How to Citizen in Place: Staying Engaged While Staying Home

Young women sitting on a couch at home working on a laptop computerStaying home to slow the spread of coronavirus is our civic duty. While there, we can practice a few more acts of good citizenship.

March 29, 2020

Are you one of 228 million Americans being urged to stay home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus? Good news: you can still be an active citizen from the safety of your couch (with limited, cautious trips out for essential errands). Here’s our guide for how to Citizen in Place while flattening the curve.

Take care of yourself and remember to practice social distance. Following orders to stay home is a critical way to protect our health care providers, first responders, and other essential workers, not to mention our family, neighbors, and friends.

Check on a Neighbor: For people who are elderly, have underlying health conditions, or are taking care of someone in one of those categories, running even essential errands is risky. If you’re healthy, take a minute to ask your at-risk neighbors if they need help. Grab their groceries when you go out for yours, or offer to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. Remember that many people are feeling isolated, too, and that a friendly chat on the phone can go a long way. To find people in your community who need help, check local listservs and Facebook groups, or scan Nextdoor’s Help Map.

Fill Out Your Census: Without the U.S. census, governments, businesses, and non-profit organizations would be flying blind. Census data informs countless decisions, including how many congressional seats each state gets, where the lines for those districts are drawn, who gets what share of $1.5 trillion in federal funding, and where companies open stores and factories. This year, the Census Bureau has suspended field operations in light of COVID-19, making it historically difficult to get an accurate count. Take a few minutes of indoor time to complete your census, whether online, by mail, or over the phone.

Donate Money: Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, has blunt advice for people looking to help those affected by COVID-19: “All giving is very necessary.” She suggests donating locally in your community, whether that means giving directly to a person in need or to an organization you know and trust. Find a local food bank through Feeding America, and make sure you’ve chosen a reputable non-profit organization by checking out its rating from Charity Navigator or CharityWatch.

Plan to Vote: COVID-19 is already disrupting elections across the country, and experts worry that the problems could last through the November presidential election. Now’s the time to make sure you’re registered to vote, request a voter registration form if you are not, and see if your state has a plan for voting while social distancing. If you do plan to vote in person this election season, make sure you follow the CDC’s guidelines for casting your ballot safely.

Volunteer Remotely: Flatten the curve while volunteering from home! Idealist has a vast directory of volunteer opportunities for anyone looking to help without stepping out the door. Many organizations run on a shoestring during normal times and still need your expertise during the pandemic. While volunteering in person may be unwise right now, you can still offer your graphic design chops, put your Google AdWords skills to work, or check in with a senior citizen on Zoom.

Volunteer in Person: To keep yourself and others healthy, staying home is the safest choice. Unfortunately, many blood drives across the country have been cancelled in recent weeks, leaving the Red Cross struggling to replenish the blood supplies hospitals rely on. If you’re healthy, consider searching here for a blood drive near you or volunteering with Meals on Wheels to deliver nutritious meals to homebound seniors.

Debunk Coronavirus Myths: Media literacy is as important as ever. If you encounter a coronavirus conspiracy theory, use this handbook to confront it. If you hear something new about the virus, check to see if reputable news sources are reporting it. FactCheck.org has a handy guide to making sure your news is real.

At Common Ground Solutions, we emphasize that it is up to each of us to make a difference. We encourage people to stay informed about issues that matter to them, listen carefully to other points of view, get involved in their communities, and support candidates committed to solving problems rather than scoring political points. These fundamental rules of good citizenship have never been more important than they are right now.

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This article originally appeared in the March 29, 2020 issue of Wide Angle, our regular newsletter designed, we hope, to inform rather than inflame. Each edition brings you original articles by Common Ground Solutions, a quiz, and published articles — from across the political spectrum — that we think are worth reading. We make a special effort to cover good work being done to bridge political divides, and to offer constructive information on ways our readers can engage in the political process and make a difference on issues that matter to them.

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