The Minneapolis Convention Center’s answer to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul is CivicFest, an extravaganza of American democracy, replete with historical document displays, a fake Oval Office for taking gag photos and other educational exhibits. But CivicFest’s unavoidable lesson is that democracy comes with corporate sponsors and a $15 cover charge. MnIndy picked Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s brain for free or lower-cost ways to celebrate civics on your own.
YOUR HOUSE: Ritchie’s first recommendation is a guided tour of what he likes to call “The People’s House”: the Minnesota State Capitol. Trained docents will show you through the corridors of power. Or wander through freely unaccompanied—after all, you own the place.
TOP THIS, CIVICFEST: An original printing of the nation’s Declaration of Independence is on view Sept. 2-4 at St. Paul City Hall—for free.
DEMOCRACY ON A STICK: Also concurrent with at least the onset of the RNC is the Minnesota State Fair, where Ritchie promises you can find almost every elected official in the state at one time or another. Tickets are marginally cheaper than CivicFest and you may be making an annual pilgrimage anyway. Look for booths of state agencies and political parties too. (See Ritchie at the Secretary of State booth.)
GET OUT THE VOTE: The state’s political parties would appreciate a phone call, even during what may be crazy days of the RNC. They’ll be gearing up for primary elections in two weeks’ time, with a full slate of volunteer opportunities—sign up for voter identification and registration or other campaign activities like getting out the vote for the primary or November’s general election. Nonpartisan groups like the League of Women Voters will also welcom help with their voter registration drives.
GIVE A HAND: Your personal CivicFest wouldn’t be complete, Ritchie says, without helping a friend, neighbor or family member register to vote or sign up for an absentee ballot. His office is a good place to start for information on how to go about it.
GO FOR IT: Heck, why not run for elected office yourself? It’s too late to file for an official slot on the ballot, but you can always mount a write-in campaign, and sometimes they really work. (Contact the Secretary of State’s office for tips.) Or, Ritchie suggests, you could think about running next time. Daydreams about democracy are free.
SAY IT: Exercise your freedom of expression. There’s no better time than while the world’s attention is on St. Paul.