Rising to Action in Challenging Times
By Zineb Alfath

This past election cycle was the first time I was old enough to vote in a presidential election. It was also the first time I started to think about the meaning of “civic engagement,” and I’ve come to realize that it extends far beyond casting a vote every four years. Over the past few months, I’ve learned a number of lessons that I hope I - and my community - will apply consistently through the next four years and beyond. In the midst of all of the feelings of frustration, helplessness, and fear surrounding our country’s political climate, it is so important to translate emotion into action.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with my state representatives at the Capitol, as part of an interfaith Hill Day focused on advocating for the Minnesota Family Investment Program. This program helps Minnesota families with children meet their basic needs. Along with other constituents from my district, I attended meetings with my representatives and had my voice heard about this program, and why it is so meaningful to thousands of families across the state. Beyond advocating for this particular policy, however, the experience impacted me on a deeper level. It showed me how accessible my elected officials are, and how easy it can be to engage in a conversation with them.

“It also taught me the importance of having a personal story or narrative that I can bring to these conversations, to make my advocacy more powerful.”

One woman from my district, who attended the meetings with my group, shared her own story, and she said something that has stuck with me ever since.

                                     Zineb Alfath

She told one representative how it had taken her 70 years to gather the courage to reach out to her elected officials, and that she was so glad she had finally stepped up to have her voice heard that day - that she wished she had felt empowered enough to do so earlier, but that she was incredibly hopeful about our country’s future when she saw how many young people were becoming civically engaged.

So, in a time where it is no longer an option to sit on the sidelines, I feel empowered by knowing that I can join a local board or commission, and have my voice heard on important issues related to safety, health, and education, while also increasing our community’s visibility and representation in the political sphere.

 I can reach out to other vulnerable communities to show solidarity, and form local partnerships. With all of these options laid out in front of us, I hope that our community will continue to emerge as one that is empowered, and one that rises to action in challenging times.