Oct. 26, 2016 12:32 pm

‘We all live in a place that desperately needs us’ to be civically engaged

Philly Set Go cofounder Gabriela Guaracao moved to Olney from Colombia as a child. In her new city, she learned what makes communities strong — and ultimately, why her voice matters.

Gabriela Guaracao.

(Courtesy photo)

This is a guest post by Gabriela Guaracao, a local entrepreneur and the cofounder of millennial-focused PAC Philly Set Go.
At the heart of our republic lies a simple truth, articulated by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “The only title in our democracy superior to that of President, is the title of citizen.”

An engaged citizen is fundamental to the success of any democratic community — city, state, or nation — and requires the noblest form of personal accountability, giving of yourself for the advancement of your community.

Reason to Vote #1: Engagement is how we fulfill the duties of the critical office of citizenship.

The communities and experiences I have been part of have shaped who I am and why I believe deeply in civic and political engagement. My family immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when I was a child. My Colombian family referred to me as an American and my American friends considered me a Colombian, while I have always felt I lived and embodied a cultural duality — compromising neither culture and creating an amalgamated identity of my own.

Reason to Vote #2: Community is where you are, not where you are from. 

In the U.S., my family originally settled in Olney. From my second floor window on 5th Street, I witnessed what makes a community strong — strangers becoming friends, individuals from all over the globe finding common ground and celebrating diversity, and neighbors helping my family launch a business. 

I also witnessed the pathologies that so often break our communities down — despair, isolation and violence. I will never forget the multiple times my parents were robbed, and our pastor, friends and family subsequently providing comfort and relief from the trauma. I will also never forget hearing a dispute outside of my window, only to run to that window to see a man lying on the ground, wounded by a bullet used during that altercation.

Reason to Vote #3: Communities are only as strong as our sense of accountability and personal responsibility toward each other. 

Recently, I completed a master’s in security policy studies and it also had an impact on my views of community. My research focused on strategies to prevent the radicalization of second-generation immigrants. Domestic terrorism is most often performed by American citizens, and my research zeroed in on the marginalization and alienation these citizens may have felt that created a vulnerability later in life, leaving them open to radicalization as a way to find a sense of belonging or manage their real or perceived grievances.

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Reason to Vote #4: Communities where all stakeholders are active participants are stronger and more empathetic.

I am now an entrepreneur who lives in Center City.  I have read countless stories about the surge of millennials living in Philadelphia and the positive impact we are having on the city’s growth and development. However, I was struggling to reconcile those stories with the lack of impact this demographic was making in local elections and local government.

Millennials are one of the largest demographics in Philadelphia, and we are the largest registered voting bloc in town (!). Yet we are afraid to use our voice and our vote to ensure that our politicians, policies and government are competent, accountable and ethical.

I cofounded Philly Set Go to change this. Philly Set Go’s mission is simple — convince millennials that political participation in local government is critical to building and sustaining our community, and encourage them to use their voice and vote to decide who governs and how. After all, to ensure that our community represents us, our engagement is required.

Reason to Vote #5: Engagement makes a difference in our collective future.

So, why should you become civically and politically engaged? The simple truth is you owe it to your neighbors, your friends and your community. It does not matter where you are from, what your talents are or what your background is — we all live in a place that desperately needs us. 

I am engaged because I believe that the ballot box is transformative. I also believe I have a responsibility to ensure that future girls living on 5th street in Olney look out of their second floor window and gaze at the strongest community possible.

The office of citizen is the most powerful in the land. How will you use the power of that office to truly make Philadelphia the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection?


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