I am passionate about civics education and social justice.
A couple of days ago, my family and I were at dinner when my sister asked, “What do you do to increase voter turnout?” The conversation evolved into a debate on equitable access to polling stations and passing out refreshments in lines, but stopped at education. Even if individuals have access to voting, how do you create the educated voter?
I had grappled with the question for years, first as a high school student in Columbus and now as a graduate student at Ohio State. In an age with massive computing power in an iPhone, civics education should not be difficult. On the contrary, Gen Z is currently proving that, through our advocacy and activism, inequities perpetuated by congressional gridlock and judicial disregard can be stopped by building relationships, fostering knowledge and a commitment to reform on the local level.
For example, as a high school student after the 2016 presidential election, I noticed voting-age students and adults not knowing the difference between the popular and electoral vote. Building on this lack of knowledge, I cofounded The WORTH Foundation to improve civics education for students and equip them with the skills to create the change they seek. Through civics education programs, annual conferences and community conversations, we’ve taught students concepts that reinforce strategies for progress: governance theories, the basics of coalition building, how to be effective leaders and more. This led to students across Columbus engaging in activities such as lobbying their school boards for millions of dollars in building repairs, hosting voter registration drives and planning community engagement programs. While these events created an enthusiasm for civics education, they also generated educational equity by creating a robust understanding of democracy that allowed for increased youth engagement and voting in the 2020 election.
Throughout this experience, I questioned: “If we are not teaching our youth to be informed citizens within a local democracy, how will we expect our future citizens to engage in a national democracy with issues such as criminal justice reform?” While pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Public Policy Analysis at the Glenn College, I have learned that often the most impactful ways to combat national issues are with local solutions.
Currently, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has stalled in Congress, but young people and activists across the country are demanding change from their local city councils and police departments. As a member of the Columbus Police Chief’s Advisory Panel, I am involved in such change. After the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, the panel was established to advise the chief of police to provide input into community policing strategies, practices and transparency in police operations. For equity to prosper, local collaboration is required, and an understanding of cultures and values must be shared. We have issued recommendations for required cultural competency training, increased psychiatric check-ins for officers and established community-relations activities in the areas where officers work. Columbus is still facing challenges, but the emphasis on “people-first” reform will be the framework for the future of public safety.
As we received the check for our dinner, my mother said, “Charity begins at home.”
Local activism is the impetus for change within the American democracy. If we seek to address congressional gridlock, we must first address the gridlock in our backyards. What happens when Columbus public safety becomes a model for Ohio public safety? Or when your state response to civic education serves as the foundation for a national model? Our responsibility as citizens is to create the best democracy we can, one community at a time.
Hopefully, we will create change that flows from Main Street to Capitol Hill. Naturally, this will create opportunities for success and equity — qualities that are analogous to Sen. Glenn’s belief in the power of community action.
Andrew Pierce II is pursuing a combined Bachelor of Science in Public Policy Analysis, specializing in nonprofit management, and a master’s degree in public administration from the Glenn College.