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Turnout Toronto - a civic engagement fair at CSI

By Jodie Shupac, CSI Reporter

The room buzzing with energy and curiosity, last month’s Turnout Toronto event felt somewhat reminiscent of a middle school science fair. Held January 14 in the CSI Annex Lounge, Turnout Toronto—aptly named, with over 500 people in attendance—was indeed intended as a kind of civic engagement fair, an innovative opportunity for CSI members and non-members alike to get acquainted with a diverse range of local advocacy and civic engagement groups.

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Don't miss the next Turnout Toronto at CSI Regent Park! April 10, 5:00pm

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CSI staff members Leah Pollock, Adil Dhalla, Erin Kang, and Kyle Shantz conceived of Turnout Toronto as a way to galvanize Torontonians looking for ways to effect positive change in the city, and to get involved in positive, forward-thinking initiatives.

Along with a host of volunteers, the team spent six weeks coordinating the event, carefully selecting a diverse collection of what they’ve dubbed Civic Champions—organizations and individuals working on a particular civic issue—to represent their respective cause. 

“We very much wanted a variety of groups to be represented, so we asked city councilors, established organizations, and grassroots organizations,” explained CSI’s Program Coordinator, Leah Pollock.

“Once we started asking people to be our Civic Champions, word spread, and we had many people requesting a table. It was a great opportunity to showcase the excellent work that’s being done across sectors and interest areas in Toronto.” 

In addition to political figures like Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) and mayoral hopeful Richard Underhill, who came to promote his vision for change in Toronto, the roughly 25 Civic Champions included Toronto Park People, the City Youth Council of Toronto, TTCriders, CivicAction, Toronto Women’s City Alliance, Jane’s Walk and Spacing magazine. 

Attendees were given the chance to walk around and peruse the organizations’ brochure and flier-laden tables, chat with organizers, and sign up for volunteer opportunities or mailing lists.

"I was impressed by the array of civic causes, groups, and ideas that were represented,” noted Alex Derry, an attendee and a volunteer with CSI tenant Action Against Hunger.

“The turnout was proof that, while the current municipal system may ring hollow with a lot of Torontonians, there is certainly no lack of engagement from every corner of the city.”

In addition to being given ample time to schmooze and exchange ideas and contact information, attendees were invited to participate in several breakout discussion sessions, held informally around various tables and sofas throughout the night.

Councillor Mike Layton, for instance, convened a brainstorming session for an affirmative Toronto slogan to signify constituents’ growing appetite for progress in the city. Additional discussions were facilitated by groups like NoJetsTO, Better Budget TO, and Spacing.

Short addresses to the whole crowd were made by Olivia Chow (MP, Trinity Spadina), who proclaimed, “We have the power to make a difference!”

Tiff Blair, a staff member at startup and CSI Annex tenant Groundforce Digital, manned a table on behalf of her organization, which helps nonprofits and political candidates launch digital campaigns.

“It was really valuable for us to have an opportunity to talk to people who are interested in advocacy and the political space—to share what we do and figure out if there’s a way we can support work others are doing,” Blair said. “And,” she grinned, “I think it helped that we had snacks at our table.”

Pollock says she and her fellow organizers were pleasantly surprised by the evening’s immense turnout, and are eager to keep the momentum going. They’re enthusiastic about what they perceive to be a growing interest, among Torontonians, in taking the initiative and becoming civically involved. 

“There are people who are always seeking opportunities to improve things, and now we’re seeing a growing curiosity about how to get engaged with making this city a better place,” Pollock explained.

“We see Turnout Toronto as an opportunity to create a kind of city of mayors, a city where each individual feels they have the power to make change because, ultimately, it’s up to all of us.”