A Functional Democracy, a local civic engagement organization, celebrates the launch of their zine, “A Beginner’s Guide to Local Government,” as Texas gears up for the upcoming midterm elections.
Story by Ashley Nava
Photos by Veronica Briones
Who is the mayor of Austin? What district do you live in? Who is your city council representative and what do they do? These are a few of the questions that Amy Stansbury, co-founder of A Functional Democracy, answered through their new interactive zine.
Stansbury’s passion for civic engagement grew from her day job as the editor-in-chief for Austin EcoNetwork, a local news website. While covering local environmental issues she noticed how the empty city council meetings affected her community.“I began to see how impactful local government is on people’s lives and how little my peers knew about what was happening at City Hall,” she says. “They didn’t know who the mayor was or their city council representative. I just saw a big discrepancy over how much impact these people have in our lives and how young people tend to not be clued into the process.”
When trying to find ways to engage millennials in local politics, Stansbury met her partners and co-founders Hal Wuertz and Jordan Shade, two local artists seeking to promote civic engagement through their art.
Over the summer, the trio kickstarted their idea to produce a zine and were ready to print in the fall. With over 150 donors, they raised around $8,000. Over 500 copies have already been sold. “There is this misconception that millennials don’t care and we’ve shown that’s not true,” Stansbury says. “They just haven’t been given the information in a way that’s appealing, and that’s what we are trying to do. ”
On Tuesday, Oct. 2, Stansbury, Wuertz and Shade hosted their zine launch party. Through interactive civic art installations and lighthearted Q&A’s with local elected officials, they sought to educate and inspire locals to get involved.
Recent Austin transplant and AmeriCorps member, Alex Holland, attended the event as a first step toward doing something about the issues that concern him. “I didn’t realize that Texas has one of the lowest voter turnouts,” he says. “It would be impactful if more people thought they could make a difference by using their voice and voting. Events like this can help people become aware of how to get involved and why it matters.” Holland soon hopes to help register voters or become part of an advisory board.
The event also included comedians performing political stand-up routines. Adrian Villegas, artistic director of the Latino Comedy Project (LCP), sought to both educate and enrage.“I wanted to support this event because LCP tries to serve the same function of informing and galvanizing people to action through comedy about issues and culture,” Villegas says.
Villegas’ most recent show, “Gentrif*cked,” was inspired by the ongoing issue of gentrification of East Austin. “I know that some of the things on the videos I showed will hit some people right where they live, literally, and where other people used to live,” Villegas says.
Villegas also spoke about the necessity of Latinx voters for the upcoming election. “In Texas especially, Latinos don’t vote. But if we did, it would change the state overnight,” he says. “I’m trying to partner up with civic engagement organizations to expand my reach. I hope through storytelling and entertainment I can get people upset while educating at the same time. We got a lot of work to do.”
With the Latino vote in mind, Stansbury talked about applying for grants in order to translate the zine to Spanish and create a San Antonio edition. “Our goal is to not just translate it but to also work with a partner organization or Hispanic artists into making it a guide that’s more culturally relevant and representative of the community,” Stansbury says.
For now, her goal is getting the books into the hands of people who have largely been underrepresented in local politics. She hopes to one day see them as free booklets at the entrance of City Hall. “We want people to know they can make a difference and feel engaged,” Stansbury says. “Regardless of what they care about, the city is an outlet to do this and we are just hoping we can be that first step of opening people’s eyes and letting them see that there is a whole world out there they can impact.”