Similar to fitness lane, it’s been pretty quiet in civic lane on the blog; that wonderful vacation I took put a monkey wrench in many things (yep, insert side-eye emoji). I continue to attend as many events as I can, and I am learning a ton in this quest to literally teach myself how to be an engaged citizen.
To that end, I recently attended a “Civics Cafe” event hosted by Young Involved Philadelphia, a networking organization that aims to increase civic engagement to empower and connect young people in Philadelphia. Last month’s cafe event centered around getting your legislators’ attention. The panel features two members of Philly United for Progress (a grassroots advocacy group), and Pennsylvania House Representative Jordan Harris. They shared some key strategies that can help anyone get to know and most importantly, ENGAGE, with their representatives.
Sign up for their newsletter
Every elected official has some sort of listserv that they use to communicate with their constituents (or whomever else signs up). These communications typically contain an overview of the key issue(s) the representative (“rep”) is advocating for, upcoming town halls, and any positive press they have recently received. They will almost always also include an ask for money. Sign up to keep your finger on the pulse.
Request a Meeting
Most reps, especially at the city and state level are more than happy to meet with their constituents. You can call their local office and request a meeting to discuss issues that are important to you. Keep in mind: depending on the number of constituents the politician represents, it may take awhile to get on their calendar.
This is particularly important: if your rep has taken a position that you disagree with, DO NOT go in and start screaming about how horrible s/he is. Remember that your reps and their staff are people too. Even if you think they support vile policy, are out to destroy the very face of the earth, or are bottom feeding scum, remember that they are still human beings. Their stature does not exempt them from reacting as any human would, whether it’s through anger or apathy. Respectfully ask them to explain why they did/will vote they way they did/will, then respectfully articulate your position.
Before the repeal of the Affordable Care Act failed in the U.S. House, I called my House Rep. to discuss his position on the law. I was giddy when someone picked up (after being greeted by answering machines for many weeks), and geared up to give that person an ear full. I had my finger in the air and everything. Then I realized it was some young staffer,who was probably was just going to relay a summary of all calls received, at an end of day staff meeting. So do not get your attitude and do not give them a petty reason to write you off.
Keep Your Pulse on Upcoming Bills
Go onto your state/city legislature website to see what bills are coming up and the time table they will be voted on. If your reps are gearing up to vote on an issue that you care about, call them and let your opinion be known.
Follow them on social media
Nuff said. Find out what are they doing and what they are talking about. What are they sharing? What issues are they bringing awareness too? Who do they follow?
Vote in LOCAL Elections
Every six months there is an election in Philly. There is likely always something going on in your city/state too. You have to make the time to be informed, otherwise you concede your citizen power to someone else. The less you know, the more powerful other interest groups are.
Join your local civic association (or other residential community organization)
These are volunteer run, neighborhood based organizations that come together to spur collective action on community affairs. Civic associations are concerned with everything that affects the community – schools, roads, recreation, zoning, trash collection, and perhaps most importantly, PARKING. State and local elected officials will often present at an association meeting, detailing their current legislative agenda. It’s a great place to understand the issues that impact your particular neighborhood, and also ask your rep some questions.
- Do not feel intimidated. Despite what some of them think, your reps work for YOU. Money is powerful, but so is collective voice and action. There are regular people who are engaging every day; dip your feet in the pool for a little and then just jump in! After a while it gets way easier to make that call.
- The vast majority of our reps are frothing at the mouth to be re-elected; use that to your advantage. On the local level, a few hundred votes can swing a local election.
- If a candidate is non-responsive when they are running for office, you better believe that you won’t hear a peep from them once they are elected. So pay attention to who is running for every type of office there is – City Controller, Judges, District Attorney, State Representatives. If we don’t pay attention, we don’t get to later say we didn’t know what was going on.
- Build coalitions with people of different political perspectives, find common ground, and go advocate together!
Remember (said in my best Mufasa voice): Being involved in politics as a citizen is hard, but it’s also our responsibility. It takes so much more than voting every four years (a huge lesson that I’ve had to learn). So go and get in their behinds (nicely of course)!