Alright my friends, I want to take a break from beating on the politicians today, and I want to redirect my focus on the real reason these government officials are so ineffective and off-course:
That’s right – YOU. You, and me, and all of us out there in Voter Land.
We are all pretty darn good at complaining, at criticizing, at taking umbrage and getting angry. And those are perfectly natural and understandable reactions to the political world. If you’re angry, at least it means you’ve been paying attention. I know for a fact that my blog buddies here on WordPress are all tuned in to the news. They are well-informed and they give a damn about the way things are. That’s why we’re all here, right? To take part in the exchange of information and ideas that helps to keep the wheels of democracy turning.
But let’s be honest here. For many of us, blogging is a bit like preaching to the choir. We have followers who always agree with us, and we tend to follow others whose points of view we agree with. We don’t actually affect the way people around us think to any great degree when we remain insulated among those who are already similar to us. And that’s part of the problem.
Getting angry is a good thing. And so is wanting to share our feelings with the world in some way. But if it ends there, then we’re not doing enough. And this year, with so much on the line in the November elections, not doing enough is not an option.
Our politicians are always getting called out for not getting the job done. But why don’t they get the job done? Well, the truth is, they are taking their cues from us.
We might blog about things we disagree with, or things we support. But we’re talking to each other, and not to the people who need to hear it the most.
We might leave pissed-off comments on websites, or we may even engage in comment wars with some rabid right-winger once in a while. But we’re presenting arguments to random, faceless people who have nothing at all to do with the things that are going on in Washington, or in our own states or cities.
We might put a bumper sticker on our car, or a sign on our lawn. But we’re only adding one more sticker, one more sign, to a landscape that has so many of those things that we tend to not even notice them anymore.
In short, we are doing the bare minimum that is required in order to call ourselves Democrats. And then we wonder why our elected officials are doing the bare minimum to represent us.
Guess what, y’all? We get the government we deserve. Just like anything else in life, this is a situation where the more you put in, the better the result you get out of it will be. We have the responsibility to remain active and aware all the time, not just in an election year. We have the responsibility for communicating to our political representatives on a regular basis, so they know we’re watching them and keeping track of what they’re up to. We have the responsibility for encouraging and assisting the people around us to do their parts. We have the responsibility to lead by example in the things we choose to spend our time, money and effort on. If “we the people” can’t be bothered past a certain point, then what hope do we have of convincing our politicians that they need to do better?
I’m not saying that you need to be a full-time political activist in order to be a responsible citizen (although, if you want to be a citizen activist, there are resources available to help you do that). But I am saying that, for many of us, there are options we can take which will add a bit more to the forward motion of our country. And these are options that will all make a difference. It’s tough to think that way sometimes. We are a cynical country, and getting more jaded by the day. That’s understandable. But it isn’t helpful. Every individual person, and every individual action a person takes, means something; contributes something; changes something. It’s worth it. It really, truly is.
So what can we do? I’ll try to give you some ideas that will help. And I will also note, before I begin, that almost every one of these things is something that I have done myself, in one way or another, and will likely do again. I am a mom, a wife, a part-time worker and the only one who ever cleans my house, pays the bills or takes the dogs to the vet. I’m busy most of the time, and I am sure that most of y’all are as busy as I am, if not more so. I know life is full of obligations and things that need your time and attention. But I guarantee that you can find one thing on this list – maybe even more – that works for you. And even if you only do one thing, and even if you only do it once, you will be part of the solution. If you do nothing, ever, you are part of the problem, and that’s the reality.
BE AN INTERACTIVE BLOGGER
Since this is a blog, we’ll start here. I happen to think blogging is a wonderful thing in several respects. It connects people around the world, allows for discussions and exchanges of all kinds, and it can be free therapy sometimes, too. 🙂 There’s nothing wrong with wanting to just write something and share it, and leaving it at that. But if you’re like me (and I know many of you are), then you are often blogging about politics and politicians. And you may also tend to read and follow the types of blogs that represent your own point of view. I think this can be something of a dead end sometimes.
That’s why, from time to time, I try to find posts that are coming from a different angle. If you look at my blogroll, not all of the names on the list are written from a progressive perspective. I think it’s important to read and comment in places where people might be critical of the things you believe in. I’m not advocating arguments here, folks. Arguments are pointless, especially online arguments. I am advocating the exchange of ideas. I only bother with posts that are written in a reasonable manner, and I am always reasonable –and respectful – when I reply to them. But by presenting my own contrasting point of view in that way, I have had some very positive online conversations with people who are not on my side of the political fence, and that is always very satisfying for me. I’ve also been given things to think about that I might not have otherwise considered, and I appreciate having that opportunity. Opinions should be challenged, and questioned, and reconsidered. That’s how we learn and how we figure out what things we got right, and what things we might be wrong about. Making the effort to communicate with someone who doesn’t already agree with you is a great way to spread that learning process around and to benefit from it yourself.
KNOW, OBSERVE, AND COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS
It’s shocking how many people don’t know the names of the politicians who represent them. Some folks don’t even know what Congressional district they live in. Among those who do know these things, there are still many who have never taken the time to check up on the votes their representatives have cast, or the legislation they have introduced or supported. And, even among the most informed constituents, many have never bothered to communicate with their elected officials via email, phone call or letter. This is a problem that exists in a more local way, as well. Do you know the name of your city’s mayor? How about your city council members? The members of your school board, or the school superintendent?
It is so easy for politicians, at the local, state and national levels, to go about their business with minimum effort when they know the general public isn’t paying attention. They understand that, all too often, they can go ahead and do whatever they want, and that in most cases, people will only find out about it after it’s been done. At that point they may complain, but they can’t always do that much to change it. And it’s worth noting that fighting to change something that has already happened legislatively is much, much harder than making efforts to prevent it in the first place. Don’t allow your participation in government to be reactionary. Be proactive.
Keep up with local, state and national news as best you can. Pay special attention to things that happen in your own surrounding community and in your state, since these will have the most direct effect on your life. Fortunately, this local/state level is also where you, as a citizen, can have the greatest impact. Find out what your state government is up to. Find out what your Congresspeople are up to. Go online and read the minutes of local council meetings or school board meetings. And I don’t like it when I hear people say that because they don’t have kids in the school system, they don’t much care what the School Board or the superintendent does. You pay taxes and part of that money is going to education, so you should find out if they’re doing a good job or not.
I also cannot overstate the importance of communicating effectively with elected officials. They aren’t reading my blog, or yours. They are only aware of our concerns when we take the time to voice them directly to their offices. Emailing is fine, calling is good. But writing a letter – the real kind, on paper – is still the best way to be heard. Letter writing isn’t nearly as common as it was even a decade ago. It stands out when people do that in this day and age. If someone actually takes the time to write you a personal letter, pay for a stamp, and get it sent, don’t you notice it? Well, our politicians feel the same. I have had more replies to physical letters I’ve written than to the emails I’ve sent over the years. And I have also organized letter writing campaigns. I ask just a few friends to ask just a few of their friends, and maybe they ask a few of their friends too. We all send letters at or around the same time, regarding a particular subject. Whatever method you choose, find out where and how to contact the people who need to hear what you have to say.
SUPPORT THE CAUSES YOU BELIEVE IN
I know I have particular causes which are more important to me than others. I used to teach, and education and literacy are a big deal in my world. I try to do things that will contribute something positive to those causes when I can. I have attended school board meetings, worked on getting items on the meeting agenda for consideration, and volunteered to speak. I have started or helped get signatures for petitions. I have written letters to my local paper. I have participated in informational posting on Facebook pages dedicated to educational causes. I have handed out fliers to raise local awareness of school issues. I can’t do all of these things all the time, but at a bare minimum I pay close attention, and when something big shows up on my radar, something that seems important, I do put in at least a little extra time to do address it. You can do the same for any cause that’s important to you. Whether it’s education, reproductive rights, LGBT causes, health care, or any other issue, you can always find some small way to contribute to making things happen. And when politicians see that their constituents are active, it lets them know that we are committed to what we believe in, and that we expect them to pay attention and get something done just like we are doing.
SUPPORT THE CANDIDATES YOU BELIEVE IN
Apathy is killing our political process. Not caring enough to pay attention to your elected officials is a bad thing. But not voting, not helping others to vote, and not supporting the election of the candidate you choose is even worse. Registering to vote , knowing your polling place, and understanding voting procedures are a must. Beyond that, you can do some specific things to ensure that the candidate you support has a shot at winning.
Perhaps, like me, you are voting for President Obama this fall. If so, he needs our help. If you are lucky enough to have the time and ability to host a campaign-related event, you can do that. Maybe you can at least attend one. You can donate money to his campaign. You can make phone calls from home, using the fully-automated online system that is available on the campaign website. You can be a poll worker, or help get voters registered, or help get them to the polls on Election Day, or you can simply remind and encourage friends, family and neighbors to vote, and help them find information on how to do that. Pass this post around, or just feel free to extract whatever useful links or info you might see in it and pass that around. You can do any number of things, some more involved than others, but all helpful. And this is important with local candidates as well, including everything from city council members on up. If you truly believe that the candidate of your choice represents an agenda that’s important to you, then do what you can to help them out. I’ve done “get out the vote” work for several candidates over the years, and when they don’t win, it’s bitterly disappointing. But knowing that I did what I could still means a lot to me. And when they win, it makes you feel great. Win or lose, I wouldn’t take back one minute of the time I’ve spent in support of candidates I believe in. I’ve learned a lot from those experiences, and I think that sort of civic participation is the best way to remind ourselves of the value of the democratic process we are fortunate enough to have in this country.
A couple of final things:
First, I hope this didn’t come off as overly preachy. I just read back over what I’ve written so far, and I can see how it might appear that way. But I want y’all to understand that I genuinely believe in what I’ve written here. We are all able to do at least a little more than we’re already doing to help make a positive difference in our government. If we choose not to do it, because it’s too hard or too annoying or too whatever, then we all need to just shut the fuck up with our posting about how suckish politicians are. The lazier we get, the more apathetic or pessimistic we get, the more uninvolved we get…the more we get what we deserve when politicians ignore our best interests. If we don’t actively represent ourselves, then our politicians won’t bother to represent us either.
And secondly, I realize that many of you may already be politically active. Maybe you personally registered 473 voters during the last election, or maybe you started a petition that got a buttload of signatures. I know the folks who read my blog are aware and I have no reason to believe they’re not at least a bit active. So for anything and everything you’ve ever done to move this country forward, I thank you, straight up and from the bottom of my heart. And I encourage you to keep it up and to do what you can to bring at least one other person along for the ride with you this time around.
But for those of us who still need to get fired up…what are you waiting for? Click a link. Make a move. Whatever it is you might be thinking of doing, DO IT. November’s closer than you think.