How to Change Your City (and the World), One Doable Task at a Time
BY MANDY DONOVAN
Image courtesy of knope2012.com/media/downloads/press-kit/
These are strange days in Washington. A former reality show host is now a serious presidential candidate, the Speaker of the House quit and no one else really wanted the job, and Congress had yet another close call with a shutdown over the debt ceiling. With all the nonsense, it can be hard to imagine what one person can do to effect change in government. One of the places you still can see the heart and soul of the U.S. democracy system in action? Your local town hall.
It’s not the sexiest place, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Wish your town would spend more money to clean up parks, improve the drinking water, or expand affordable housing? Change only takes place when regular citizens like you and me make our opinions heard. And thanks to the Web 2.0, political activism is easier than ever. Here are 7 easy ways you (yes, you) can be politically active:
1) First of all, register to vote. And then, y’know—VOTE.
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More Americans will vote for the President or Governor than for their local town councilman, who may actually have more of an impact on your daily life. Of course, you may not even know who they are. You won’t see your local politicians interviewed on CNN, or spoofed on Saturday Night Live. Still, it’s pretty easy to find out who’s running and what they stand for. Start by reading up on the local candidates. Be sure you know where your local polling station is, when elections are, and what time the polls close. Then swing by to cast your ballot. It only takes a few minutes — and sometimes there are donuts!
Missed the boat? Register to vote! Do it today. Next year will be here before you know it. Want to register IRL? If you’re getting or renewing a driver’s license, just let them know you want to register. (It will definitely be the easiest part of your trip to the Department of Motor Vechiles.)
2) Write your Congressperson.
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There are lots of websites that make this super easy nowadays. Find your local representatives based on where you live. If there’s something you want to change, don’t take a backseat. Express yourself. Call, write a letter, email or address them on social media. (Some organizations will even generate email copy for you, and all you have to do is click sign or send!) Imagine how long it took in the 1960s to write your Congressman. Find the paper, find the envelope, buy stamps… Man, we have it pretty easy.
3) Write an op-ed for the local newspaper.
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Your viewpoint as a member of the community where you live is valuable. Share what you think. Other folks might feel exactly the same way. Present your point of view passionately, but clearly. Use facts and strong arguments to make your case. If it’s compelling enough, it may get published. Sadly, we often hear about local papers going out of business. We were sorry to see The Boston Phoenix and the City Paper go. But look around, lots of small ‘hoods have their own press or newsletter and are always looking for contributions. There’s also Patch.com, where you can read local stories, make comments and even contribute content.
4) Go to a town hall meeting.
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While every city and town operates a little differently, almost all of them hold open meetings for residents where you can bring up issues affecting your community. Look up your neighborhood, city or town online. There’s a government website for almost any locale. Opt in to receive email reminders so you know when public meetings are held. They usually occur at the Town Hall or other government buildings and are typically run by a board or representatives (who are also elected by you!). Have you ever wondered what the heck an alderman is? Well, here’s your chance to meet one!
5) Tweet or Message Your Legislator. (They’re listening!)
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The newest way to get in touch with your representatives is through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. While a good ol’ fashioned phone call or hand-written letter may carry more weight and actually make it to the lawmaker, aides and interns are always watching social media and following the conversation. Social media messages also happen in the public eye. Tweeting or posting a comment on Facebook or on an article may spark a dialogue, and others who share your opinion may be inspired by your message to share their own thoughts and concerns as well. That’s what we call free speech! Yep, it’s kind of awesome.
6) Run for office.
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Why not? Check out this guy, Maryland’s youngest mayor ever! He has braces!! If he can do it, you can too. That’s the coolest thing about America. We are a government founded by the people, for the people. Talk to the politicians you know, or reach out to them on social media, and ask how to get started. Any good representative will be eager to talk to you about their journey into government.
7) Help get other people to the polls on Election Day.
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You can sign up to help get older folks, the disabled, or those without transportation to the polls. (Take a Zipcar to get out and vote! Tweet @Zipcar and tell us about it.) No matter what political party you support, we can all get behind one thing: the power of democracy.
The most important thing is to get involved. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking other people know or care more or can do more. If we all thought that, nothing would ever get done. Decide what you care about, and take action to make it happen. Because if you don’t do it, who will?