As an American, you’ve probably been taught that it’s your democratic duty to vote. With this (particularly heated) election behind us, you may feel like your role in democracy is fading as well, but there are actually amazingly effective ways to engage in democracy year-round.
The key to political engagement is remembering that your elected officials work for you. The President and your Representatives are not the boss of you, but rather employees to all of America.
Contact Your Representatives
Regardless of if your Representatives are of your same political affiliation, they are responsible for representing your wishes. Connect with them to voice those wishes.
1. Visit their office.
The most meaningful way to communicate with your Representatives is face-to-face. You can schedule a meeting in DC, but they also have local offices where you can schedule meetings when they’re in town. You’re more likely to book a meeting if there are several of you, but even a handful of people (like a few of your friends) should do the trick. Your may meet with your Representative or one of their staffers.
It’s normal to feel nervous when meeting your Representative. The best thing you can do is to type out a document with your specific bullets. Even if you fumble over your words while in the room, push your document forward, and they’ll have paperwork of your specific asks.
Also consider going to a Town Hall meeting for an alternative face-to-face opportunity.
2. Call them.
If you can’t visit your Representative’s office, then a call is your next most powerful tool. This break-down from a former Congressional Staffer explains why calls matter so much. You’re more likely to have a real conversation with someone if you call their local office instead of a DC office, but call whichever line you prefer. Prepare in advance, writing out your talking points.
The person answering phones is likely a college intern or recent graduate. In fact, people regularly say that DC is run on the backs of college interns (“Hillterns,” if you will). So, don’t be intimidated. Try to connect on a human level. Then explain your concerns and they’ll take note. They’re documenting each day’s most popular topics and it’s their job to share constituent feedback with their boss.
…don’t be intimidated. Try to connect on a human level.
3. Write them.
If time is short, send an email to your Representative. Check the box asking for them to reply and you’ll often get a response within a few weeks with details about your Representative’s actions on the particular topic.
I personally love attending protests and here’s why — your body speaks more loudly than pretty much any other form of political engagement. Objectively speaking, you’d think 100,000s of petition signatures would be more meaningful than just hundreds of people gathering together for a protest. However, which group gets its image taken and placed in news articles? The protesters.
There’s something so compelling about a large body of humans gathering for an issue. A photo of 100,000 people may feel just as grand as a photo of 100 people. So even if the protest is small, with the right photographer an image may be picked up by a large news source and you can make major waves.
Invite the press out to cover your protest. Tweet local news stations and call news tip-lines before heading out. Have your friends do the same. If you’re protesting a politically-relevant issue, the press will likely happily cover the story. They may even pass their coverage to national networks.
Generally speaking, protests are safe events. However, there are precautions you can take to keep them that way. Daytime protests are safer than nighttime ones. You’re always free to leave the moment that any destructive behavior begins. As much as you can contribute, speak peacefully, write peaceful signs, show the love to other protesters (ex. hand out free waterbottles), and thank the police who come to protect the crowd. Review tips like these before heading out.
The best way to find local protests is through Facebook Events. Use the Explore Feature on Events and narrow down the topics and cities to find nearby political gatherings.
The White House used to be impossible to contact. There were clear channels of communication to your local Representatives, but no way to call a number and tell the President what you cared about. The advent of handles like @WhiteHouse @WHLive and @POTUS now provide at least one channel of communication to this branch of the government.
There are far more ways to engage politically. In addition to the ideas above, you may also consider the following:
– Volunteer for your favorite politician.
– Sign petitions.
– Help others register to vote.
– Run for office.
Politics can often feel divisive, so my last recommendation is to be positive. Politicians field complaints daily, rarely feeling thanked. If there’s a politician doing something you really love, take time to thank them, encouraging them to continue. Politicians are civil servants and, at least in theory, they pursue office to serve the communities they love the most. Being positive, engaging year-round, and staying educated is what led to America’s most sweeping social changes over the years.
So, pick up the phone, dust off your marching shoes, and use your voice to continue affecting change long after Election Day.
How do you choose to engage in politics?
Images via Madison Holmlund