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As a past intern for The Rapidian, I have seen first hand the ways the organization changed my experience as a citizen of Grand Rapids. After my internship, I studied civic engagement scholarship to determine the ways in which The Rapidian contributes to the health of Grand Rapids democracy.

/courtesy of The Rapidian

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If you've ever read The Rapidian, contributed to it or had your business or organization featured in it, you know the role it plays in the Grand Rapids community. You will have undoubtedly experienced the connection you feel with your neighbors after reading an article about them—the desire you have to support their endeavors after you've read their story. This kind of storytelling is essential to a community; it is, in fact, essential to a healthy democracy. Does that claim sound a little dramatic? Maybe, but there's actually a lot of evidence to back it up.

As you no doubt recall from your elementary school studies, the word "democracy" stands for a system of government that is "of the people, by the people, and for the people" (thank you, Abraham Lincoln). Meaning, of course, that the people of a democracy have a say in what goes on in politics and governance. These days, that definition can seem terribly detached from our reality. It's hard to feel like your voice matters much on a federal level when it is mixed amidst millions of others and buried under the voices of figureheads. The local level, however, is a different story. It's a particularly different story for Grand Rapids, thanks to The Rapidian.

There are a number of essential traits of a community that scholars of democracy have identified as important to encouraging the health of a local democracy. A community must have a platform for citizens to efficiently and productively voice their concerns that also encourages civil discourse and collaboration, it must have an active associational life wherein citizens can converse and deliberate with others of like minds and it must encourage people to keep engaging in this way. Lucky for us, Grand Rapids has an organization that accomplishes all of these things for people who choose to participate: The Rapidian.

Perhaps most importantly, The Rapidian is a sounding board. It is a place for any and all citizens of Grand Rapids to speak out about the issues that are affecting them, which might otherwise go unnoticed. Because The Rapidian provides a credible, wide-reaching platform for its contributors, those who do choose to write articles are able to have louder voices than they would on their own. The Rapidian democratizes reporting in a way that a Facebook status, Tweet, or blog post can't accomplish on their own: it gives authors a credible, community-supported nameplate to stand behind. As a result, all of the issues in our community, even those which impact the smallest sectors, can be given the attention they need to ensure adequate deliberation follows. Louder voices mean potential to draw attention to lesser-known issues, something which is absolutely essential for a democracy to be of, by, and for the people.

For citizen journalists and those who otherwise contribute to The Rapidian, the organization also functions as an association. It is a place for people of like minds and skills to convene and collaborate to determine the best way to accomplish their goal. On a fundamental level, this means that The Rapidian is simply a place for others to meet and work with people in their community. In working with them to achieve a common goal and being exposed to the stories they create, participants develop an investment in the success and well being of those with whom they work. Citizens who might otherwise think only of themselves in the efforts they put forth to better the community are instead inclined to think of those with whom they've bonded.

To offer a more specific, personal example, something like this happened to me while I was completing an internship at The Rapidian. I was in a pool of interns who were mostly around my age with generally similar interests, but each time we met I got to know them all a little better. What was perhaps most revealing, though, was the stories they created during the internship. One of my fellow interns, Russ Pontius, crafted an incredibly beautiful Voices piece detailing his experience visiting a food pantry for the needy, having had an experience with need himself. I had known Pontius prior to my internship at The Rapidian, but I had never known that about him. The piece was poignantly written and gave me a perspective on a lifestyle that I have had the fortune not to be familiar with. Now, when I see or hear things about the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church Food Pantry or other food pantries and efforts to help the needy, I remember Pontius's story. I feel more inclined to support their efforts because I have a personal connection to them. This is how The Rapidian contributes to the health of our local democracy.

And the thing about The Rapidian is that as long as the community supports it, it's not going to stop giving. It will continue to give as long as citizens recognize the value of their voices and continue to contribute them. But like any other organization, running The Rapidian also requires monetary support from the community.  

There isn't much that's more fulfilling than knowing your voice has had an impact on the betterment of your community, and The Rapidian is a medium that will ensure that your voice has that impact. An investment in The Rapidian is an investment in the health of the Grand Rapids community—your community. 

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

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