Politics and policy are every citizen's duty. That is the price of democracy. Take a deep breath, focus and you can make a difference
Just like everything else, there are do's and don't's when making yourself heard in policy. These are the things to do to make a difference. It won't happen overnight but stay focused and keep at it!
This article won't support any particular political group or view. However, I may bring up some groups as examples. I only hope that these examples show you what you can achieve from the comfort of your own home. Please bear with me if you do not agree with their views. If you think that this article is too biased, feel free to leave a comment below.
Finally, because I was born and raised in America, this article will show what works in America. It might not work or even be legal in other countries. If you're not sure if it's legal then DON'T DO IT! You won't be doing your cause any favors by ending up in jail. There are still many ways to influence policy.
Out of the frying pan into the armchair
One possible reason this article has your attention is that maybe you're an "active" activist but want to do even more once you get home. Like we say in the Army: "full-battle-rattle." If so then this article will only strengthen your cause.
But don't get burned out. Too many great activists lose their fire after their college years. They stumble through life facing more immediate and personal responsibilities. All that's left is a pile of damp ashes that barely motivates them to make a small donation every once in a while. Even that seems like a chore.
Calm down. You are an armchair activist
What is armchair activism? Armchair activism is an easy and effective way to make a difference from anywhere in the world without even breaking a sweat. Who wants to deal with the loud protesters or cold calling during dinner? Not me! You can be just as effective at home.
Now with all the noise and information out there it's easy to feel lost. Where do you start? First, and most important: don't worry! All the hate, poison and partisanship* is nothing new. It's been going on before the ink dried on the Constitution. The only difference is that today's media is blowing it way out of proportion. The media believes that hyper-inflating certain issues will somehow lead to higher ratings. Also, let's not forget that information (and misinformation) is moving continuously at unprecedented speed.
There is no reason to get swept up in all this. Getting burned out by what other people are screaming about isn't going to do anyone any good. You know what's right. You also know how the system works and that it does work. It works for you. Read that last sentence again. Then get back in your chair and take a deep breath. What follows are just a few techniques that you can do to quietly and peacefully make your mark.
Wake up your fellow writers
Now that you're calm and at your computer, stay here because it's your new best friend. Stay on Hubpages and write an article about an issue you feel passionate about. A lot of fellow writers are doing the same. It's now your turn. Want to join Hubpages? Go for it!
One thing I love about Hubpages is how supportive everyone is. Another thing I love is that every time one of us makes a great article, the whole Hubpages community wins. So, do you want to lower the legal age for alcohol consumption? Want to increase the legal age for military service? Or the other way around? Don't be shy, tell us!
I won't teach you how to write a great article. I'm trying to figure that out myself. Besides, there are plenty of resources available on this site. One tip would be to include a "Links Module" to help your readers reach websites that support your cause. Also, while writing your article think about including a few links that will validate your point. As we all know, "laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." - Otto von Bismarck.** Did he really say that? Sure! Look at the "Reference" section below. Your article will look less like the raving of a pundit. Wikipedia loves to do this and now so do you.
If you already have an article, why not update it? It's hard to get others passionate about women's suffrage in America these days. After all, women have had the right to vote since 1920 thanks to the 19th Amendment of the Constitution. So why not tell us what we can do to encourage more women to vote? Once you're done updating your article, why not make another one? Then another? Go for it because you're an armchair activist!
Remember, as different as we are, I believe we are all writers first. I don't have any problem hitting the "Like" button on an article that is sincere and respectful no matter what it says.
Find your cause's website
This is where I started. I'm sure you've already done this and explored the site thoroughly. If so, feel free to move on to the next part. In the infinitely remote chance that you haven't, do it as soon as possible. Any search engine will get you the results of several non-profit organizations that are already fighting for your cause.
Once on your non-profit's website, look for a section called "Take Action." It should be towards the top of the homepage. Click on it. It will direct you to online petitions or pre-written emails that can be immediately sent to policy makers on your behalf. It's tempting go on a clicking spree in the "Take Action" section but slow down. Take a minute to read what you're sending or signing. Look beyond the titles.
The reason for this is because you'll learn more about specific events, upcoming votes and other important information about the issues you care about. Another reason is that you might not agree entirely with what you'd be sending. For example, you might be interested in protecting the world's oceans but not interested threatening the the livelihoods of indigenous populations that need their local lagoons to survive. There's no need to send an email that you don't fully agree with.
Next, if you have time, read some of the articles and blog posts written by the website's staff. They were included in the website for a reason. By doing so you'll learn more about your cause: its challenges, its victories, its long-term goals and so forth. Information is power. This power is critical to the armchair activist. If these articles and blogs have comment sections, feel free to submit an encouraging comment every once in a while. A little kindness can make invigorate a staff member for days. It always works for me in my articles (Hint! Hint!). In total, I try to spend at least 15 minutes to an hour a week on my favorite non-profit websites.
Also, sign up for its e-newsletters. Your cause's website has a newsletter it will email you periodically. This varies with each non-profit: maybe once a week or once a month. Get yourself on a few newsletters from websites that you trust. Look out for them whenever you check your email. They will give you the chance to "Take Action" or give you an update on its progress or both. Either way, it will always direct you to their website for more information.
Your non-profit might also send you an "emergency email" just before a big vote on your issue or if a policy maker does something profound (or profoundly stupid). Get in on this because timing is everything! If your senator expects to quietly vote on a controversial bill over the weekend but suddenly finds his office flooded with emails and faxes from constituents, then he'll know he has to represent them. This won't happen too often so there's no need to babysit your inbox.
There are two things to look out for with newsletters. First, every time you get a newsletter it will give you the "opportunity" to make a donation. You may do so if you want but I always ignore it. Even the "emergency email" itself might be ask for a donation. Don't think of it as spam because it isn't... Well, it is kind of but the benefit of the newsletter will always outweigh this pesky factor. After all, we all gotta eat.
Second, the non-profit's website will give you the chance to spread the word by Twitter or Facebook. It's tempting but don't do it. Your friends and family don't want to get pummeled with your political views. I'll go into this further here.
Want more info about your non-profit? - Charity Navigator is the place to start
- Charity Navigator
The Charity Navigator is one of the best websites out there. Every time I find a non-profit that interests me, I look it up here first.
Your online petition
As an American living abroad, I'm not as involved in US politics as I'd like to be. So I go for the online petition. I didn't even know these existed until recently. A person or organization puts an idea up online, spreads the word and those who agree leave an e-signature and some information about himself (such as name and zip code).
This won't turn Washington upside-down overnight but it's quick and easy, especially if enough people sign them. Also, you can do it from anywhere in the world. There are two great places to start: the Petition Site*** and SignOn.org****. They provide a simple format and bring in the heavy traffic. I'm sure there are many sites out there but these come to mind immediately.
Before you start your own petition, dig a little online first. This is for two reasons. First, is to make sure you aren't starting a petition that's already been started by someone else. If you feel passionate about a particular issue, another person may as well. That person might have started an online petition last week. If you see it then sign it! A single petition with 50,000 signatures will wake up more people than 100 petitions with 500 signatures. Second, while digging you might find other petitions that interest you in other issues. If so them sign them, too!
If you decide to start your own petition get specific. Don't just say, "Cut government spending." Instead suggest a single idea that will help your larger goal. "End the war in ..." will reduce the deficit so make a petition about that. You don't have to be a military veteran to know that war is a heated issue. Your petition will get the attention from those concerned about the deficit and those who want peace. Don't be surprised if a majority of these people are in the same group.
None of this will cost you a single dime. However, there is a drawback. Some of the information you are asked for might be too personal. I don't mind giving my name and mailing address when signing online petitions but I'm hesitant about giving my phone number. It's up to you so go with your gut. Also, when signing make sure you're not putting your name on a mailing list or promising to make a donation.
Contact policy makers
I remember writing a policy maker for the first time. I was 9 years old and I asked my senator to save the planet. I didn’t do so again until college and by then email was invented. So armed with my e-newsletters from my favorite non-profits, I emailed my senators, representatives, governors and presidents. I haven’t stopped since.
This is fairly straightforward. It seems so simple that everyone is doing it. That’s why it’s better to shake things up a bit. One way is to write a letter, not an email but an actual letter. It takes some effort compared to an email and it may take a few days for your policy maker to get it. Don’t worry: it’s well worth it.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be handwritten or be ten pages long. At least a page should do it. Type your letter, print it, sign it and send it. Anyone who feels your letter in his hands and sees that signature will know that you’re putting time and effort into your cause. The policy maker will know that you have the ability to put the same kind of time and effort at the polls.
Another way is to call the office. Find the phone number of the policymaker the same way you found the address: on his/her website. If there is a local office that’s fine as well. Pick up the phone and call.
This is especially effective because you’ll be talking to a staff member: a real person. If someone at the office hears a voice, he/she will picture you (a real constituent) and will have to answer to you within the length of the phone call. If you’re busy during office hours, then call in the evening and leave a message.
Always remember that nobody has time to kill. Tell them who you are and what you want. Be specific, if you know the name of the bill you are concerned about, then that will grab their attention. If you are contacting a senator make sure you are talking about a bill in the Senate. If you are contacting a representative then make sure you are talking about a bill in the House. If you’re not sure, find out! Do your homework! You are an armchair activist.
Above all, please please please be calm. As passionate as you are, do not be rude under any circumstances. Do not be loud or use bad language. Do not threaten anyone (that’s a crime). If you do any of this you will needlessly ruin the day of a hardworking American just like you. At the very worst, you will kill your cause in under a minute.
You have even more power at the local level
Government and media at the local level can be just as important if not more so. Don't forget about them. Find them online or in the phone book. This includes your mayor, your assembly group members, state legislature and so on. It also includes those who are not politicians but work for local government: judges, law enforcement and bureaucrats. Also don't forget about businesses in your community--small and large.
All these people shape your life in ways you can't imagine. They have the power to save a local forest from development. They have the power to break apart a protest. They have to power to start a local recycling plan. They have the power to turn down a government contract with an evil corporation. The list goes on.
By paying attention in your community and contacting the right person, you can make a difference. We often forget the local level government because the spotlight isn't always on them. If they did something you don't like, tell them. If they did something you like, tell them. They know that they answer you. They all want to be appreciated. Start with a letter. It usually makes a lasting impression. You don't have to go to any town hall gatherings to be heard.
I mentioned local media. Almost all communities have a very small newspaper. It's so small (ten to twenty pages) that you might think it's just a bunch of ads. It's not so keep an eye out for it. It covers your county and maybe a couple others. There might also be a local TV channel that covers your state. It doesn't get a lot of revenue so it might look like generic CSPAN or a bunch of shows put together in the 70s. It's not so pay attention.
Local media is always looking for news. They are tired of going to flea markets and farms to take pictures of cobwebs. If you hear about anything that has to do with your cause, call them. Whether your friends are having a fundraiser or you hear about a protest at a nearby college campus, whatever--nothing is too small. Tell them where and when it's going down. They'll usually have someone there within an hour. You'll find their numbers online.
Why bother? Who cares? Some people actually read and watch this stuff. These people are proud of their communities and will take a stand if they are motivated. You'd be surprised. Also, what many people don't know is that a surprising number of small media outlets are affiliated with or owned by the biggest media companies in the world. Also, big media is always watching small media. If your story goes up the food chain then you just made history from home.
But before you contact anyone, know the issues, know what's going on and know what you want to say. Be upbeat, cheerful and polite. If nobody's there, leave a message. If you get shot down then don't take it personally.
Contact everyone else
We all do this every day. Maybe we drop a comment on a YouTube video or a forum. Maybe we comment on a Hubpages article or spread the word (Hint! Hint!). Good, keep it up! But try other forms of media: newspapers and magazines.
Believe it or not, people still read newspapers and magazines. They always turn to the "Letters to the Editor" section at some point. People want to know what other people are thinking about recent articles of the publication and the issues they reflect.
Contacting publications works because not a lot of people do this. When they do it's often to correct some statistics or facts. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or favorite magazine if they wrote something about your issue. Many publications allow you to do this easily on their websites.
Send some positive feedback if the article was well-written or well-researched. Tell them how you feel. If you're letter is published, thousands will see it within a month and then for as long as there are printed copies still around. Who knows, someone might see your letter fifty years from now at the library.
Another reason this works is because the publications themselves will see your letter as the pulse of its audience. Editors don't always have the time for endless surveys or polls. However, if they suddenly get a few thousand letters about one particular article, it will wake them up. Remember that just because you don't see your letter published doesn't mean nobody read it. Somebody will always read your letters. Somebody will always listen to you.
Let's go shopping
Corporations shape our world in every way possible. The trick here is to support the ones who support your goals. Did a corporation make a big donation to breast cancer research? Did another one close down a Third World factory to bring jobs home? Great! Keep them in mind the next time you go shopping.
Did your bank suddenly accept a trillion-dollar bailout? Did it use said bailout to take over a smaller bank or blow it all on executive bonuses when you expected it to extend credit to the middle class? Close your account and move to another bank. If that's too much trouble then don't open any more accounts with them.
Sometimes it might seem like nobody is on your side. Look a little closer because there are so many issues out there: consumer protection, fair trade, the environment, worker's rights. The list goes on. Every corporation has to face these issues and every corporation is fighting for your dollar. If things are still unclear, always go with small companies and local businesses.
For more information...
- * partisanship
is when the two or more sides disagree and refuse to work together--then nothing gets done
- ** by Otto von Bismarck
I didn't even know how to spell his name before writing this article!
- *** Petition Site
A lot of these petitions are environmental and socially progressive but if that isn't your thing then you can start your own petition. Either way, they offer the platform and the audience to get heard
Are you ready to make a difference?
anonymous on January 17, 2013:
This is an outstanding lens. This lens encourages me to become more active in trying to bring about change. Thanks for sharing this lens with us.
lesliesinclair on November 10, 2012:
Excellent article. I'd give you a purple star if it were me. In fact, I just earned one so now I can nominate this article.
Lori Green from Las Vegas on August 05, 2012:
I am an animal activist and have been for the past 12 years or more.
Melissa Miotke from Arizona on July 30, 2012:
I do want to make a difference and I absolutely believe that voting is the first step. I would like to take it a step further however.
ratetea on July 30, 2012:
I really like the advice you offer here. I think there is a lot that one can do from home, as an activist. I think writing and calling representatives often makes more of a difference than people realize. Relatively few people actually write thoughtful, individual messages, so when you do, reps usually assume that there are dozens to hundreds of others who may feel similarly, but have not written. Also I want to emphasize that you can do activism by writing to businesses and corporations too. I often get replies when I contact corporations, sometimes very thoughtful, personalized ones. The key is to be respectful, I think, and that can go a long way.
hntrssthmpsn on July 26, 2012:
As someone who is just about allergic to conflict, I tend to steer clear of politically heated conversation even where I hold strong opinions. I guess my sort of activism could be called micro-activism... I try to create a tiny pocket of serenity around me in the world, and to make someone laugh every day. Happy people, I think, interact more beneficially with others no matter what the circumstances.