hen I was in high school, my political science class struck a chord in me. We wrote about residential segregation and poverty in Syracuse and those were realities I faced everyday. During the class, I got involved with the Syracuse Youth Advisory Council where I talked to my city representatives to address a portion of the problem--land bank homes (foreclosed or condemned properties owned by the city). Before I lose you because you are not the politics type, this class allowed me to see the interconnectedness of political issues and my real life. While I did not do more than put these things on the agenda, I learned lots about the obstacles representatives faced in my community.
Moreover, your response may be--“Oh nah, I don’t do politics.” This is the response of many who just want to be left out the argument that usually ensues. The sentiment that you hold is that you question why should I be politically active? Politics is more than left and right and polarizing people. Politics is about using your voice, in however you want it to be heard, to accomplish a goal. Basically, politics has a bad rep, but you can find ways to involve yourself in expressing your politics. Similarly, to the idea of “Hood Feminism” by Mikki Kendall, it examines Feminism or politics on the ground and in practice for Black people. Therefore, we will help you find ways to be politically active in practice rather than just giving into the ideological battle with the principalities of labels: Democrat or Republican, and liberal or conservative. In this article we prepare for you the following things to have in your toolkit:
- Reasons to be politically active
- How to be politically active for those who are not prone to participating in politics
Checking Your Preconceived Notions at the Door
Reasons to Be Politically Active
The tangled web that we know as the American political system is overwhelming. Think about this question: what can you control? Government controls a lot of daily functions that affect your life. For instance, the local government dictates how the snowplowing of your town is, the maintenance of the parks you go to, and school board proceedings that affect the lives of your kids. State government controls things like property ownership, taxes, your justice system, state highways, and funds for activities. The federal government controls war, health care, appellate court rulings that overrule state laws in regards to things like desegregation, gay marriage, abortion, etc. This is even more prevalent during the pandemic--new decisions are made for us each and every day by officials,
Candidates for office will make a gazillion decisions that may become law or in some way affect your life. They are supposed to represent you. “How to Be Politically Active as an Adult” said it best when they say, ”We have to participate in politics or we lose our power to make a change for the better. Vote into power the representatives that characterize your interests and values the best!” Make sure that those who speak for you hear your voice.
Here’s the caveat: You may be politically stagnant because you feel like you have no control over these proceedings. However, you do more than you think. Furthermore, politics affects your daily life, so if you do not shape this in some way, it will make decisions for you that you may or may not agree with. But politics is not something that you can say outta sight, outta mind. These are the many reasons to be politically active and make it worth your while:
- Voicing your point of view matters and it may be underrepresented in the broader political arena. Especially, if your interests are super niche.
- Agenda Setting: When you do not represent your voice, your local, state, or country government will assume or put other things on the agenda.
- Helps you stay informed on what is going on
- You have a civic responsibility as a citizen of the U.S to engage with politics to make your life better and the lives of those around you.
- Participating will give you a stake in what is happening. Therefore, you will feel more invested and interconnected with your community.
How to Be Politically Active
Guide to Political Activism For Non-Political People
Getting involved in politics may feel like a drag but there are several things that you can do to help your community. There are even some things that don’t necessarily involve the work of drafting an entire resolution to something and working on a project with the mayor. If that is your thing, kudos to you, but there are many simple ways to get involved. These are some ways to be involved in the political process.
- Vote in local, state, county, and country-wide elections (Here is how to register to vote). There is nothing to replace the process of actually voting in and out candidates. This was built into the constitution for citizens to keep politicians in check and urge them to represent your interests.
- Write letters and call your representatives when you want change for a certain decision
- Support lobbying and other political organizations
- Sign petitions
- Attend meetings of your school board, city hall, campus leaders and give suggestions
- Educate yourself with the many political resources out there on candidates, agenda items, and how government works. This includes subscribing to the news, and separating fact from fiction in what is going on in the world.
Lalah C. Williams, Chatham University junior who is a Policy Studies & French major, Vice President for Student Diversity & Inclusion of Chatham Student Government, and Program Assistant at the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics. Now before you say that she is one of those political people. She describes her journey as more nuanced. For instance, she wanted to make an impact in her community and that morphed into her studies and endeavors reflecting that. Her political activism began in Girl Scouts and yours can start anywhere. We will leave you with her testimony to be inspired by her story.
Q: When did you start being involved with politics and why?
Williams: I am a lifelong Girl Scout and I thought community service projects were the best. Don’t get me wrong I still enjoy them today. As I got older I learned that the same way we were making our community better with service projects so were our elected officials. In middle school I gravitated to government service events. In 2015, I attended the Montgomery County Commission for Women Legislative Briefing where we watched the documentary Raising Miss President. It was then that I decided that I wanted to run for elected office. This event led me to the topic and earning my Girl Scout Gold Award. For my project, I Implemented and coordinated Girls Today*Leaders Tomorrow a leadership luncheon and panel discussion designed to help girls visualize themselves in elected leadership by meeting and speaking with local women in elected office. And coordinated an exhibit fair to introduce participants to organizations that help women run for office.
Q: If any, are there preconceived notions about politics that you debunked through your studies?
Williams: People don’t think that voting matters, but it does and the numbers show that. Voting matters more than people think, directly and indirectly. We vote for our county executives, they appoint police chiefs, and are approved by the legislative body.
Q: Can you describe how it makes you feel to be involved in PCWP and all things political that you are currently involved in?
Williams: The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP) was a deciding factor in why I chose Chatham. Chatham had the major that I wanted and the resources to help me thrive in my major. I find it really cool that 5 years ago I was introducing middle school girls to elected leadership as a career choice, and now I am working for an organization that is training women to run for office. There’s a lot when it comes to politics. It’s fast paced, changes every day, and is ongoing and at the end of the day politics is personal.
Overall, Lalah C. Williams, and others who are now in the political world have a similar story: it comes from them caring enough about their community to vote, work on candidates election staff, and advocate for policy changes. Therefore, we encourage you to put your politics into practice in the real world.
Hero image courtesy of Tok 2022.