is now part of the fabric of everyday civic life. Half of those who are involved in a political or community group communicate with other group members using digital tools such as email or group websites.

Respondents report that public officials are no less responsive to email than to snail mail. Online communications to government officials are just as likely to draw a response as contacts in person, over the phone, or by letter.

Those who make political donations are more likely to use the internet to make their contributions than are those who make charitable donations; however, large political donations are much less likely to be made online than are large charitable donations.

So my question to you is: Has the introduction of blogs changed/improved civic engagement in Alameda? Is it the same voices that show up at public meetings and write letters to the editor that comment on blogs?

Take a quick 5 question survey and post comments below.

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