Civic engagement is up. Last January’s Women’s March was the biggest protest in American history. Earlier this year, studies found calls to Congress up 164%. Online petitions are being signed in record-breaking numbers. Tech start-ups like ResistBot and Countable are popping up to help harness your political views with the ease of text messaging and dating-like apps.
Americans are paying much closer attention to decisions made in DC and are finding their voice in the conversation. Sometimes we may feel hopelessly small as individuals in the sea of 320 million Americans, but because our democracy allows for every voice to have its say, we have channels to communicate with the leaders who make decisions on our behalf.
Here’s where to start:
Get behind an issue you care about.
In this hyper-charged political climate, it can become easy to get overwhelmed with all the “outrages” that people are shouting about and it’s tempting to just quit engaging completely. Maintain your stamina by picking one issue you care most about, focusing on it solely.
Currently there’s ample engagement around issues like women’s rights, religious rights, Black civil rights, LGBTQ rights, voter rights, immigrant rights, environmental concerns, healthcare access and more. You can support these issues via various pillars of action – donate your money, donate your time, promote awareness of the issue in your community and/or engage politically on the issue.
Each of these issues has various non-profits dedicated to the cause, but each non-profit will likely ask for engagement in only one of the pillars. If civic engagement is a priority to you, then look for a non-profit with a specialization in political advocacy. Hint: The organizations best suited for this often have Washington DC headquarters.
Consider becoming a lobbyist.
When you hear the word “lobbyist,” you may think of high-paid corporate professionals. The term has gotten a bad reputation, but anyone can be a lobbyist. If you are bothered by professional paid lobbyists, a great way to counteract them is to become a volunteer lobbyist yourself.
When you find the cause you’re passionate about and the related non-profit that’s best working on advocacy, get involved with that organization. Sign up for their newsletters, follow them on social media and attend their local events. Follow the organization’s lead when they ask you to spring into action to lobby for the cause. Perhaps a strategic bill is up for a vote, they may encourage you to call your Members of Congress and express concern regarding that bill. Or perhaps there’s an upcoming Town Hall and it would be very beneficial for you to show up in person to voice your perspective on the issue.
When you hear the word “lobbyist,” you may think of high-paid corporate professionals. The term has gotten a bad reputation, but anyone can be a lobbyist.
Sometimes if an issue is trending, it may make sense to tweet your politicians. Other times, it may make sense to show up at your Member of Congress’ local or DC office and meet with them (or a staffer) to share your thoughts. Anyone can do this and when you do, you become a lobbyist!
Get involved with an election.
Another great way to support civic change is to work with the leaders who have the power to make decisions that align with your values. If you find a candidate you love, there’s much you can do to support their work!
If you live in the district where this politician is running for office, you can volunteer as a canvasser. Their team will know the most important neighborhoods to target and you can go door-to-door sharing information about their platform, encouraging key constituents to get out and vote.
There are other ways to support your candidate other than hitting the streets. You can volunteer for their phone bank, making calls to potential voters, encouraging them to cast their ballot for your candidate. You can also donate to your candidate to support their marketing, raising their public profile. Even placing a yard sign or bumper sticker of support proves helpful.
Most likely, the candidate you would most agree with would be yourself! Running for office to be a public servant is a noble endeavor. There are an estimated 519,682 government positions and about one-third are filled by people who run unopposed. Perhaps you’re the perfect fit to fill one of those jobs! Starting at the local level is typically how most politicians get started, then harnessing their experience in government into consideration for higher profile offices.
Running for office is not for the faint of heart. It takes time, money, bravery and conviction. However, if you don’t go for it, who will? If you feel unqualified, then step back and consider your frustration with others who have been elected over the years. Think about how many politicians have won despite scandal-ridden pasts or evidence of corruption in their lives. If they can rise to power, then surely you have something to offer for consideration in the conversation!
How do you plan on getting involved in the political system?
Images via Nick Glover