Strengthening Democracy in Fairfield County
Apr 24, 2023
I didn’t personally experience what life was like before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — which removed many of the legal barriers that prevented Black Americans from exercising our Constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote.
But my father did.
Which is why, during his retirement, he would volunteer every Election Day to work at the polls. My father knew that the right to vote is both precious and fragile — and he wanted to do his part to make sure that right was preserved and honored for others.
It wasn’t until I began working in local government that I truly recognized the importance of his commitment and, more broadly, the impact of civic engagement.
I saw firsthand just how powerful the voice of voters can be and the critical decisions, whether related to education, public safety, planning and zoning, or countless other issues, that hinged on a vote. But I also saw firsthand how few exercised their right to vote and have a say in the decision making. And the impact of that failure to engage was often greatest in local government, where the stakes are more personal and the distance is short between elected officials and the people they serve.
When people are involved in civic life — whether through voting, attending public meetings, volunteering, or speaking out — they become invested in their communities and in supporting the greater good. They also achieve personal benefits, including increases in their own physical and mental health.
For these and other reasons, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is expanding our commitment to public policy and advocacy with a goal of inspiring more members of our community to become more actively engaged in civic life.
If we truly want to create a region where every person has an equitable opportunity to thrive, we must not only ensure that every person is able to exercise their right to vote, but also that all have agency to advocate for their health and wellbeing and to get involved in moving Fairfield County forward.
We’re showing this expanded commitment in several ways.
Last fall, we launched Your Vote = Your Power — a bilingual awareness campaign that aimed to inspire more Fairfield County residents to register and head to the polls. We’re proud to point to last November’s voter turnout — in which most Fairfield County communities exceeded historic averages for midterm elections — as a sign that our community is becoming more engaged.
We’re also raising our voice to strengthen democratic ideals. One recent example was our piece in CT Post, which encourages our elected representatives to follow the will of Connecticut voters by acting with urgency to enact voting reforms that were approved by voters last November.
This spring, you’ll have an opportunity to experience The Practice of Democracy: A View from Connecticut — a traveling exhibit we funded that examines how justice, equality and power appear in our built environment. The exhibit has appeared at Gateway and Housatonic community colleges, and is now arriving at Norwalk Community College.
These efforts build on our ongoing commitment to strengthening civic engagement through our grantmaking. Our Civic Education Grants program has supported the work of nonprofits that are increasing understanding about democracy and citizens’ ability to participate in the democratic process.
And in the months ahead, you’ll hear more details about our new Community Incubator, which will deliver financial resources and leadership support to local changemakers pursuing community-led solutions to local and regional challenges.
We are focused on civic engagement from both the grass tops and the grassroots — directing resources to help influence government policy and administration while simultaneously supporting on-the-ground efforts to increase the capacity of community members to self-advocate and lead social change. We are investing in efforts to make current social systems more equitable as we support those who are envisioning and engineering new ways of engaging that are fundamentally rooted in liberty and justice for all.
It’s our responsibility to preserve and nurture our democratic ideals. By doing so, we’ll create a stronger, more vibrant Fairfield County.
Mendi blue paca
PRESIDENT & CEO
FAIRFIELD COUNTY’S COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
Want to join us in inspiring more members of our community to become more actively engaged in civic life? Contact Elaine Mintz, Vice President of Strategy & External Relations, or Chinedum Nnodum, Director of Community Strategies.
Join us in person at the Greenwich Hyatt or virtually via our live stream for our Fund for Women & Girls 2023 Luncheon! Get inspired by keynote speaker Misty Copeland, learn about our newest signature initiative, and support women and girls across Fairfield County in achieving their best lives. Virtual tickets are still available here.