“A free society must rely on the knowledge, skills, and virtue of its citizens and those they elect to public office. Civic education, therefore, is essential to the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy.” – Center for Civic Education

With election season approaching, we are reminded of the importance of voting and the election process. But citizens have a much bigger role in society than voting every few years. Because of this, KPL is focusing on civics education for our community. So, what exactly is civics other than a term used in our distant grade school memories?

Civics is the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. Essentially, civics is about what citizens of a nation can do. When you are a citizen, you are considered part of the nation and have an active role in determining what that nation does. Imagine the U.S. like a book club. If you are part of the book club, you have a say in what book is read next or if the book club decides to meet on Fridays instead of Tuesdays.

We as citizens usually think of voting when they think of civics. We vote for the person/people we want to be in office or policies we want adapted or put into place. However, there is much more a citizen can do beyond voting. Voting is one delicious slice of democracy and there’s so much more to the civic’s pie! Here’s a list of the rights and responsibilities of each citizen of the U.S.:

Some are straightforward and reflect the Bill of Rights, which is a document that protects the freedoms and liberties of individuals in the U.S. Because of the freedom to express oneself, one can walk about the street wearing a dinosaur costume and a disco ball as a necklace. On a more serious note, one is free to express their thoughts and opinions without interference by public authorities. Some examples of this is the right to assemble and peacefully protest. Participating in protests has enacted great change like the Suffrage Movement, March on Washington, the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, and many others you can read about here.

Yet, some of the responsibilities listed can be a bit vague. How do I get informed about local issues? How do I fulfill my civic duty in a way that’s more than voting? Luckily, we’ve made a handy-dandy guide to follow to get more involved and engage in our rights.

1. Read and/or watch your local news. It may seem simple, but it’s easy to get caught up with bigger news stories that circulate and forget about what’s happening in your neighborhood. You can access current and past articles on NewsBank, under the Research It section of our website. NewsBank provides articles from the Kirkwood-Webster Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and more.

2. Know your locally elected officials. When you know who your elected officials are, you can stay informed on what policies they are putting forward and contact them if you are in support/opposition of those policies. You can do a search for your state and local elected officials here as well as their websites and contact information. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your local officials as they are meant to represent you and your community.

3. Participate in jury duty. No one looks forward to jury duty, but it is an important opportunity and right we have to be directly involved in our country’s justice system. Someone being tried in court has the right to be tried by a jury of their peers. The jury is meant to give an unbiased and fair perspective of their trial. Links will be provided below about St. Louis County and City procedures for jury duty.

4. Get involved with an organization. Ask yourself what you are passionate about rather than trying to tackle everything at once. Find an organization that reflects your passion and volunteer or figure out how to support them. You can check out this resource here to find local organizations.

Involvement on a local level is needed right now given the Covid-19 pandemic. You can find more volunteering opportunities on our website here.

5. You can strengthen your community by attending town hall meetings and city councils, getting your friends and neighbors involved in volunteering and community engagement, and even something as simple as checking up on your neighbors. Check out an article here giving a large list of things you can do to boost civic engagement on a smaller scale.

As citizens, we have both a right and responsibility to get involved and be informed with what is happening in our community and beyond. There are issues that exist in every community such as hunger, homelessness, poverty, lack of access to resources and safety, etc. improving those issues by communicating with local officials and volunteering helps make our world a better place to live in not only for ourselves, but those around us.

Local resources to explore:

City Council of Kirkwood

St. Louis County Government

St. Louis City Government

St. Louis County Jury Duty

St. Louis City Jury Duty

*These include information about what your local governments are currently doing, contact information, councils and council committees meeting schedules, and more.

St. Louis County Voting

St. Louis City Voting

St. Louis Volunteering

Mariah Pugliese is a Reference Librarian at the Kirkwood Public Library. When not at the library, she enjoys reading and writing sci-fi/fantasy and taking care of her 25+ houseplants who are all named after fictional characters in literature.