A Part Of The Sum: The Surprising Ease And Impact Of Civic Participation

I am part of the machinery of my democratic republic. My role is so small, likely insignificant in itself, but I witness scores of others, and together we are an affront to the heinous actions attempting to stomp what makes this country so incredible.
12/08/2016 05:58 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2017

I consider myself a responsible citizen, but minimally engaged in politics. I feel a responsibility to vote. Approaching middle age, I'm more abreast of current events than when my civic responsibilities began. Historically I never felt particularly connected to the process; what it means to live in a democratic republic.

My first true immersion was a mere five years ago, and really a dabbled toe in a pool. But, the impact continues to reside in a special, almost sacred space in my mind, even if its furniture is a bit faded. It was an assignment in my social work program; our task to lobby at the state house. A bit disgruntled anticipating the schlep and the transportation ordeal; my general mindset was to power through the assignment.

There are various lobbying days for the plethora of social groups throughout the year. I chose something convenient over personal crusade. When I first moved to the area around fifteen years ago, I was within stepping distance of the state house, but while finding myself at the time, it never occurred to me to be a tourist.

It was a pleasant day, sunny, a bit chilled. I stood at the bottom of the stairs, the gold domed roof eclipsed by the hard angles of the main building before me. In my own thoughts that I can no longer remember, I entered the ever expanding interior. I had no notion it was so beautiful. I was tiny, looking up at the marble and artwork covering every vertical surface. The only comparison close to the spectacle would be when I later visited the Vatican. Tours and busy people hustling left a vibrating bass echo reminding me of the cello sounds motivating me to take lessons I promptly dropped once I realized I lacked any iota of musical talent.

Within the heart of the main building, I found my place among this massive and well organized coalition. The energy was palpable. This wasn't my cause, but I felt the energy and excitement of the different factions and stakeholders coming together to organize and assert their will in their government. I was paired with people who knew much more about this experience than I...not a challenging threshold. I listened to speakers: policy makers, community activists, survivors. It was all so inspiring and humbling. It's what our politics is supposed to be.

I walked with my small cohort; they enlightened and guided me through the next bit. I would be attempting to speak to a representative; my representative. Her office was an open, nondescript room, stark walls, blue carpet, old. The room wasn't antique and historically old, rather reminiscent of any building that's been around since the 1960 or 70s. Long folding tables crammed with mostly young adults seated, busy at work; all clearly focused on their designated tasks.

Unfortunately...or fortunately...we were met with an assistant to my representative because her boss was out of the office for the day engaged in community outreach. I muddled through my urging for my representative to maintain her support for one of the coalition's efforts. The assistant was kind, listened patiently when confronted with my phrasing buffoonery. I was a constituent. I was taken seriously.

I left the experience mulling my future children taking part in this particular civic opportunity some day, but I haven't returned. As awe filled and inspiring as the experience was, life interferes. Lobbying at my state house is too cumbersome, and I was left returning to my political homeostasis. But, I've continued to think often of the experience, wondering what piece of engagement was realistic for me, for my comfort level and lifestyle. But, where do I start; what should I do? Nothing. I gave up without starting.

Until the fallout of this election I never realized the small ways in which I can be involved in the workings of this remarkable country. Despite the horrific and despicable nature of this new leadership's pursuits, we will have a peaceful transition of power. It is a model for every modern civilization. But, peaceful does not equate lackadaisical or indifferent. Something else remarkable occurred with this election debacle. I'm finding my voice in my country. But, exponentially more remarkable than my path are the droves of other inhabitants finding their places and voices as well.

I joined some social media groups, and I'm contributing in ways within my comfort level. Each day I involve myself with something; some efforts more significant than others. And, while my goal is to contribute in one way, often I find myself engaged throughout the time between the rising and setting sun. At times I only offer support or encouragement in comment sections to those braver than I. Other times I propose ideas. It's too soon to know if my ideas will yield anything productive, but perhaps something will flesh out at some point. I provide information as the news junkie I've become in the last several years. I offer testimony and personal stories. I even managed to override my anxiety and called lawmakers. I promise my expressions were clumsy, but they were counted. Some of my calls required nothing other than pressing a phone key. I am a solitary individual, but I am part of the vocal majority. I am asserting my protest because the aftermath of this election is in no way normal or acceptable. I'm becoming braver. Soon I will join the expansive group who calls hostile ears.

I am part of the machinery of my democratic republic. My role is so small, likely insignificant in itself, but I witness scores of others, and together we are an affront to the heinous actions attempting to stomp what makes this country so incredible. I can feel the immediate darkness as it attempts to shred our individual morality and collective humanity. But, until this very moment, I've never felt so integrally connected to my fellow countrypersons, and I have every confidence our light will eclipse the shadow.