How To Be A Citizen Activist In 2019

So, you voted. You may be happy with some of the results – other outcomes may have been disappointing. Either way, while Election Day marks the end of a long, exhausting process, it’s really just the beginning. Now the people who were elected need to get things done.

As a citizen, your voice – now more than ever – needs to be heard. Don’t wait for the next election to get fired up again. Proactively find ways to engage in the policymaking process rather than waiting until something happens that makes you angry (at which point it’s often too late to do anything about it).

Learn about the issues. Advocate for causes that are important to you. Hold your elected officials accountable. Following are a few practical tips for getting more involved as a citizen activist this year.

1) Know your government.

Across the country, newly-elected and re-elected officials at all levels of government – local, state and national – are eager to get to know their constituents. Follow them on social media and reply to them with substantive, informed feedback (angry rants, while they may feel good in the moment, are rarely effective). Subscribe to your representatives’ email lists and look for opportunities to submit comments on various topics. Attend town hall meetings. Pay attention to what your elected representatives are doing and prepare to engage with them about issues that are important to you.

2) Local matters.

With 24/7/365 media coverage focused on the latest political drama at the national level, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening in your local community. The actions of your city council often have more impact on your daily life than what’s happening on Capitol Hill or at the White House. And your voice can have significantly more impact at the local level. Follow your mayor and city council members on social media and subscribe to their email lists. If they don’t maintain social media profiles or email lists, visit your city council’s website on a regular basis to look for meeting agendas and other updates. If your city council doesn’t make information easily available online, show up in person and let them know you want them to be more transparent and accessible. Attend meetings and hearings to learn about the issues they are focused on, and prepare to rally your neighbors to speak up when important issues are being addressed. Consider starting a petition or organizing a letter campaign around an issue of local concern prior to a hearing or vote.

3) Indulge your inner political junkie.

In addition to following elected officials on social media, there are countless email newsletters at the federal and state levels that are valuable resources for tracking what’s happening in government. Sign up to have news delivered to your inbox on a daily basis that will keep you informed and prepared to take action when the moment is right. For national news, options include Washington Post’s Daily 202, Axios, and Politico Playbook. Search “STATE political news” and “CITY political news” to find newsletters for your region. If you like numbers and in-depth analysis, you might enjoy RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight. There are countless other options depending on your political persuasion, but consider subscribing to “neutral” sources as well so you can make up your own mind about issues.

4) Engage with advocacy organizations.

Get involved with local, state and national organizations that advocate for issues that are important to you. While it’s important for you to communicate directly with your elected officials, there is also strength in numbers. Look for opportunities to take action through organizations that have a bigger presence and can amplify your voice. Follow those organizations on social media, subscribe to their email lists, and be on the look-out for “action alerts” so you can mobilize when the moment is right.

5) Get to know your neighbors and build a local network of support for an issue.

Find other people who agree with you about issues that affect your local community. If you’ve been connecting with like-minded people online, move those relationships offline and meet in person to organize outreach to elected officials, write letters to the editors of local newspapers, publish and share blog posts, engage and amplify each other on social media, and generally support each other’s efforts for exponential impact.

Find and connect with your neighbors: Nextdoor
Start a petition:
Find your elected officials:
Learn about your elected officials: Ballotpedia
Follow your elected officials: Facebook Town Hall
Support and engage with reputable causes: Charity Navigator

Heather Lauer, Owner of Villageous LLC, is a senior public affairs professional specializing in grassroots campaign strategy and management. She has over two decades of experience in communications strategy, digital advocacy, stakeholder relations, coalition building, and brand and reputation management.