8 Easy Ways To Help Drive Systemic Change For Sustainability Through Policy
Whether we like it or not, politics affect every aspect of our lives. Our access to dignified work, healthcare, and free speech all depend on policy, and is therefore intrinsically intertwined with government operations.
If the whole world of politics seems overwhelming to you, or if you're unsure how to be an active citizen, this guide was written to support you in taking your very first steps.
As a changemaker dreaming of a just and sustainable world, you may feel like there are endless social and environmental issues that you want to help address. However, thinking about the enormity of everything combined can be paralyzing.
So simply start with one issue that you feel most passionate about first. Whether that’s women’s rights, immigration policy, protecting wild lands, preventing the flow of plastic waste into the oceans…. just pick one and begin there. Your voice and active citizenship does count and will make a difference!
Average voter turnout in the United States hovers around 60% (of voting age population) for presidential elections and less than 40% for midterm elections (the ones that happen every two years).
In addition, while local elections have some of the largest consequences for people’s day to day lives, we tend to see even less people showing up to vote in them — there was only an 8% turnout during early 2019's election for Public Advocate in New York.
Although turning up to vote may seem like a simple task, it is a powerful one.
If you're committed to improving democracy and making an impact on sustainable policies, then exercising your right to vote is the most direct action you can take.
Action step: Look up national and local elections at the beginning of each year, and mark each one down in your calendar so you don’t forget. Also, make sure you're registered to vote at your current address so you don’t miss registration deadlines.
Those who have the means to should support exciting candidates by donating.
Political campaigns rely on outside funding to get their messages out and to reach the right audience, which is why every dollar makes a difference.
Bernie Sanders famously disrupted the 2016 primary elections by raising over $20 million from individual donors alone, with the average donation amount being just $27.
Whether you can write a big check or only have 5 bucks to spare, your dollars count when it comes to supporting the political candidates who most inspire you.
Action step: Most candidates take donations directly through their websites. You can also donate to support certain policies by supporting nonprofits that advocate for them.
For those who can’t afford to donate dollars (or who prefer not to), then donating time is just as, if not more, powerful.
Candidates and nonprofits rely heavily on people power to get the word out about campaigns and work. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proved by winning her 2018 primary election in New York’s 14th Congressional District, speaking with voters actually works.
Action step: Reach out to nonprofits focusing on environmental policy or political campaigns and ask how you can volunteer and get involved. For candidates, you can phone-bank, write letters, or knock on doors when election time rolls around. Inviting a friend or two to join in can even make political activism fun!
4. Stay engaged
It’s understandable to feel as if the United States’ political system is just too overwhelming for you to make a difference, but half the battle of being politically active is just knowing what is happening and where you can provide support.
The best way to stay engaged without getting burnt out is to focus in on one particular issue.
If you care most about climate change, then you can focus your efforts on policies around things like renewable energy or taxes on carbon emissions. If you feel most passionate about nature and wildlife, then hone in on preventing plastic pollution or protecting wild lands.
Action step: A great way to keep up to date on your chosen issue(s) is to set a Google Alert that will keep you up to date on everything related. For example, if you're committed to fighting the next Keystone XL pipeline, you'll be notified by Google every time it comes up in the news, reminding you to get active when your support is needed most.
Another great way to stay abreast of what’s happening is to sign up for newsletters of political action campaigns and the nonprofits who support them, as these organizations will often email or text out calls to action.
5. Be the annoying voice in your representative's ear
The job of our representatives, both in Congress and in the Senate, is to represent us. In order to do that, they need to hear your voice loud and clear. Calling, emailing, writing, and faxing your representatives (or better yet, showing up to their next town hall) are the best ways to make your opinion heard.
After the 2016 presidential election, thousands of frustrated and frightened Democrats placed calls to their representatives, filling up answering machines and effectively bringing the offices of a number of reps to a standstill.
Pestering your elected representatives is a quick way to get politically active. Calling your two Senators and your representative in Congress shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes total, especially if you're working with one of the many apps and scripts that are readily available.
Action step: The 5 Calls app does the research and puts together simple scripts for constituents to easily pull from as they make their calls, while Democracy.io makes it easy to write to your representatives.
If you prefer to personalize your message, you can easily look up your Senators’ and Congressperson’s contact information here.
6. Follow a political action group
For those who find it difficult to stay on top of the news cycle, joining or following a political action group is a great way to keep engaged.
Action step: When it’s time for a petition to be signed, a candidate to be endorsed, or a rally to be attended, these action-driven groups will send a message out to their community asking them to get involved.
This is a really easy way to get politically active, as most of the work is done for you. All you have to do is answer the call when it comes!
7. Get your friends involved
Just like most activities, political action is more fun with friends. Whether you’re writing to your representatives, phone banking for a cool candidate, protesting against climate change, signing a petition, or donating to a progressive political group, you can increase your impact by convincing a few friends to join in the action.
Action step: You can pool donations with a group of friends, family, or coworkers to make sure your dollars make an impact, get friends to join you in participating in campaigns, and get everyone you know to vote in every election.
If they seem hesitant, try talking about why this initiative may be personally connected and meaningful to their lives, or just suggest that you enjoy a slice of pizza or a glass of beer together after the work is done!
8. Don't be afraid to talk politics
Many people in the U.S. still live by the outdated idea that money, religion, or politics should never be discussed in polite company. However, it is impossible to change people’s political views if you never talk about them.
While it can be difficult to bring up these uncomfortable topics, taking a political stance and talking about it is a great way to raise awareness and drive change. After all, showing the world that you're engaged in politics and that you're not shy about it creates space for people to initiate such discussions with you, potentially inspiring them to get more active in their own lives.
Action step: If you're too nervous to bring up politics at the dinner table, try expressing your views in more subtle ways. For example, sporting politically-charged pins, stickers, t-shirts, bags, and posters are all great ways to invite others into a conversation.