“Why It Matters”: How Does Where You Live or Come From Affect Civic Engagement?

by Sydney Boyd, editor & content producer

Where we are affects what we do, and that relationship extends to civic participation across the nation. From a rural island off the mainland of Amerika Samoa to Philadelphia, a city at the center of national news during the last election cycle, that environment will motivate people’s civic investment in different ways. Aspects of voting are also specific to place as determined by state and local regulations, and we gather to vote in foundational public institutions that have shaped many of us since we were children, like schools or libraries. 

But there’s also some history to uncover, like the Electoral College, which was founded on the idea of who lives where. Historical geography can illuminate other big issues like economic evolutions, redistricting, and segregation. Thinking about how location shapes our civic roles can even go beyond our nation’s borders to Mexico, where learning about a neighboring democratic system can help us understand our own. 

People and places go hand in hand; so too, our responsibility to wherever we find ourselves.

This is the third blog in a series that reflects on civic engagement—what it means, who it involves, and what location has do with it all (this post). The series draws from the work councils did in fall of 2020 and spring of 2021 as part of “Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation,” an initiative administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and generously supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Explore this topic through humanities councils’ programs in:

Amerika Samoa: Why It Matters Public Forum

Illinois: People, Places, and Power:  Cook County Edition

Michigan: Conversations on Civic and Electoral Engagement

Mississippi: Your Vote, Your Voice – Part 1

Ohio: Perfecting Democracy – Why It Matters – Interview with David Giffels

Pennsylvania: What Now? A Statewide Town Hall on Civic & Electoral Participation

Utah: Why It Matters with Claudio A. Holzner and Caitlin McDonald