Getting Involved in Local Community Politics
You may have heard that politics start on the local level; it was Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill who has been credited with the phrase “all politics is local.” . There are more ways to affect change in the local community than at the state or national level, and these policies have a greater effect on everyday life. Some ideas for how to get involved in these political times and affect positive change follow.
Within the U.S., city councils are the stewards of local government. These political bodies directly affect how education, roads, and public services are funded, how police officers are trained, and how local tax dollars are received and spent. Politicians are public servants dedicated to supporting their constituents, and one of their main duties is to listen to the concerns of their citizens. Almost every year, and sometimes twice a year with primaries, there are elections happening in your vicinity. Below are some concrete ways to have your voice heard in our continually interconnected society.
Local government officials are typically much easier to get ahold of than national politicians (see https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials for an up-to-date database). Whether it is attending their next council meeting or community event, or contacting them online, there are many opportunities to reach out to local politicians. Most elected officials use social media to connect with their constituents. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are the main platforms they use. Political advertisements, weighing public opinion, and connecting directly with voters are all reasons they use social media. Commenting or sending a message to a politician’s account will most likely be seen by an aide. Aides help communicate to elected officials the opinions of their constituents and pass on issues of concern from the majority of people who contact them.
Getting others in your community to do the same will amplify the message and show officials you’re serious. Lodging a successful community organized campaign can have a great affect on policy making. Whether you are sending a letter or fax, calling the US Congress or a local officials’ office, or contacting them on social media, you would just tell the official who you are, where you live (usually the zip code of your address) and what you are calling in regards to. Simply letting them know you oppose a bill or decision is enough; you may also add a short testimonial or specify reason why. We should note: when contacting officials you should try and be respectful as possible, even in dissent, to help get your message across in the most direct way possible.
Joining Local Boards or Organizations!
School PTAs and non partisan groups like the Rotary Club, League of Women Voters, or others are good places to start. It’s important to look for organizations that align with your values, and gather your ideas with others to assert your opinion on the political process. When there is legislation for or against something that affects you, bring it to the attention of other like minded individuals who can also promote the legislation or help stop it from passing. There are also nonprofits that which work to promote a specific cause or start legislation in a community. Issues such as Animal Welfare, Litter and Waste affecting Animals (like the plastic straw bans sprouting up in municipalities), Invasive species and biodiversity, the Environment, and Education are all options to get involved with.
Joining a party or campaign!
We mentioned elections, and with their frequency, getting involved in a campaign is an essential way to represent your values and change society. Using Ballotpedia is one of the easiest ways to learn about candidates, issues, and ballot measures in your community, and signing up to volunteer with a campaign is easy after going to a candidate’s website. Volunteering can consist of going door-to-door, phone banking, setting up signs, and more. These are great opportunities to network with other like minded people and learn the inner workings of a campaign. Most of these candidates will be running as a Democrat or Republican, but there are other parties too. Joining one of the parties and going to their rallies or events is another way to meet other candidates and get in the heart of the political process in America.
Occasionally, you might have to get the ball rolling in your community, and after going and speaking with different groups, maybe you’ll decide that you in fact should run for office! Running for local office is both exciting and intimidating, but is entirely possible. Many officials get their start in local politics. You’ll have to find out your state’s requirements, what offices are up for election, define your vision and platform, and start to develop a grassroots network of supporters. Town councils, school boards, and county and regional bodies are areas to investigate. It may sound daunting, but there are resources to help you figure it out. Networking and marketing are two of the biggest components of running for office. Get your name and message out there and get elected; surpass that major hurdle and you’ll be on to making real policy change in government.
The importance of local elections and local politics should not be understated, ever. They are always based on popular vote, they can drastically change where our tax money goes, and shape our communities for longer than the tenure of the office.
Sources: CNN, The Hill, Lifehacker, US Represented, NPR, Candidate Boot Camp, Reporter RIT, ThoughtCo, National League of Cities