In Iowa: Don't wait for floods or elections to participate in community

In the flood of 2016, volunteers pitched in help strangers and their city. Participation in the community should not be a one-time thing — being involved is vital for democracy. Here, Abdirisak Dini (left) fills sandbags with hundreds of other volunteers at the former Kmart on Williams Boulevard and 16th Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids on Sept. 25, 2016. Sandbags were being delivered all over the city as neighborhoods prepare for the second-worst flood in the city’s history. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)

During this year’s flood, the comments people made, again and again, were something like this: “Look at the way our community has come together. No one cares if their neighbor is a Democrat or a Republican, Christian or Muslim, black or white. We are all here to help each other and do the work of saving our city.”

Can we revive that attitude now, in these postelection days when our political divisions seem more entrenched than ever? Can we come together to make our community better?

After all, no matter how we voted, our children still attend the same schools, we still buy our groceries at the same stores, we still work and live and play alongside each other.

To be active in a democracy means participating more than once every four years. So find ways to get involved, to be engaged with your neighbors, to do the work of bettering our small corner of the universe.

Here are a few suggestions to get started.

Give: If you have the time, find places to volunteer. The United Way collects hundreds of local volunteer opportunities, from one-time needs to weekly commitments. Set up a profile, take a look through the website and find an activity that makes sense to you. If you can afford it, find a cause to give to. It doesn’t take much to make a difference. For every dollar donated, for example, the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program can purchase six meals for the hungry in our community.

Vote: Vote in every election you can. Do some research and vote not just for president but in congressional elections every two years and in school board and city council elections and special bond referendums, whenever they arise. Those elections may not garner the high levels of attention or inspire the deep passions the race for the White House does, but they can have huge impacts on our daily lives.

Become informed: There has been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about “fake news,” a problem that exists on both sides of the political aisle, and I wish there had been more such talk before the election. Obviously I’m biased, but good old fashioned newspapers are a good way to cut through the noise.

None of the reporters I know are doing this for the money (there’s not a lot), job security (even less) or glamour (have you met us?). We’re doing it because we believe the spread of news is vital to a vibrant, functioning democracy. We want to tell the stories of our communities, and we believe deeply in balanced, fair reporting and strive to achieve it.

Yes, sometimes we get things wrong and sometimes we fall short. Think we can do better? Pitch us your story ideas. Tell us ways we can better cover all the angles of our diverse coverage area, which includes both farmland, small towns and the bigger metros of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, as well as a multitude of faith and ethnic communities.

Don’t sit waiting for the drumbeats of the 2020 election. Personally, just the thought of those drums exhausts me. I need to have my own beat to counter them.

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