Citizen action: How-to class presented at library

March 2018 Posted in Community, News, Other

By Melissa Wagoner

“The beginning of all knowledge is the ability to think critically,” Donna Cohen, creator and facilitator of adult civics workshops said. “Evaluating whether information is accurate and complete enough to make a decision is the basis for all smart decisions. And, Democracies require people to make smart decisions.”

Cohen, who has a master’s degree in both education and library and information studies, has spent years examining the topics of election and campaign finance, voter rights, redistricting and the Electoral College to name just a few.Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 1.53.03 PM

“In addition, I have followed state bills and given testimony in the state legislature,” she said. “I have testified at Portland City Council, and in various advisory committee meetings on the local level. I also follow national political events and bills in Congress.”

Using her years of study and experience she eventually developed a set of workshops: “Civics for Adults: Enhancing Civic Knowledge and Inspiring Political Engagement,” which she teaches around the state.

On April 5 she will bring “Citizen Activism 101” to the Silver Falls Library.

“I love presenting at libraries because they are the pre-eminent civic institution in our society,” she said. “As repositories of knowledge and knowledgeable people, as welcoming and free environments, they embody the best of civic culture. I believe they have a huge role to play in educating and activating the public about civic and political issues.”

She said the course is designed to bring to the forefront crucial information that might be lost behind headlines and in the everyday busyness of life.

“Fact is, when it comes to this topic we are all dealing with an overload of factually incorrect or incomplete information,” she explained. “It is crucial that we all become skilled in spotting those tactics.”

Only once fully educated is a person in a place to really make a difference and enact change, according to Cohen. Understanding the nitty gritty of local, state and federal government and governing bodies may help to clarify whether it is the elected official or the government structure that needs to change.

“The only possible means for us to influence government at every level is to be aware and concerned,” she said. “It’s even more important if you feel that your interests are not being represented.”

Although the class is primarily geared toward adults, Cohen welcomes younger audiences – tenth grade and up – as well. A good beginning conversation for those who will be eligible to vote in a few short years, Cohen has already begun taking her courses to high schools in the state.

“In fact, in the 2017 Legislative Session, the state passed a law that allows those aged 16 to register to vote,” she said. “Although one can’t vote until age 18, registering at 16 will reflect the importance of voting, and will, hopefully, encourage teens to be more aware of civic issues  that they might be voting on in two years as well as other social/civic/political issues they care about.”

Cohen also thinks education is a helpful way of combatting the stress that government topic can bring.

“We need to understand that every rule, every law, that we live by was a decision made by people – and often by people who aren’t that different, or different at all, from you,” she explained. “People who are informed and engaged generally have a much more positive attitude than those who sit on the sidelines. And there are so many different things you can do.”

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