I don't think I realized how little I knew about how politics worked, until I decided to do more than just write about social justice issues. Then again, with recent political events, a lot of us are looking for ways to get involved; we just don't know what to do. The important thing to know is that we are not helpless. However, we must work together to make change.
How government works
As most of us know, there are three branches: the executive branch, or the president, legislative, or congress, and judicial, our judges. We work on a system of checks and balances so no single branch of government gets too powerful. We vote for a president and for our representatives for congress. The judicial branch is supposed to operate independently, upholding the laws of congress and the constitution. So if you vote for a Democratic president, but a Republican congress, there is most likely going to be conflict and gridlock - especially in our divided political climate - because this is all part of the checks and balances system. So what do we, as citizens, have the power to do?
The United States has one of the lowest voter turnouts of developed nations, with only around 60% of eligible voters turning out for presidential elections, and roughly 40% of voters turning out for mid-term elections. We've grown complacent, allowing special interests and corruption to run loose without anyone to watch.
Disturbingly, a Pew Research poll showed 70% of non-voters were younger than 50, while 43% were more racially and ethnically diverse, 46% are lower income and 54% are less educated than those who vote. In other words, those who need congress to stand up for them the most are not making their voices heard.
2. Actively get informed!
Turn off your TV and do your own research. Media was invented to sell you stuff. It is not a reliable source of information when it comes to your best interests. As I've written, 26% of what CNN says is Mostly false, false, or outright lying, according to Politifact. The same can be said for FOX News at 59%, 35% for ABC, 45% for CBS, and 41% for NBC. News sources with exorbitant advertising income have a single agenda: get viewers coming back again and again. If they can get you emotionally vested in their content, regardless of accuracy, they have achieved their financial goal. High ratings are how they attract advertisers and the networks will stop at nothing to get you to tune in.
Do your own research on sites you don't normally visit and ask questions of people you may not normally talk to so you can get a different perspective. The main point here is to ask questions and challenge your own beliefs about issues. Look up historical FACTS and get statistics whenever you see a meme. Critically think about whether or not what you're reading or what you hear even makes common sense.
3. Find out who represents you in congress.
After clicking on that link, click on the links of the representatives and sign up for their newsletters. Talk to them through email and phone calls. This is what they are paid to do. You are not bothering them. They are not celebrities. They are your employees.
4. Find your personal representative for your district.
Call them. Email them and stay in touch.
5. Contact your state governor.
Make sure your governor knows who you are, what your values are and what is expected of him or her. Get on the newsletter mailing list.
6. Contact your state legislature.
From this site you, after choosing your state, you can learn what bills are coming up, being discussed and give input.
7. Get involved in community programs.
Organizations, such as VolunteerMatch.org connect you with organizations and people that share your interests. Socialbrite also helps you find companies and non-profits you can support financially, or through local volunteer opportunities. Meetup.com connects you with people who share your interests, which may or may not be politically active, but you will find like-minded, passionate people for connection and shared concerns.
As alarming as the current state of affairs is, "we the people" are still in charge of the destiny of our country. We can require our congress to act on our behalf if the president or his officials are not serving our best interests. Your phone calls and emails count. Your voice counts. Make it heard.
Photo - Flickr/ Petras Gagilas