There is new dawn of political activism and engagement for America’s young people (as well as old!). As a college student, I can’t even take a breath without seeing protests on campus, or the latest opinion poll du jour. Teens and young people have an opportunity to elevate the discourse, and we are empowered to through a few different channels. Here are the top ways I’m helping make an impact, and you can too:
1. Find out who represents you and register to vote! It’s kinda hard to hold your leaders accountable if you don’t know who they are! So, do a quick search here to find your federal, state, and local elected leaders. Click here to register to vote and confirm or change your registration. The process is simple and shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes!
2. Midterms are coming! Midterms are coming! And no, I’m not talking about your psych midterm, although that’s coming up, too (yikes). Midterm elections are just around the corner. In other words, you don’t need to wait until 2020 to make your voice heard. In 2018, every seat in the House of Representatives as well as a third of the Senate will be up for grabs. There are also about 37 gubernatorial races, as well as hundreds of state legislative seats and local offices at stake. These elections are just as important as the presidential election held every 4 years, so get to know the candidates. If you have time, serve as a volunteer or intern for a campaign or local political party to make sure the candidate you believe will best represent you has a seat at the table.
3. Protest actions you don’t agree with. It’s not enough to get angry on Facebook and Twitter every time an elected official makes a statement or action you don’t agree with; take action! I am not suggesting that you refrain from sharing news articles and posting passionate status updates, because you definitely should – but it can be even more impactful to mobilize after you post. Organize or participate in protests, because there is incredible strength in numbers, and these make a statement to your local representatives. Whether you are taking to the streets for the Women's March or the March for Life, feel empowered enough to make sure your elected officials see you.
4. Follow these protests with advocacy and action! Your political engagement cannot and should not end the minute you put your posters in your closet. Write letters, make phone calls, sign petitions and forward them to your members of Congress. The point is to flood your elected officials’ inboxes with a sea of voices. Literally, learn how to send a fax if it means getting your opinion to your congressmen and women. You get the point…
5. Organize lobbying trips. Connect with a political organization or issue-based advocacy group on your school’s campus and plan a trip to DC to meet with your Congressional leaders. Schedule meetings with your legislators to lobby for specific policy solutions you would like to see enacted. You might even be able to receive funding from university departments that encourage public policy engagement. For example, the Penn Government & Politics Association organizes annual lobbying trips to DC using funding through the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative. Search for similar opportunities on your campus!
6. Engage elected officials by inviting them to speak at your school: If you’re a leader of a political organization at your school, send an email to your elected officials’ schedulers to invite them to speak to your student body. After they present, ask the questions you want answered while you have their attention. Don’t hesitate to challenge them on a policy or initiative they supported if you don’t agree with the course of action they took. Remember, you are their constituent! Make them listen to you.
7. Think globally, start locally: Solutions to major issues don’t always start in D.C. Find a cause or need in your community and start small by volunteering time to make a difference. For instance, I’ll never forget the mentors I had at my Boys & Girls Club growing up. They cared about making a difference in the lives of local kids, and because someone believed in me, I was empowered to pursue dreams that might have felt out of reach otherwise. You can do the same for someone or some cause that means a lot to you. The seeds you sow at the local level have the potential to make a global impact.