What does it mean to be an engaged citizen? How does one be the change they wish to see in the world? What can I actually do? We certainly don’t have all the answers. Yet, we hope that by each of us contributing to this page, we will be able to share tools and actions that make communities run more sustainably, fairly, and inclusively. From political events involving large groups to ongoing changes in behavior at the individual level, each of the articles here discuss reasonable actions that are important to the author, explain why it should matter to you, and detail clear, concrete steps that you can take to support those actions and changes.
March 30, 2017
Submitted by:James Riley
Hopefully, we are entering a new era of political engagement. People seem more eager to get out and connect, sometimes enthusiastically, with the elected officials that represent them in Congress. Some people might not know the first place to start. This is a very brief and easy collection of steps that anyone can do to get started. They may seem remedial to many of you and that is because they are. They are the first steps into civic awareness. But before we get into the steps, be sure to look up your representative so that you know their name, what they look like, and some of their policies, if you don’t already know them. You should also have a working knowledge of the difference between Senate and the House of Representatives. This should be helpful for that.
1. Call to Complain or Ask for Representation.
You may have already called your representatives, or at the very least have seen someone asking you to contact your Senators or Representative, to ask them to vote down a cabinet nominee or make a public statement of condemnation over some issue or other. You may have done it a few times a week. You may have their local and Washington offices on speed dial. If not, take the time to write down their office numbers now. These are easily accessible here or here.
Record them in your phone or write them down on a piece of paper you can keep handy. When you hear of something happening that is disagreeable to you, pick up the phone and call them. You simply need to say that you want your representative to reject the bill, the candidate, or the policy either through a vote or public statement whichever is appropriate. Do not be nervous or feel inarticulate, you will not have to speak for long as the person answering phones will just take down a brief message anyway. Your representative’s job is to represent you, but if you do not make your voice heard, he or she will assume that they are doing a good job.
You may also write them a letter or an email. These do make a difference but are less immediate and more time consuming for you. The impact of a fifty phone calls (That is one phone call from you and 49 other constituents; please only call once per issue.) in a day in every office that a Senator has does make a powerful statement.
2. Let Them Know When They are Doing a Good Job.
Okay so you have complained and complained, and hopefully affected some change. What now? Let your Senator or Congresswoman know that they have your support, at least for doing that one thing.
Politicians are, and are supposed to be, public servants, which is the only job with almost as many daily critical and angry interactions as a customer service representative. All people have a tendency to comment when something goes wrong, but they are far less likely to acknowledge something going right. Yet, all people appreciate praise in the workplace. Think about your current job. Do you feel motivated by positive feedback? Now imagine that your entire job is to represent the will of a large group of people and your job was up for review every two or six years, and you’ll realize how much more important positive feedback would be. So when your Senator makes a public statement you are proud of or votes in a way you agree with, either for or against legislation, let them know how you feel.
Now unlike step one, I do not suggest calling just for this. You can mention it at the end of any other calls you might be making as a sort of appreciation at the end. This will show that your complaints or urges for support are coming from someone who is aware of the work that the Congresswoman or Senator has been doing and is thankful that they have.
You can, and should, also email, or write a letter of appreciation. Your support is not an urgent matter but it is important. Your Member of Congress will appreciate the sentiment and the time it took you to send it. They will also feel more confident in supporting similar policies in the future, knowing that they have a committed constituency behind them. If you don’t want to write an email, hit them up on Twitter or Facebook or wherever you spend the majority of your social networking time, especially if that is the format where you see their public statements. Which brings us to the next point.
3. Follow them on social media.
Forget celebrities and movie stars, the really exciting Twitter accounts belong to your congressional representatives! Well, not really, but following your Senator or Rep is a great way to know what they are doing and what public statements they are making about issues you care about. Follow them on Twitter, like their page on Facebook, bookmark any blogs they might have, or favorite their website. These are the first places to look before you call to see if you are going to be thanking them or telling them to act. You can tweet your support or condemnation, as long as you are keeping a professional tone, or keep tabs on any upcoming public appearances in your area. If you have a Senator or Representative that has gone into hiding, here is a great place that you can look for him or express your displeasure.
4. Meet them face to face.
Your Representative and Senators are public figures and they should be around. They hold town halls, make appearances at local events and institutions. I am lucky enough to live in a very small state that has always prided itself on the accessibility of its elected officials. This is not always the case. Still, more than likely your representative is open to meeting you or at least taking your questions, though they might be more skittish right now than usual given the expressive town halls some are experiencing. Even if you have nothing to say, take advantage of any town hall that might be near you. You will gain a better perspective of your neighbors and see how your representative is doing. Just by being there you will affirm the need for having public events. You might be inspired to work on a re-election campaign or you might decide that it is definitely time for a change. Either way you will see them and they will see you.
BONUS: Watch C-SPAN.
If you are tired of the political news channels, or getting fed up with seeing the same story thirty times a day, check out C-SPAN. It might seem a little boring, but it is nice (or sometimes embarrassing) to see your Congress member in action. These are useful sources to look out for Bills you might otherwise miss:
From there you can look up the bills and research them for a more nuanced view.
These are great ways to stay on top of the byzantine process of legislation but they are far from the only ways. Do you have any tips or advice for calls to action? Please consider joining Pinpoints and submitting your ideas for community engagement.
January 20, 2017
Submitted by: James Riley
Part of being a community member is knowing how communities work. When you are part a very large community, it can feel impossible to affect change on a large scale. It is hard to know exactly how to effectively have your voice heard. That is why pieces of knowledge like the guide Indivisible are so important. This guide is a tool written by a team of people who have had a first hand look on what has worked in the past and the real way that Congressional offices operate. Reading this guide will not just help you communicate your issues and needs effectively, it is a road map for social and civic engagement. This guide is essential for anyone trying to organize communities and advocate for political action. There are a growing number of grassroots groups springing up and using this document, some of which can be found on the database hosted by the site. Though this guide explicitly states its purpose is to fight the Trump administration, it can be used for any type of community building. So read it, and start organizing.