Skandalaris Center

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A Summer of Civic Engagement

Jonah Zacks (Beyond Boundaries '25)
September 3, 2022

Nobody warned me about the fear. Sure, I had been briefed about how the professional world—especially the startup world—can induce uncertainty and anxiety, but I was unprepared for the emotion that can only be described as raw and unadulterated terror.

              I have spent the past few months working for Show Me Integrity, a non-profit startup doing community organizing to improve democracy. In previous cycles, we passed two measures in the City of St. Louis (Prop D and Prop R) that have reformed voting, redistricting, and anti-corruption laws. We have also successfully defended the Missouri ballot measure, which gives Missouri voters the ability to take the legislative process into our own hands when the legislature is failing to represent us.

Learning how to be a part of civic engagement is just like riding a bike: you try, you fall, and at the end of the day, you come home scraped, bruised, and grinning. When I was first learning to ride a bike, I had training wheels that stuck out from the side of the bike to balance me, a child who spent many years with scraped knees. Unfortunately for me (and my poor, scraped knees) training wheels aren’t used forever; however, when my parents deemed me old enough to shed those training wheels, my voice of self-preservation reared up. Riding unsupported filled me with the kind of fear I’ve known on only a few occasions, the seemingly useless feeling of knowing you have to do something but wanting to do everything you can to avoid it. The work I’ve done this summer with a non-profit startup has felt the same way. It is good work and it is necessary work, and I have earned the trust of the people who need me to do it. But I still don’t know if I fully trust myself the same way.

              When I was learning to ride a bike and afraid to make the step to riding unaided, the compromise was to raise the training wheels bit by bit so that they were off the ground but could still catch me if I started to fall. At work, the process has been a similar journey. I’ve taken on gradually more and more responsibility, and as I build up speed and start to list to one side, I’ve leaned on the training wheels more than once.  But with each experience comes more knowledge and confidence, and over time those training wheels get a little bit higher, and I know that eventually they’ll have to come off.

              The vulnerability of having nothing to catch you but rough pavement to either side is important because it means you can truly fall. When I was younger and fell off my bike, I learned an important lesson: the thought that you might fall is what makes you careful, but having fallen and gotten back up is what makes you bold.