Beach Access
September 18 2018

Making Civics Sexy Again, California-style

by Jennifer Savage

Along with our good friends at Brown Girl Surf, Surfrider Foundation's California staff recently brought the sexy back... to public engagement!

Just like surfing, the "Civics is Sexy" program began in Hawai'i, where Surfrider's Oahu chapter – inspired by Eric Liu's TED talk assertion, "We need to make civics sexy again. As sexy as it was during the American Revolution or the Civil Rights Movement” – enticed residents to get involved in the local political process. We in California loved this idea and the program's success, so when the opportunity to apply for a grant to host a similar workshop in San Francisco arose, we jumped on the chance. After all, huge movements, from International Coastal Cleanup Day to the Women's March, started with just a few people caring enough to step up and speak out. 

And so it was that Levi Strauss & Co.'s Jamila Hubbard (who is also a Brown Girl Surf volunteer and boardmember) applied for and was awarded the Levi Strauss Foundation's "Change the World" grant, which allowed us to host the workshop free of charge. Jamila, Brown Girl Surf Interim Executive Director Maya Yamato and Surfrider's California Policy Manager Jennifer Savage (yours truly) then joined together to make it all happen.

Participants received a notebook outlining seven steps of public engagement:

  1. Know who decides
  2. Find out how they stand on your issue(s)
  3. Make calls
  4. Write letters to your representatives
  5. Set up a meeting with your elected officials 
  6. Give testimony at a public meeting
  7. Vote!

​We walked through how to make each step successful, culminating with delivering practice testimony to actual appointed officials, San Francisco Environmental Commissioner Sarah Wan and California Coastal Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh. The commissioners provided insight into what proved effective and what elements of testimony could be improved on to be more so. According to one participant, the chance to "actualize what we learned" proved "empowering and increases the chance I will do this on my own!" 

"Civics is Sexy" also takes the partnership between Surfrider and Brown Girl Surf to another level; both organizations recognize that access equity and environmental stewardship are intertwined and the success of both depends on the public's ability to participate in the public processes designed to ensure them.

With the first workshop a success, we look forward to hosting another! If you're interesting in attending or sponsoring, contact Jennifer Savage at jsavage@surfrider.org.