Ones to Watch: Voting Advocate Amy Stansbury Encourages Political Participation
The Austin Common’s Editor-in-Chief has dedicated her career to increasing civic engagement by educating others
By Britni Rachal
Photos by Brittany Dawn Short
Encouraging civic and political participation is a passion of Amy Stansbury, the current Editor-In-Chief of The Austin Common. Taking a unique approach to political education, the news organization offers a variety of tools to engage and help the public learn more about local government. Everything from Instagram posts to election guides and podcasts help bring awareness to a cause Stansbury became inspired by after she started working as a journalist for “The Evening Sun” newspaper in Pennsylvania earlier in her career, which required attendance at city council meetings.
“I started seeing how democracy happens and who gets excluded from that process,” says Stansbury. “I noticed how many people in our community aren’t really connected to our local city government or our civic infrastructure and don’t really know how to get engaged or involved or make their voice heard. That’s really what’s driven me to want to bring more people along for the ride.”
For 10 years, Stansbury has been an active advocate to get others to participate politically. Not only did she help launch The Austin Common in 2020, she also co-authored “A Beginner’s Guide To Local Government,” which is a coloring book/zine unique for Austinites to learn the basics of how our local government works and how they can get involved. She’s also the host of “The Austin Common Radio Hour,” which airs on 91.7FM.
Some of her favorite things to talk about include topics surrounding when the city is passing a new budget. Her content breaks down what the city budget is — including aspects like where property taxes are allocated — and how it can impact people even if they are renters. This year, she’s spent a lot of time preparing for local elections.
“We interview all of the candidates running for City Council and Austin Mayor on ‘The Austin Common Hour.’ This year it was almost 40 candidates,” says Stansbury. “Then we publish those podcasts on Instagram and make election guides that are digital and shareable — making it easier for people to figure out who is running for city council and who could be representing them.”
“I love Austin, and I’ve seen the impact and positive change that our community has made.
Overall, engagement is top priority and results have been fun to watch and hear about. Stansbury says people often approach her with thanks and exciting stories about how they saw some material or listened to a podcast and decided to apply to serve on city commissions or boards. Others tell stories about voting for the first time.
“This is so meaningful. This is the whole reason why I do what I do,” says Stansbury. “It’s great to see new people and more of a diverse array of Austinites getting more engaged through us.”
A major driving factor is local politics specifically, as Stansbury advocates its importance — due to local government impacting people’s lives the most, and it is also the easiest for voters to influence.
“Local government is the sector that people often know the least about,” says Stansbury. “It gets ignored by a lot of media, so that’s what we try to focus on. When I do Civic 101 talks, I can literally show data on how it’s common for people in local elections to win or lose by 200 votes or less.”
Stansbury uses the example of these races to show people just how much of a difference can be made.
“You could post on social media right now and more than 200 people would see it,” explains Stansbury. “You could text 200 people right now and tell them to vote for anyone you want. You have real power not just within your own vote but within your social networks.”
An Austinite of nearly 10 years, Stansbury’s love for the city is also a driving factor. A constantly changing atmosphere with so many new people moving in makes it even more important for Stansbury to keep educating, hoping that her platforms will make new residents feel welcome.
“I love Austin, and I’ve seen the impact and positive change that our community has made, and I want our democracy to thrive and work, especially in this age when people are so anxious about politics. The idea of getting involved can be stressful or overwhelming.”
To expand to something new, The Austin Common partnered with the League of Women Voters this year to start a program to help students at local high schools register to vote for the first time, an effort to stretch more people from the younger generation into the political process.