“We the people…” begins our Constitution. The founding principles of the United States were based on citizens’ civic engagement. However, getting involved in our democracy takes time and energy, and hey, who doesn’t already have enough on their plates these days?
Luckily, there’s a wide range of ways to participate in politics, from low to high effort. So rather than being a passive citizen, here are 8 ways you can have a voice.
On social media, we all have a very simple way to voice our opinions on politics: a thumbs up, or on Twitter, a heart. This small act announces to the world what we think about something. And now, thanks to Facebook emotions, we have a multitude of ways to express ourselves! However, since liking and favoriting are so easy, they’re often called slactivism – activism’s lazy cousin. But maybe that thumbs up is a gateway to more actively taking a stand.
One name on a petition doesn’t accomplish much, but when you take the step to sign one, you’re showing your faith in the power of many voices in unison. Plus, you’re publicly attaching your name to a cause you care about, which takes a bit more hutzpah than liking something on Facebook. When petitions go viral, they can garner hundreds of thousands of signatures and spur real change. However, it’s pretty low-effort to sign a petition, thanks to the internet, so this democratic action is still pretty low on the spectrum.
Slapping a sticker on a vehicle seems like a small act, but for car purists, it can be a very meaningful step. Our cars are like an extension of ourselves, and considering how hard it is to remove sticker goo, it’s akin to getting a tattoo. (Maybe that’s why you still see Kerry or McCain stickers on the road…) The great thing about political car stickers, of course, is that they are highly visible as you traverse your corner of the world. When you’re at a red light, you can bet the guy in the SUV behind you is reading your message. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, you’ll change his point of view. (But probably not.)
You know you’re passionate about something when you feel compelled to write a letter or pick up the phone. While elected officials receive hundreds if not thousands of letters per day, words from constituents really are compelling. Especially if you take the time to write a thoughtful yet concise letter, your voice is more likely to be heard. There’s truth in the adage “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” so reaching out to politicians is an effective way to have influence.
When you show up at a rally or demonstration, that means you took the effort to leave the house, brave the elements, and face the world to show your opinion. Bonus points if you make a sign! Of course, demonstrations are more effective when more people show up, but they can be very powerful in expressing public opinion, especially when they become big enough to attract the media’s attention.
We’re getting into the super dedicated realm! When you donate to a political party or candidate, you are putting your money where your mouth is. After all, they say “Money talks.” Even if you’re not donating a large portion of your paycheck, it is quite a leap to part with your hard-earned cash and give it to a cause or person you believe in.
If money talks, and time = money, then time talks, too. When you volunteer for a party or candidate, you are making a direct impact. After all, no candidate can win an election without help from other people. Whether you’re making calls, going door to door, entering voter data, or delivering yard signs, these tasks are a labor of love. You will be amazed at just how many different ways you can use your time and skills to help the candidate you support.
Especially during presidential campaign years, local politics can get overlooked, but your immediate community is where you can have the largest impact. We’re not sure anyone would call attending a town meeting “fun,” but when you take time out of your day or evening to participate and share your opinion, you’re showing that you really care about your community. Our system depends on people who are passionate enough to solve problems and make the world a better place.
While President Obama is right – there ARE many things that are more difficult than registering to vote – it still takes time and effort not just to register but to actually get out to the polls. Otherwise, wouldn’t American voter turnout be 100% rather than dismally lagging behind other democracies? Even during this primary season, voters in some states faced many obstacles and long lines. So when you take time to research the candidates and issues (PoliticalBank can help!) and cast an educated ballot, well, you have just achieved the pinnacle of democracy. No matter who you are, someone before you fought hard for your right to vote, and when you exercise that right, you are making your voice count.
Main photo credit: Oldpicz