This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November 13, 2008 - test your civic engagement

A year ago, after the 2007 election, I did something I hadn't done before: took a vacation, all by myself, to a place where I knew no one.

Last year, it was Milwaukee. I rented a cheap hotel room close to Lake Michigan. And I spent several days walking the shore, walking the city, walking and walking and walking.

When I got back, my wife asked me, "So who did you talk to?" Usually when I travel, I return with lots of stories. And that's when I realized that at least during the Milwaukee part of my travels, I really hadn't talked to anybody, other than to check into the hotel, or to order a meal. I had no stories.

I returned, I think, better than when I'd left. I had found my center. Sometimes you just need absolute quiet and physical release. You need solitude.

And if that's one side of the equation, here's another: civic engagement. I know that after the recent, interminable election process, no one wants to think about this.

But I ran across a fascinating chart on the Wikipedia entry for "civic engagement." (I'll take up some other time the debate about whether or not Wikipedia, open to all for revision, can be considered a reliable source of information. Briefly, yes. Not infallible -- but neither is an encyclopedia.)

The article, as of November 1, 2008 anyhow, spells out 19 objective measures. So here's a family exercise. Lay this out after dinner and give yourself a score -- how many of the following did you participate in over the past 12 months?

The 19 measures fall into three categories (with a few clarifying notions of my own in parentheses).


* community problem solving (trash pickup, recycling, latchkey kids)
* regular volunteering for a non-electoral organization
* active membership in a group or association
* participation in fund-raising run/walk/ride
* other fundraising for charity


* regular voting
* persuading others to vote
* displaying buttons, signs, stickers
* campaign contributions
* volunteering for candidate or political organizations

Political Voice

* contacting officials
* contacting the print media
* contacting the broadcast media
* protesting
* email petitions
* written petitions
* boycotting (avoiding products because of their political affiliations)
* buycotting (selecting products because of their political affiliations)
* canvassing (direct contact with people, handing out flyers, etc.)

I find this very clever and precise: they are measures of what is also called "social capital." The idea is simple. The more people that are "connected" to their communities, the healthier both the people and the communities are liable to be. "Health" isn't just vagueness. There are fewer crimes, less disruption to life and property. People are literally healthier. They have fewer doctor visits. They live longer.

Numerous studies have found that if you want to improve the quality of your life both mentally and physically, the best strategy is greater engagement with the lives of those around you.

By your choices the community is made, or undone. These are some of the measures.

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