It isn’t hard to get New Orleans people to sound off about what their beloved-but-troubled city should do differently, especially in the realm of city government. A new local nonprofit is harnessing that expressive impulse for a project ultimately aimed at getting more young professionals actively involved in next year’s city elections.

Through its “If I Were Mayor” project, Engage NOLA and partner organizations Humid Beings and PolicyPitch want residents to create and upload their own online videos to the Web site The group’s organizers hope to build a collection of videos of individuals telling mayoral candidates and the community at large just what they want from future leadership.

“We explicitly don’t endorse any candidate or support any party,” says Cleveland Spears, a member of Engage NOLA’s steering committee. “We’re more interested in enhancing the level of the dialogue on local issues.”

Engage NOLA itself was formed this year as a coalition of groups representing young professionals. They hope to get more people from their own demographic engaged in the democratic process and build a politically educated, networked group of young voters heading into the next elections of mayor, city council members and other positions in New Orleans. 

Spears, a marketing consultant, is also a member of Urban League Young Professionals, an offshoot of the civil rights organization, and he says bringing together members from a wide range of local organizations for is part of Engage NOLA’s mission. 

The nonprofit has forged connections with such organizations as the Young Leadership Council, Common Good, NOLA YURP (Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals) and Puentes, a Latino group.

“These are all portals for us to reach more people, working with different groups that have their own connections and membership bases and potentially bringing them all together,” Spears says.

“Everyone is realizing that diversity is key in any movement and this group has a heavy emphasis on diversity and inclusion,” he says.

In addition to the “If I Were Mayor” project, Engage NOLA is conducting an online survey to collect residents’ feelings on such matters as the LSU/VA hospital development plans, crime, city planning issues and public housing. As the election season heats up, look for candidate forums and other activities.

Spears says that as voters deepen their understanding of complex regional issues, politicians and candidates will have to articulate more substantial responses.

 “When people know the issues, the sound bites will be less effective,” he says.

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