What do we do now? That question is getting asked a lot. Whether you’re like me and marched against the Bush administration only to see new levels of “unpresidented” behavior this time around, or you’re young enough that this is your first experience with fascism, wondering how to help is a natural response.
We can protest and shout and call their president a dangerous autocrat on Twitter, and it all matters, but holding elected officials accountable must be a focus of our efforts over the next years if we’re ever going to be a nation resembling something free.
To that end, I recently attended an Advocate Training conducted by NARAL Pro-Choice America. The training was centered on feminist actions that we can take to directly contact officials, holding their feet to every fire we can find. Whatever your cause, we’re going to use these and other tools to make our voices heard in ways that politicians will understand. These ideas may not work for a guy who shut down the White House phone line, but in two years, our Representatives will be begging for reelection.
Getting them to listen now is crucial. Here’s how we do that:
Learn the Laws, the Bills, and the Players
Everything we do builds off of this first step. Not only is knowledge essential to activism, but our opponents rely on an uninformed populace. In a climate in which intellect is devalued and facts dismissed, awareness is an act of resistance. Some politicians will welcome this. Others won’t. It’s our responsibility to know the difference and to make them all aware we’re watching.
You have representatives at local, county, state, and federal levels. Know them. Learn what district you’re in, who represents it, what they stand for, who they take money from, and what they believe. This is the bare minimum for being an informed citizen. Going further involves delving into their records and opinions on current laws and legislation pending.
Your representatives introduce bills and they speak and vote on bills introduced by others. Anti-abortion, anti-protest, and anti-LGBTQ2IA+ bills are already in the works. More are sure to come. Senate.gov and House.gov have tools to track your representatives’ records, as does the AFL-CIO. These are the things you need to know before you set up your first meeting.
Lobby, Lobby, Lobby
That’s right, talking to people is involved. And the big, scary word for that is “lobbying.” It’s gotten a bad rep over the years thanks to corporations blowing billions to get their way. But it’s an important part of the process that can get our voices heard by the people who set the rules.
Most state legislatures have set days in which they encourage lobbying, but setting up appointments with officials is possible whenever their schedules permit. Showing up to lobby in-person with an organized group is powerful. But if you can’t realistically make it to your representative’s office, calling is a great option. Staffers keep records of incoming calls and callers’ positions on issues, and volumes add up. Calling as part of a campaign of voices, organizing around a particular issue, is a great way to ensure your representatives hear you.
Believe it or not, politicians actually do care how people feel about the issues, and some of them are even willing to listen. We have to be willing to speak, especially when it’s personal.
Know Your Personal Story
Not every issue will affect you personally and that’s fine. Maybe you’ll never need birth control or aren’t afraid of being deported, but somewhere in you is a story that will strike a personal note with your audience. That’s the stuff that gets a response.
You can spout facts and figures until your tongue hurts and haul in a mountain of math on visual aids, but what politicians want is the Joe the Plumber soundbite. Never forget that you matter in the meeting.
Practice your story over and over. Tell it to friends. Tell it to yourself in the mirror. Let yourself feel silly. Staying on point is imperative when conversing with your reps because they have hundreds of other people to listen to in a day. You can stand out with your own voice, the numbers that affect your life, and how the actions of the person to whom you’re speaking will alter your existence.
And never forget one of the most important phrases you can say to a politician:
“I’m One of Your Constituents”
Politicians love getting reelected. It’s kind of their whole thing. When you make a career out of claiming to represent people, you occasionally have to actually represent them. So when you speak to a politician or someone in their office, one of the strongest statements you can make is confirming that you indeed play a role in their reelection, however small.
By saying you’re a constituent, you prove that their electorate is engaged and/or incensed. And in a less cynical way you remind them of the real-world ramifications of their decisions. In a representative democracy, constituency keeps lawmakers grounded. And in our modern world, that’s easier than ever.
Keep in Contact Through Various Channels
It’s not enough to make a phone call or an appointment, and then pat yourself on the back. Resistance is ongoing. We’re in this for the long haul and we’re up against voices who make their living dismissing us. Keeping in contact with the people who represent us means never letting the shouts of extremists or the whispers of special interests drown out our rational concerns.
Representatives have social media accounts, and those that don’t tweet tantrums about Saturday Night Live still have staffers who pay close attention to the online climate. Contacting lawmakers through their accounts, or tagging them in important posts about political issues, will get noticed even if it doesn’t get a response. Asking direct questions can garner interaction, especially when the questions involve specific legislation or issues pertinent to political discourse. And attitude matters.
Just like when you call or meet someone in person, interacting with your elected officials online requires a level of decorum your Instagram may not be known for, but shape it up. Our issues are serious and sincere language shows that – as does taking the conversation to long-form.
Politicians pour over newspapers for mentions of themselves. They pay attention to news groups online and in print and they care what’s said about them. Even if you don’t have access to a media outlet, many newspapers and magazines still take letters to the editor. It’s a prime opportunity to go back to that step about telling your personal story. Directing them to politicians, in a public forum, is a way to get noticed if you’re comfortable with writing. If you’re more into improv, there’s also radio and video.
The call-in show may not be as popular today as it once was, but politicians still take interviews on radio programs and online video channels. Listen to them and be ready to comment. If you have the opportunity to chime in directly, be concise and clear just as if you were there in-person.
You can also show up at events to see your representatives live. Whether it’s a photo-op at a local restaurant or an organized speaking event, the politician is there to see the people—not the other way around.
Ask your questions. State your case. You may only have a few seconds at the mic but make it matter. Know whether you’re criticizing, commending, or both.
Positive and Negative Feedback
It can sometimes feel like pandering, but positive feedback can get you noticed too, especially if it’s directed at someone with whom you usually disagree. Calling out elected officials who vote against human decency is important. Complimenting them when they surprise you is, too. Both can be done in the same moment.
Whenever you have an opportunity to speak to a politician, remember they’re a person and flattery goes a long way. And if you have nothing good to say, that’s fine, too. Sometimes all there is to do is comment honestly.
Use Your Personal Networks
All of our actions go beyond direct contact. If you’ve called your representatives, scheduled appointments, commented on their posts, and tagged them in yours, you’ve still got a massive network to inspire. The next step is using these tools to keep your friends and family engaged and active against oppression.
Get your people talking. Organize a calling campaign. Start a Facebook group to talk about political issues and how you can individually and collectively take a stand. One voice is strong and thousands are stronger but it takes that first yodel to start an avalanche. Never be afraid to be the person on their timeline who won’t shut up about that issue that should be important to all of us.
Of course, it’s up to you how much of your personal life you want to drag into politics. No one should tell you that keeping stern lines between you causes and couches is wrong. If you want to work in the background, that’s great. But maybe you know someone who’s putting themselves out there, shouting across your feed, fending off angry trolls. Show them some love. Toss them a like and a kind comment. And do it all in person, too.
Many of us marched in the Women’s March. Many more will stand strong in the years to come. It’s another way to inspire each other and prove we’re united. If you can get someone to march with you, to help you make a sign, or to woo for you when your throat hurts, that all becomes powerful activist networking. Now pull it together under a common banner.
Get Involved With Organizations
None of us can do this on our own and we shouldn’t feel like we have to try. Nonprofits, political action groups, and civil rights organizations exist to give power and protection to our collective voice. Getting involved, whether that’s through a few donations here and there or on-the-ground volunteering on a free weekend, will lift up your actions with many hands.
Groups organize lobbying trips to legislators. They can provide training, materials, and ideas. They can also be places to form friendships and support systems.
Progressive media outlets hold people accountable for their actions. Legal organizations take direct actions in the courts to prevent disaster. Personal advocacy groups help secure our rights and keep us safe. The common thread throughout all the organizations working for us is that they’re comprised of people just like us.
Jezebel put together a nice list of some organizations to consider supporting or joining. I’d add the National Center for Transgender Equality, Lambda Legal, and Showing Up For Racial Justice to name a few. It’s also important to support local organizations in your own community. If we’re to fight back in these troubling times we have to be organized, we have to speak as one, and we have to be on guard at all times.
Be Ready For a Rapid Response
In the literal sense, Rapid Response campaigns are time-sensitive calls to action. Maybe a bill is coming up for a vote and you need to contact your representative immediately to persuade them to vote yes/no. Maybe news has come to light that you need to convince your legislators to address before chaos erupts.
In the digital age we get notifications about everything, but sometimes our response is critical; a part of staying engaged with the political process is being ready to take action as soon as it’s needed. But there’s so much more to the idea.
It’s easy to look at politics as a world of tomorrows. We can wait because the vote won’t be for a while. We can wait because the policy won’t go into effect until next year. We’ll just hold our breath until he’s out office.
But mere hours after Trump signed an immigration ban, a mosque went up in flames. We don’t have the luxury of waiting. It’s time to take action. If you’ve been wondering how, hopefully you have a better sense now. Make your plans, prepare your statements. We’ll need your voice as much as anyone else’s.
Your elected officials need to hear from you. Your friends need to know you’re speaking. Train yourself to counter fascism before it becomes unassailable. We may still stand a chance of stopping this onslaught with our words.