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Political activity is not the only form of engagement, and many people today seek other opportunities to become involved. This is particularly true of young Americans. Although young people today often shy away from participating in traditional political activities, they do express deep concern for their communities and seek out volunteer opportunities.

Jared Keller. 4 May 2015. “Young Americans are Opting Out of Politics, but Not Because They’re Cynical,” http://www.psmag.com/politics-and-law/young-people-are-not-so-politically-inclined.
Although they may not realize it, becoming active in the community and engaging in a wide variety of community-based volunteer efforts are important forms of civic engagement and help government do its job. The demands on government are great, and funds do not always exist to enable it to undertake all the projects it may deem necessary. Even when there are sufficient funds, politicians have differing ideas regarding how much government should do and what areas it should be active in. Volunteers and community organizations help fill the gaps. Examples of community action include tending a community garden, building a house for Habitat for Humanity, cleaning up trash in a vacant lot, volunteering to deliver meals to the elderly, and tutoring children in after-school programs ( [link] ).

An image of several people working together to build the wooden framework of a building.
After the Southern California wildfires in 2003, sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan helped volunteers rebuild houses in San Pasqual as part of Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity builds homes for low-income people. (credit: Johansen Laurel, U. S. Navy)

Some people prefer even more active and direct forms of engagement such as protest marches and demonstrations, including civil disobedience . Such tactics were used successfully in the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and remain effective today. Likewise, the sit-ins (and sleep-ins and pray-ins) staged by African American civil rights activists, which they employed successfully to desegregate lunch counters, motels, and churches, have been adopted today by movements such as Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street ( [link] ). Other tactics, such as boycotting businesses of whose policies the activists disapproved, are also still common. Along with boycotts, there are now “buycotts,” in which consumers purchase goods and services from companies that give extensively to charity, help the communities in which they are located, or take steps to protect the environment.

An image of three people behind a table. On the table are serval large open containers of food. A crowd of people is in the background.
Volunteers fed people at New York’s Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street protest in September 2011. (credit: David Shankbone)

Ritchie torres

In 2013, at the age of twenty-five, Ritchie Torres became the youngest member of the New York City Council and the first gay council member to represent the Bronx ( [link] ). Torres became interested in social justice early in his life. He was raised in poverty in the Bronx by his mother and a stepfather who left the family when Torres was twelve. The mold in his family’s public housing apartment caused him to suffer from asthma as a child, and he spent time in the hospital on more than one occasion because of it. His mother’s complaints to the New York City Housing Authority were largely ignored. In high school, Torres decided to become a lawyer, participated in mock trials, and met a young and aspiring local politician named James Vacca . After graduation, he volunteered to campaign for Vacca in his run for a seat on the City Council. After Vacca was elected, he hired Torres to serve as his housing director to reach out to the community on Vacca’s behalf. While doing so, Torres took pictures of the poor conditions in public housing and collected complaints from residents. In 2013, Torres ran for a seat on the City Council himself and won. He remains committed to improving housing for the poor.

Winston Ross, “Ritchie Torres: Gay, Hispanic and Powerful,” Newsweek , 25 January 2015.

Image A is of Ritchie Torres. Image B is of James Vacca.
Ritchie Torres (a) currently serves alongside his mentor, James Vacca (b), on the New York City Council. Both men represent the Bronx.

Why don’t more young people run for local office as Torres did? What changes might they effect in their communities if they were elected to a government position?

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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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