Ways to participate in your community
You may not be the next president of the United States or a Justice on the Supreme Court, but as an American citizen, you have more political power than you think. Below are a few ideas to get you involved in the government —local and federal—and your community.
Voting may sound like a simple task to do but Pew Research reported the United States is among the list of lowest voter turnouts in developing countries as of 2018. Voting isn’t just about electing a representative or state leader; it’s also about propositions that can affect minimum wage and education in your area. A list of local ballot measures can be found here.
Here are some proactive steps to take when it comes to expressing your voice.
The process of how to vote and where can be intimidating for voters of any age . To create a positive experience, it’s best to plan out your strategy. While planning, ask yourself: Can you vote early? Where can I vote in person? Do I need identification?
You can check to see what your state requires for identification here.
You can verify voting eligibility here.
As the voting season nears, an influx of political ads on street corners and TVs can drown out the truth about candidates. While it is time-consuming, it is best to do your research of those appearing on your ballot. Ask yourself: What does this person stand for? What is their vision? What are their values?
You can utilize the voter education guide that comes in the mail around election time, or do your own research. Be sure to verify your sources are credible when researching on your own.
graphic courtesy of Clip art
Contact Your Leaders
Elected officials have busy schedules and do not have time to meet with every individual they represent. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be ignored;writing a letter is an effective way to communicate with your elected official. Writing to your elected official benefits not only yourself but other individuals who may have similar ideas or thoughts. Communicating with elected officials also helps maintain contact and keeps your issues present.
Here are some tips on how to write an effective letter:
- Keep it brief. Your letter should be clear and concise. It should include who you are and what you want. If you are discussing a rather specific topic, be sure to include details such as its bill number.
- Make it personal. Making your letter personal can tell your elected official why this particular issue matters to you and your community. A personal touch in your letter will help to persuade your elected official to see the problem through your experiences.
- Be firm. As an elected official, their job is to represent you. Don’t be afraid to be firm and courteous.
- Include a follow-up. Don’t forget to provide contact information. You can also offer to be a resource should your elected official have additional questions.
When writing your letter, the ACLU advises including three strong points to solidify your position. Once you identify three main points, discuss each point in detail.
The National Education Association (NEA) explains if you choose to deliver your communication via email, be sure to include the same formalities as you would a written letter and to include your full name, street address and zip code. Many legislative offices identify emails from constituents through their street address and outside mail are likely to be left unread.
Below is how the NEA advises in addressing written correspondence:
UNITED STATES SENATORS
The Honorable (full name)
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator (last name)
FOR MEMBERS OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The Honorable (full name)
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative (last name)
You can locate your legislators here.
Attend a Council Meeting
Attending a council meeting is a great way to not only voice your opinions about your city but to connect with your councilmembers as well. Participating in local politics can help you be involved with your community, such as joining a committee. In attending council meetings, you can experience firsthand the inner workings of local government including how meetings are held to how proposals are approved.
Here are some tips in attending your city council meeting:
- Visit your City Council website to see when your councilmembers meet. Council meetings often meet at least once per month. You can also locate the agenda for the council meeting ahead of time as well as read minutes from previous meetings.
- Anyone planning to attend a meeting who is hearing or visually impaired can contact their City Clerk’s Office, typically 48 hours in advance for assistance.
- You do not have to sign up in advance to speak at a City Council Meeting. If you wish to speak on a proposed topic that is included in the agenda at a public hearing, you can comment during the public hearing portion of the meeting. If you are unable to attend a meeting but would like to voice your comments/concerns, you can email or write your thoughts to the City Clerk’s Office.
Volunteer or Donate to a Campaign
Working for a campaign — mayoral, congressional, presidential — can be a great way to be involved in politics and effect change. Before investing your time in a campaign, be sure to research who you want to work for and what they represent.
- Researching what the party or candidate represents will be your best bet to finding a campaign suitable for you. Check out the candidate’s website and social media to get a feel for who they are.
- Consider the time you’ll be investing in a campaign. There are many tasks and goals to achieve when working for a campaign, and your volunteered time will be much appreciated.
Various jobs could include helping people register to vote, becoming a poll worker, canvassing, phone banking or collecting data. Each task comes with its own experiences and someone passionate to fulfill it.
If you would like to contribute to a campaign but may not have the allotted time to do so, don’t fret. You can always donate to a selected campaign. Most campaigns allow for contributors to donate directly to their website. Similarly, like volunteering for a campaign, be sure to do some research to verify what kind of candidate you want to be contributing to. If you choose to donate to a federal campaign, be sure to visit the Federal Election Commission’s website on who can make contributions to federal campaigns.
Donate to a Cause
To make an impact doesn’t mean you have to donate to a political campaign. You can also choose to donate to a cause. It could be your local animal shelter or a foster care agency, the possibilities are limitless.
- Before donating, be sure to verify the credibility of your selected organization. Scams can be easily masked to look like a non-profit.
- Do some research on your organization. Ask yourself if you want to support the values reflected by this organization.
- Most organizations accept donations through their websites, but you can also find organizations to help through third parties such as GoFundMe.
If you’re stuck on a charity to support, here is a full list of America’s Top Charities from 2019 by Forbes to get you started.