The 2016 election has left some peoples’ heads spinning.
National political turmoil has encouraged people who’ve never been politically active before to get engaged. Calling your congressperson is one way to dip your toes in the political waters, but getting involved at the local level can lead to change you can see.
We talked to some people who have some experience standing out in a crowd, and they all agree: There’s more to effective involvement than just showing up.
“Just being a member of a group doesn’t do anything for you. I mean, you just show up,” said April Boling, a taxpayer advocate. “If you are going to use a group to kind of be a little bit more heard, you need to attend regularly, you need to be responsible and you need to seek a leadership role in that group.”
Yet connecting with others who have the same concerns as you doesn’t have to be a monumental undertaking. Sometimes staying small can bring about its own results. That’s how Enrique Morones started his nonprofit Border Angels, which helps save the lives of migrants crossing the U.S-Mexico border.
“It doesn’t have to be as big as we’ve become,” Morones said. “It could be really small. It could be two or three people, that’s good enough. We firmly believe in the power of one, the fact that one person can make a big difference.”
Advocates can often find themselves alone on an issue, so they need to stay dedicated until others start paying attention. That was the case for Marcus Bush, a National City planning commissioner who said he was often the only person speaking up for transportation needs and environmental justice in National City in recent years.
“Power grows when it’s shared, and sometimes it just takes one person,” Bush said. “I’ve been that one person in certain instances. Had I not been talking about this for the last two years … it wouldn’t be on the radar for City Council. It wouldn’t have been considered.”
Former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye, who after her term on the Council has resumed a role as a regular activist, said the best advocates are informed and prepared.
“You also need to do your homework on whatever issue it is and make sure you have researched it, understand it and are accurate when you make statements,” Frye said.
For her, the most effective strategy was setting up a press conference. Frye would invite members of the media to cover events like “The best and the worst elected officials when it came to protecting clean water,” where she would give out awards to those in power who best advocated for her issue. But in order to get the best results, she emphasizes the importance of having a simple, clear message and call to action for those watching.
Once you identify what the problem is, you need to identify what it is that you want done about it,” she said. “And then as you’re doing that, you need have an action for the people who are hearing this message.”
That can be anything from calling your local representative, writing a letter or even protesting along with others. Holding a press conference isn’t for everyone, so before you get to that point, here are six quick tips to start getting involved with local issues.
Look up the next public meeting and request to speak during the public comment period.
During these meetings, you’ll have the attention of local politicians whom you’re trying to influence, so make sure you have your statement prepared and be mindful of the speaking time limit. If you can’t make it, try to attend other public events like a town hall.
Find out who’s responsible for the issue you’re concerned about, and call him or her – frequently.
This might be a city council member, a county department or your representative in Congress. If these officials frequently hear from you, your concerns will have a longer shelf life in their minds and possibly sway their views — even if you did not vote for them. Remember, politicians work for you and although it might seem like your opinions are not front and center, they are always preparing for their next election.
Start a form letter or a petition and share it.
A lot people use social media networks like Facebook to share or invite others to join their cause. The point is to get your letter on the desk of those in official positions and available to anyone who may want to join your cause.
Contact local media and let them know how you feel.
Believe what you may about local news organizations, but they want your voice to be heard too. If you feel as if your issue is not receiving much attention, make them listen. Let them know of local events you may be planning and lead them to other individuals that can speak more on the topic.
Organize. Find others with the same concern and plan your next move.
One person can make an impact, but multiple people can keep a movement alive. Try to gather a group of like-minded thinkers to collaborate on ideas and come up with different strategies. Don’t be too concerned with the size of the group, just make sure all members are dedicated and committed.
Stay up-to-date and involved on your issue.
Other cities around the country may be dealing with the same issues in their communities, so being aware of how your issue may be playing out in other areas can help hone your vision locally.