How does a community like Homewood, Pennsylvania, address the lead in the soil that’s harming children or the proliferation of vacant lots? Khalif Ali, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan organization that serves as a watchdog against corruption and voter suppression for Pennsylvanians, says it starts with creating civically oriented spaces where people can learn about the democratic process and unite with others experiencing the same struggles.
He came to understand this long ago: His drive for social change started when he was a community organizer at Operation Better Block in Homewood, where his job was to form a civic association. He said he realized “civic associations are really the building blocks of a strong democracy.”
“If you don’t talk to one another, you can’t begin to hold an elected official or a potential candidate accountable for those issues,” Ali says.
He joined Common Cause to address issues that arose out of the 2020 election, namely the attacks on the electoral process. According to Ali, there are antiquated processes at the polls in his state, “but nothing broad and widespread enough to cast doubt on the outcome of the election.”
To him, it was crucial to send the message that just because you don’t like who was elected, that doesn’t mean you can fight the results. While Ali has the ear of elected officials, the average voter does not. He is committed to teaching people how to use the tools of democracy.
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“I’m in a position where I’m able to meet legislators face to face or virtually and talk about real issues, but anyone can do that,” Ali says.