An Average Citizen's Guide To Making A Difference In Today's Political Environment

Like many others, I found myself alarmed and concerned last November as the country elected a reality TV-star president and put into place a single-party government. The system of checks and balances I've always trusted to keep the country running within generally accepted boundaries is gone and now, we, the citizens, must act as the checks and balances. Family values, personal liberties and civil rights are at stake. I want to close my eyes and click my heels and think "there's no place like home" in hope that someone will return me to a kinder, gentler reality, but I know that wishing or waiting for someone else to act is not going to be enough.

You may not think of yourself as a political activist, but after the recent election, you may be feeling the need to protect your right and values. We all hear the calls to action: "Roll your sleeves up! Get your hands dirty!" But what exactly does that mean? Where do we start?

To find the answers, I attended a non-partisan, public meeting, "Resistance Forum: Planning a Way Forward in a New Policy Era," hosted by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach. Sen. Leach and a panel of experienced advocates articulated what citizens can do protect our liberties, passions and values.

I'm not an expert in activism; this information is taken from Sen. Leach and the expert panel's experience and knowledge. However, I do have a passion, a pen and this platform so I am passing these tips along to you on how to effectively make a difference when stakes are at the highest.

1. Sustained small events build momentum. You don't need to plan the next Women's March (though kudos to those who have), organizing small events at a local level will get your message out and encourage like-minded people to join the effort and grow momentum.

2. Oppose bad ideas. Don't try to solve it or create an alternative idea, that just opens room for fighting over the solution. Focus your energy on stopping the bad idea.

3. Federalism is our friend. Many federal laws are only effective if state resources carry them out. Work at a local level to change the state regulations and law.

4. Do what is right when it comes to non-enforceable laws. Use the bathroom you identify with - the police aren't going to ask for proof on your way to the stall and a jury isn't going to convict you for choosing a restroom. I can firmly attest, as anyone with a child knows, that there is no room for discussion nor interrogation when someone "reallllyyyyy has to pee!"

5. Talk to your local and state representatives. This is the most effective way to influence decision-makers. If your rep is holding a local town hall, attend, ask questions and state your concerns., These events are more likely to draw media who will help report and spread your message. If you aren't yet comfortable with a public showdown with your state senator, personal visits, handwritten letters, and phone calls (in that order) are also highly effective. Less effective are sending templated emails, signing online petitions and tweets or Facebook posts.
(If you aren't sure who your local representatives are, a quick Google search will give you name & contact info)

6. Join groups that share your interests. Talk about the issues and decide on what needs to be done.

7. Support organizations that act. Get on lists and learn how and when to come forward and take action.

8. Fight for the broader cause. Everyone has their individual passions, but support is needed for many other like-minded causes. Join your natural allies, instead of waiting on an event that supports one singular issue.

9. Discuss "kitchen-table issues." Talk to others about what affects their lives.

10. Find your passion and tell your personal story - every time. That is how people will identify, connect and respond to your cause. This is also how you will find your 'crew' to stand with you.

11. Embrace people who advocate in a different way than you do - they may protest and you many write but together you can move mountains.

12. Defend journalism. It is unfortunate that people with low values are publishing "fake news" to mislead the public, but that is not an indictment of the professional news organizations we rely on to keep us informed so we can decide on major issues for ourselves.

13. Subscribe to a newspaper! Diversify your news sources like you would your stock portfolio.

14. Write letters to the editor or op-ed pieces voicing your opinion on the issues that are important to you.

In this time of uncertainty, be assured that resistance isn't futile. Taking some of these actions that fit with your personality and passion will be effective. You will have an impact and, together, we will protect when we believe in.