How Is My Sidewalk Story a Lesson In Civics Education?

I grew up in a very small town that, as I like to joke, had more cows than people. It was a town in the far reaches of Connecticut often forgotten, and was even dubbed the “Quiet Corner” of the state. I only recently have come around to appreciating those qualities, but in high school it frustrated me. I was frustrated by neglect from our local, regional, and state government bodies that were supposedly there to serve us. 

One day in high school, I was walking home from softball practice down Main Street and got upset that there was no sidewalk for me to safely get home. I either had to walk in the tall, uncut grass, or risk walking on the narrow shoulder of the street that was barely wide enough for my two feet. The next day I complained to my Civics teacher, who responded: “Why complain when you can do something about it?” At the time, I didn’t know that you could write to someone who had the power to make a change like that. In Civics class, we were taught about jury duty and the judicial system, how the federal government had three branches of power, but we were never taught about local government. We didn’t learn what our Town Council or State Capitol did on a daily basis. It wasn’t until I decided to write a letter to my Town Council asking for a sidewalk to be built down Main Street that I learned how our local government worked. 

The Town Council Members were so shocked to hear from a high school student, they invited me to speak at the next meeting. Further impressed with the idea, they invited me to speak at a Town Planning and Zoning Committee meeting. I found out the town knew of this problem, had a solution of building the sidewalk, but did not have the funding to due budget cuts. 

This is usually the part in the story where the student gives up because they’re told “no”. Well, I was too frustrated and too stubborn to give up. If my Town Council couldn’t do anything, then I would continue writing letters to powerful people to see who could help us -- the forgotten people in the “Quiet Corner”. I wrote a letter to every government representative I had: my State Representative, State Senator, and even my federal Representative and U.S. Senator. I got the attention of my State Rep., who invited me to Hartford to visit the Capitol and see how the government worked. She informed me that there was grant money from a federal government program called “Shovel-Ready Projects” that President Obama enacted during the 2009 stimulus package to help our national recession. 

I returned to my Town Council to inform them of this grant, urging them to apply for it. The Town Council applied for the shovel-ready grant money in 2009. Unfortunately, the government works pretty slow, especially the federal government. 

After graduation, I was inspired to continue learning about government and politics in college. I went on to study Political Science at Hofstra University, and returned one summer for a part time job at the local market. I drove down Main Street the summer of 2013, and lo and behold, there was construction to build a sidewalk! My parents proudly dubbed it the “Victoria Sidewalk.” 

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this Sidewalk Story, but the biggest takeaway is the same one that inspired me to study politics and government: it’s up to each of us to be advocates in our communities. Civic education is not just about learning how the judicial system works, or how to vote – it’s about how to activate citizenship. Democracy is a verb, it takes each of us to participate. Voting is just one small way to participate. A sidewalk, though it may take many years to come to fruition, is one tangible way citizens can get involved in their communities. 

America needs more people getting involved in their local communities and putting some skin in the game. If we are frustrated with inaction, we must demand action, starting with our city councils, school boards, and other local offices. This is the reason I decided to put my talents of digital marketing to use at More Perfect Union. +MPU is about providing the tools and resources needed to create positive change in our communities, and through that change, we can heal our nation. Creating a More Perfect Union starts with us. 

I hope this story empowers even one person to write to their Town Council about an issue they see in their community. Join us as we fight for a More Perfect Union: www.mpu.us 

-Victoria Rametta

Digital Director, More Perfect Union