Understanding Our Past and Shaping Our Future During Civic Season | Facing History & Ourselves
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Understanding Our Past and Shaping Our Future During Civic Season

Learn more about Civic Season in this interview with upstander Alex Edgar, Youth Engagement Manager of Made By Us.

At Facing History & Ourselves, we believe every young person can become an upstander, whether by challenging negative stereotypes, standing up to a bully in their school, encouraging civil discourse when neighbors disagree, or getting involved in an issue in their community. Civic Season is a new nation-wide celebration of upstanders and civic engagement that kicks off with Juneteenth and lasts until the Fourth of July.  

“July 4th commemorates the moment a new nation was born, based on ideals that each generation since has worked to bring to life:  freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity. Juneteenth, celebrated just a few weeks earlier, reminds us of the struggles and hard-won victories in our ongoing journey to form a ‘more perfect union.’ Civic Season unites our oldest federal holiday with our newest, mobilizing a movement to understand our past and shape our future.” –Civic Season

I recently had the chance to talk with Alex Edgar, who just graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and is the Youth Engagement Manager of Made By Us. Made By Us is an organization that brings history to younger generations in innovative and meaningful ways through its coalition of over 200 history museums and historic sites nationwide. They co-founded Civic Season in 2021 alongside their network of museums, historic sites, libraries and archives. Alex shared his aspirations for Civic Season, his recommendations for centering young people, and what brings him hope when he thinks about the future.

Erica Hodgin: What motivated you and others at Made By Us to start Civic Season?

Alex Edgar: Civic Season is a really cool new way to be civically engaged, outside of just voting and you are done. Civic Season is situated between these powerful markers of our country: Juneteenth and July 4th. It's focused on celebrating and fortifying our democracy with hundreds of events and activities in all 50 states. These activities help us explore what we stand for, both individually and as a country. Also, through Civic Season we can learn from cultural institutions, community organizations, and nonprofits to figure out how we can make our communities and our country a better place.

Erica: What do you hope this new tradition and nation-wide celebration will accomplish?

Alex: Civic Season started in 2021, so we're entering our fourth year. We've seen it grow exponentially from around 5,000 people joining us for the first year to over 100,000 in 2023 and including over 500 participating organizations. One thing that has gotten better with time is the way that young people have been really infused into creating events and activities around Civic Season, as well as designing our process and communication. We want to prioritize what actually gets young people to care about civics and to care about reflecting and building upon the history of our country. We have Design Fellows, who are between 18 and 30 years old across the country, who bring their expertise, their lived experiences, and their civic joy to this work. Civic Season is focused on this new generation of Gen Z and Millennials.

Erica: What do you think are the best ways to engage and empower young people, like yourself, to participate in their community and society?

Alex: One thing that has always been clear and important to me is that you can not foster youth civic engagement properly if it's not alongside and really co-generated with young people. When we look at who is motivated to vote, who is engaged in community institutions, and who reads the news, it’s adults. Unfortunately, we see lower numbers of voting and engagement from Gen Z and Millenials. That's often because the people making decisions in the government or in those institutions don't really ask Gen Z their thoughts or opinions. Sometimes, a young person will serve on an advisory board, meet to review a project, or be asked to give their stamp of approval but it’s not until the end of the process. The powerful thing about Civic Season is that every program is intentionally designed with young people and for young people. I think it’s paramount that youth are represented in every step along the way and in the decision-making process.

Erica: I know one of the goals of Civic Season is to celebrate civic engagement. I'm curious how you would define civic engagement. Also, what comes to mind when you think about different forms of civic engagement?

Alex: I think that civic engagement is in the eyes of the beholder, in the sense that civic engagement is based on your ability and willingness to become involved in your community and in our democracy. The ways you can engage are limitless. We've seen a decline in community connectedness in the United States over the past couple of decades. I think civic engagement creates ways for us to give back and reconnect. Obviously, voting is a form of civic engagement. But so is working at a local food bank, calling your representatives, or going to a city council meeting. There are also tons of ways to do civic engagement creatively through media and music. There is no “one size fits all” for civic engagement. 

When you're only exposed to civic engagement in your sixth grade history class or your 12th grade government class, you'll only think of civic engagement every two years when you vote. Instead, I believe civics is a part of every class we take and civic engagement is such a deep part of everything. 

Erica: Can you tell me about the significance of connecting Juneteenth, our newest federal holiday, with the Fourth of July, our oldest federal holiday? How does that connection shape the purpose of Civic Season?

Alex: I think it's really important when talking to young people to understand that they have grown up during a time of just complete political upheaval. I was born in 2003 and my earliest political memories include the 2008 recession, the growing impact of climate change, the 2016 election, COVID, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the racial reckoning that followed. It’s important to honestly reflect on the ways that our country may or may not currently be serving us, as well as to learn about both the great and horrible things from our country’s history. 

What's really important about Civic Season is the opportunity to reflect on the past and use that understanding of our history to celebrate the positive aspects of our country, but also reflect on the ways we can build a better future for ourselves and our communities.

Erica: What brings you hope in this troubling time and as we head into Civic Season?

Alex: I have so much hope, even though there is so much in the news built to make us lose hope. It brings me so much hope to know that my friends and peers are engaged in our democracy. It’s easy to lose faith in our institutions and our democracy. However, in our own communities, there are so many examples of people continuing to give back and pushing through hardships and strife. Similarly, through Civic Season people are finding opportunities for joy even when times are hard and things may seem uncertain. There will always be opportunities to be in community together, to celebrate, and to build a more hopeful future. 

I think another way to build a hopeful future is by making sure young people are able to feel some ownership over the civic processes that impact them so greatly. It’s important for young people to believe in ourselves and know that we can build a better future for ourselves.

To learn more about Civic Season and find out how to join activities in your community, you can visit this website: Civic Season Activities

To join the movement and host an activity, here are some ways to get started:

  • Are you part of a history organization? Join the Made By Us coalition and become part of the movement to bring credible history to young people 
  • Take the quiz to discover your Civic Superpower
  • Build your own Civic Season List of activities, events and resources

Grab your Civic Season Guidebook (co-designed by the 2024 Design Fellows!) and power your future with our story

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