Kate Villa
January 18, 2018 12:11 pm

January 18th is the birthday of the fictional government heroine Leslie Knope of “Parks and Recreation.”

We are eternally grateful that Leslie Knope, portrayed by Amy Poehler, was birthed from the minds of some truly amazing writers and comedians. This is a woman who says what she believes, loves her friends and coworkers so sincerely, and breaks down the toughest barriers that try to stop her from making a difference in Pawnee.

It’s easy to love Leslie — how could you not root for her? She fights for legislation she believes in. She does her best to create and enact meaningful change in her community. What we forget while watching the show is that though everything feels high-stakes, we’re only talking about one small town in Indiana — yet no one devalues it as a “flyover country” or debates how much prestige the district has in the presidential election. None of that matters; only the stories of the community matter as we follow (and care deeply about) what happens to one district in the middle of one state in the middle of the country.

And, in my opinion as a Parks and Rec devotee, that is solely due to Leslie.

Her passion and tenacity for improving the lives of people she serves is unbelievably admirable.

Leslie makes caring cool, both in fictional Pawnee and in the real world.

So many people are apathetic about politics. I often fear it’s become more socially acceptable to choose irony over passionate advocacy. Like many others, I sometimes wonder, “What if scientists and poets and politicians were treated the way we treat celebrities?” I remember watching Leslie fangirl over former Vice President Joe Biden — a scene I will never get over. There are government heroes and social activists changing our world for the better, and Leslie understands that in a way that some of the world doesn’t (yet).

After Trump’s election and the Women’s March that happened almost a year ago, many of us have new understandings of the legislative process. In fact, 2017 may have marked the first year some of us called our congresspeople and district representatives. We’re creating change for the better in our communities. This has also pushed many more women to be the positive change by running for office.

There is so much that any women becoming more politically active can learn from Leslie. On her birthday, let’s remind ourselves of these life lessons.

Care — and care a lot.

It’s hard to gauge change in your community — but the amount of positive change you see in your community is likely directly correlated to how strongly people care that change is made. Make sure that you see your own personal harvest festival through to completion.

Start with your own community.

No one knows better than you what your community needs. Whether you’re running for office or volunteering, begin with the problems that you can identify. Yes, it’s tough to watch incredibly dangerous and regressive bills get passed in D.C., but now we must challenge them — and we can start where we live. Go to your town halls. Begin dialogues. Don’t let any unjust statement be left unchallenged.

Lift others up.

As women, we are socially conditioned to see ourselves as less than, as impostors. Because of that, sometimes we can’t see our own potential, so there’s no reason not to tell your friends, colleagues, and people you admire how great they are. Leslie lifts up both Ann and April far past what they believe they’re capable of. Ann begins the series with an issue in her own backyard (the pit) that Leslie helps fix by bringing Ann into the room where decisions are being made. She sees potential in April, who starts the series as an apathetic intern — giving her projects and encouragement as she begins working on D.C. campaigns and eventually becomes a guidance counselor. The series provides so many lessons on how women can and should build each other up.

Be proud.

Oh, I cannot stress this enough. The work Leslie does matters to her, and she is loud about how proud she is. Her focus is on her community and her coworkers, and she boldly loves both publicly. And when she’s happy with a project, everyone knows.

Finally, eat a lot of waffles.

This one is a must.

Happy birthday, Leslie. We’re so glad you’re here.

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