It takes a lot of work to make communities better and stronger.
Often that work is slow and painstaking, and sometimes, it’s hard to see results. It’s even harder to see those results when they’re coming from Austin or Washington, D.C., where elected officials are sometimes out of touch with the people they’re meant to be serving.
Coalitions of community members, on the other hand, approach change in a different way by definition. The people participating in the process know their hometown best and know how their homes can be made safer, healthier and happier.
The Southside Community Coalition had its first meeting in January and has already succeeded in getting residents of the Under the Hill neighborhood involved in discussions of the future of the area. The group has met monthly to give residents a forum to talk about what they love about their neighborhood, which is historically one of the poorest in the city, as well as their ideas to make the area better.
Last week, the group organized a block party, its first major event. Nonprofits, community groups, elected officials, city employees and more all showed up with information so residents could learn about different programs and initiatives throughout the city.
The event was a promising start from such a young group with ambitious goals, like bringing a grocery store back to the area, where it’s hard to find fresh, healthy food within walking distance.
At one of the first southside meetings in January, some residents didn’t realize that local elections were coming up in May or that they had a forum to voice their opinions at city council or commissioners court through the public comment period. The fact that some residents of Victoria don’t know how to engage with the elected officials is, in many ways, a failure of democracy. If our citizens aren’t equipped with the information they need to participate in civic institutions, how can we expect elected officials to make decisions of the people, by the people and for the people?
At later meetings, though, coalition members had learned about who was on the ballot, what issues they wanted candidates to discuss and more. One member of the coalition even became a deputized voting registrar, so she could make sure anyone she met who wanted to vote could get registered.
The southside coalition has made huge strides in helping residents of the neighborhood to make sure their voices are heard. We’re excited by the work they’ve done so far, and hope they continue along the slow and steady path toward progress to make the neighborhood, and Victoria, a better place to live.