San Diego leaders talk community involvement, civic engagement

Activism, accountability and getting results discussed on Politifest 2018 panel.


Politifest hosted panel discussions about politics and community issues. Photo by Vito Di Stefano, Politifest.

Jesse Altilio, Staff Writer

Three San Diego leaders came together at Politifest 2018 in a community-driven panel on Oct. 6 at the University of San Diego.   

Mary McKenzie, an adjunct professor of political science at USD, led the panel, which included Luke Terpstra, board member of San Diego Pride; Dr. Joel Day, director of the city’s Boards and Commissions; and Masada Disenhouse, an activist with the environmental organization SanDiego350.  

They discussed how to become involved in local issues through activism and volunteering.

The topics ranged from maintaining LGBTQ community services and engaging with local governments to creating international, city-to-city discussion groups for governments to exchange best practices.

Day discussed how his office offers hundreds of volunteer positions for people interested in serving on commissions and committees to advise the city on issues like housing and ethics.

He emphasized how money has a statistical effect on the decisions of policymakers, and how volunteering gives private citizens the chance to hold government officials accountable directly.

Terpstra covered how civic engagement is crucial to continuing public health services for San Diego’s LGBTQ community.

Disenhouse described how her work with SanDiego350 revamped the City of La Mesa’s carbon reduction plan into a workable roadmap.

All three emphasized the importance of the public interacting with government officials and holding them responsible.

“Participation in your local group — actually showing up, standing up and speaking up — is very important about getting the message across to our elected officials,” Terpstra said.  

Said Disenhouse: “Organizing still works. If you can find an issue that people are excited about, that gets people mad, and you don’t give your politicians an out, at some point they have to choose between the people who are funding them and the people who can decide not to elect them in the next election.”

While accountability was a major focus, they agreed it was not all adversarial.

“To (Day)’s point, we organized with them,” Disenhouse said. “We didn’t just go there and yell at them and say, ‘hey, you’re doing a crappy job, we’re going to vote you out next election.’

“We said, ‘we want you to have a better plan, and we can help you do that.’”

Want to get involved at San Diego City College? City College has nearly 30 student clubs and organizations, many of which offer student members the opportunity to volunteer. Learn more at