How can civic engagement be effective in fostering an accountable, inclusive, and responsive American democracy? This question has gained new relevance under the Trump administration, where a sense of escalating democratic crises risks obscuring any nascent grassroots activism. Since the 2016 election, the twin problems of authoritarianism and insufficient political accountability have attracted much attention, as has the need to mobilize for near-future elections. These things are critical for the long-term health of American democracy, but at the same time, it’s not enough to focus solely on Washington or to rely on electoral campaigns to salvage our democracy.
Conventional civic-engagement activities such as canvassing, registering voters, signing petitions, and voting are largely transient experiences, offering little opportunity for civic participation once the election is over. And such tactics often do little to address the background conditions that make participation more difficult for marginalized communities.