By Jazzy Kerber '20
The federal government may seem distant and unreachable, but you do still have a voice in policy. Whether you want to see changes in your hometown or disagree with an executive order, contact your representatives. Montesquieu once called public apathy the greatest danger in a democracy, and it’s important to remember that you have great power as a constituent to make your voice heard. Politicians need your votes, so they have an incentive to hear you out. Read on for simple political action ideas:
If you want a very direct impact or a personal response to your request, contact your city government. Think about small actions that connect to a larger cause you care about. For example, as part of a class project, I recently wrote to the mayor of my hometown explaining why and how I believe we should expand our composting program. I visited my city’s website to understand the current program, and then I talked to people back home to find out what resources they knew about and how much they composted. Afterward, I compared the system in my Chicago suburb to what I’ve observed in California and thought about possible changes. Here is a copy of the letter I wrote to my mayor:
You probably understand your own city’s policies and their impacts well, so you can be specific about what you want to change. Your local government is also more likely than the state or national government to read your entire letter and actively respond to it.
Each state has a Governor, Senate, and Assembly - go to your state’s Secretary of State website to find who your representatives are and their contact information. If you live in California, you can find that information here.
First, make sure you know who your representatives and senators are based on where you live. Do a quick web search to check what their policy positions are and decide who you’d like to reach out to. You should also research what committees your representatives sit on and how their opinions are similar to or different from your own. Keep an eye on current events and bills being passed through Congress, and decide when and who to contact.
If you choose to write, find a “contact” tab on your chosen representative’s website. Remember that the Senate and the House of Representatives serve as a “checks and balances” tool for many of the president’s proposals. In your email (which is much faster and more efficient than snail mail), tell your representative what specific policy you support or oppose and briefly explain why. Stay factual, courteous, and concise. Also, use your own words--form emails are often deleted.
An email is not the only way to connect with your representatives, however. Phone calls may be an even more effective approach. Staffers keep track of call volume on specific issues and use the records to tell members of Congress how their constituents feel. Check out 5calls.org to learn more about efficiently contacting your government. Thesixtyfive.org also offers sample scripts that you can use if you want to speak against any of President Trump’s actions. For example, they offer this text for climate change:
“My name is <______>. I'm a constituent concerned about Trump's record of denying climate change. I ask that <Senator/Representative ______> publicly condemn Trump's threats to repeal the Clean Power Plan and withdraw from the Paris agreement. I want the <Senator/Representative> to refuse to compromise with Trump if he appoints climate change deniers.”
You’ll notice that this call is short, but specific. Use a similar structure if you create your own wording. Keep in mind that your call will go to voicemail if it’s outside East Coast business hours, but if you leave a message, your opinion should still be tallied when the office reopens. You can even call every few days to make a bigger difference in the records.
I would also recommend downloading the “Countable” phone app, which offers clear summaries of the most important people and issues in current politics and helps connect you to your representatives on the questions that matter to you. Another strategy is to meet with your representatives in person. Invite one to coffee (you have nothing to lose)!
You have one voice, but you can and should use it! The more individual citizens participate in politics, the greater the chance that our words will make a difference. Civil engagement is key to a healthy democracy. This participation includes getting educated on the issues, voting, discussing events with a variety of people, and contacting the government. To ignore your role in politics is to be part of the problem, but you can choose to be part of the solution instead.
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This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.