This is the second in a series of 5 posts.
I'm sure you've been wondering what you can do to help end systemic racism and generally make the world a better place. Maybe you're not able to protest or feel like your everyday work is making a difference. Perhaps you want to try getting politically involved, but aren't sure how. Well, I'm no expert, but I can share the things I've tried or know about. I'll focus on Washington residents and my personal experience, but if you're reading this elsewhere the same steps may help. Feel free to use the comments to add ideas!
Level 2: Use your words!
Okay, I know you thought voting was enough. It seems like a lot of work already and you picked the best available person to represent you in governmental decisions, so why should you have to do more work? I get it, I thought the same way for probably 15 years of my voting life.
The first time I can recall employing level 2 was for pretty selfish reasons, to be honest. The state pays me a bonus for a certain certification and the legislature was considering cancelling that bonus. At the time, that bonus was probably like 6% of my pay. So, it was a big deal (to me and my similarly certified colleagues, if I'm trying to justify my selfishness). A friend invited me to her neighborhood legislative town hall. Her state legislator was a proponent of the idea of ending this bonus, if I recall correctly. So, we went down there to talk to him.
That's level 2, kids: getting in your elected officials' business when they attempt some nonsense!
E-mail is the easiest way to get in contact with your elected officials. You can sit on the toilet and type out an email to your city councilperson on your phone these days. Super easy! You don't have to write a novel or a perfectly worded treatise, just simply state your position and a reason and then send it! You can add weight to your voice in various ways that I'll discuss later, but for now, if you see your politician doing a bad thing or a good thing, drop them a quick e-mail!
Some organizations offer e-mail forms and templates for you to contact all your representatives at once, even. I'm very skeptical of these services. I worry that they will just add your email to a list and not send in your message. I worry that a politician getting 100 of the same message will just think it is from a bot. I worry that you won't get to flex your debate and argumentation brain muscles a little by writing in your own words. My advice: skip these services unless you don't have the energy to write your own e-mail.
Some politicians have an active social media presence. To be honest, I don't know if they respond to anything because most of the ones I follow are just bombarded by trolls and assholes since the internet is often a terrible place, particularly to those that believe in social justice and progressive ideals. However, maybe you can @ a politician and something will happen? At the very least, your followers might see that you are reaching out and be inspired to do the same in their own way. I'm not super stoked on this method, obviously, but you do you.
A few of my progressive friends swear that the phone is a better option for contacting your politician friends. I, personally, have a pretty solid amount of anxiety around phone conversations and save those for level 3 political involvement. If the phone is your jam, then go for it. Fill up those message tapes, if necessary!
Face To Face
The dream scenario for level 2 is getting a face-to-face with your politician. It is not as tough as it sounds! As I mentioned above, you can use their town halls if they have them. You can attend their campaign events if it is that season. Some politicians will have regular office hours or be able to schedule these conversations via their office staff. If they are not readily available? Then it sounds like they won't be getting your vote next election (or, if you're real fired up, you can organize a recall, impeachment, strongly worded complaint to their manager, etc.). There may also be more creative or disruptive ways to get in touch with them. Use what works for you!
The benefit of real-life one-on-ones with your elected officials is that you both humanize each other and you can make sure that your message is heard. You can see, in real time, how they react to your position and you're able to ask follow up and clarifying questions. If this is your first time or you're anxious, I'd suggest practicing with a friend or bringing a note card or something. Remember, you're their boss!
Let's be real: unless you're doing a face-to-face, a politician you are contacting may not even see your message. Don't let that stop you. If they're in a big enough position, they'll have staff screen their calls/e-mails and hopefully get some kind of report on things. Again, if they don't respond to contacts in any noticeable way, get them out of there ASAP.
Contacting your politician will have more effect if that politician has less people to represent. Contacting the President? Not much effect (but not zero in most administrations!). Contacting the mayor of your town with 500 people? Huge effect. Again, if you live in a big city or have to contact a high level of government, do it! Just don't expect them to call you personally or anything.
I mentioned in the e-mail section that you can amplify your voice. If you belong to an organization, push to have that group all contact their representatives and mention the organization. If you're a member of a political party, list that. If you're working a job that will be directly affected by whatever the politician is doing, let them know. The more people behind your words, the more weighty they will be.
Alright, which politician do you talk to? Well, that depends greatly on your government structure and your goals. Want to end military funding? You'll have to go to the federal level. Want a sidewalk installed on your street? Hit up the city folk. Don't know what level? Try a couple! What's the worst that could happen?
Finding an elected official's contact information should not be difficult. One more time, if it is... they should find other employment. Here are some ways to find various elected officials. If you don't see what you need here, use your favorite internet search engine.
- The President (don't bother until January 2021): whitehouse.gov
- U.S. House of Representatives house.gov
- U.S. Senate senate.gov
- Washington State Legislature leg.wa.gov
- Seattle City Council seattle.gov or Mayor until she resigns in disgrace
I know. It seems like this will just be screaming inside your heart and no one will hear or do anything. Well, as with voting, if you don't make an effort, things will happen anyways. Your voice will remain unheard and you'll lose more faith in the system because it won't work for you except by accident. I've e-mailed tons of politicians at every level, talked to state legislators at meetings and campaign events, chatted with city councilors at cafe's, praised former mayors while volunteering, accosted school board members at dinners... have I made a difference? It is impossible to know. I do know that not doing any of that definitely would have accomplished nothing.
Get out there and hold your elected officials accountable. If they're doing whatever you think they should, then thank them for doing the right thing. Talking to them might not make a huge difference, but it also could do exactly that. Only one way to find out!
After you've chastised or congratulated your elected official, feel free to come back and check in for the next post in the series -- Political Involvement Level 3: Apparently this is speech now?