Kelton Holsen, Editor-In-Chief
By this point, many of you may have lost faith in voting. Superdelegates, media smears, the Electoral College, the constant pretense that Joe Biden doesn’t have dementia–it’s all pretty disillusioning about whether we actually live in a stable democracy. And yet, I urge you to go vote, not because it will make things better, but because it will stop things from getting worse. However, that is far from all that we can do to make this country work more like a democracy.
In essence, voting is only the first step towards getting the policies that you want enacted. This is because politicians are by nature appeasers–they will do what they think will get them re-elected. Politicians that fail to listen to their constituents seldom have long careers.
Often, the simplest way to get something done is to contact your representatives. Calling a rep’s office is ridiculously easy, and you will usually be directed to a staffer who you can leave a message with–say, “I would like [name of your representative] to support [name of bill]”. They will mark down that you called on a tally sheet that is presented to the representative at the end of every day letting them know what constituents care enough about to actually make a phone call. It’s often a good idea to say the specific name of a piece of legislation. Remember, you can just keep calling.
Beyond calling, you can also email your reps, or even better, send them a letter. The goal is to let them know that you care enough to keep contacting them–and thus that your vote (and that of other people like you) might be contingent on whether they do what you’re asking them to. This method can actually work very well to get a candidate to diverge from the party line–even if an issue is one that most of their party supports, a savvy politician will not go along with it if there’s opposition back home.
If you really want to go the extra mile, you can set up an appointment to lobby a politician. Many people think of lobbyists as corporate shills who get paid to alter public policy–because many of them are–but anyone can set up an appointment to lobby as long as they’re a constituent. Get in touch with the politician’s scheduler–usually there’s a link on their website–and set up a meeting. Dress your best, prepare what you want to say, and be your charming self–a face-to-face meeting can leave a strong impression in someone’s mind. What I said earlier about effort goes double here–a politician is going to be impressed with, and possibly slightly scared of, someone who goes through the effort to actually meet with them in person.
(At this point, you may be thinking, “hey, it seems like the official ways to make a difference require a lot of time and other resources to get done”. Yep! Our governmental structure is rigged against the poor and disenfranchised! So if you have those resources on hand, use them to speak up for others who don’t have them.)
If going to talk to them by yourself doesn’t stop your politician from going and voting for something stupid, it might be a good idea to go back to that politician’s office with several, or several hundred, of your friends. With signs. And chanting. That’s right, protest! Demonstrations of the will of the people through protest are a key part of democracy because they show where the real power is, or at least is meant to be. A protest is meant to get the attention of whoever the target of the protest is, usually some government official whose office the protestors stand outside. And if you’re a politician and there are protesters specifically yelling at you about something you did, it’s not going to look good on your record.
The final part of living in a representative democracy is this–sometimes, the elected officials are just going to ignore you. Or maybe they listen to you, but can’t make any change because the House is held by a Speaker who constantly shuts down discussion of any bill he disagrees with. In this case, it’s sometimes best to get together a group of like-minded people and do something about it yourselves through direct action.
For instance–are you mad about hostile architecture in your city, but the bill to not put literal spikes under bridges to keep people from sleeping there is still in limbo in the city council? Then get some friends down there with crowbars and remove the spikes. If you get arrested, tell people your story, and get them to protest outside the jail demanding your release.
Taking direct action against injustice is sometimes the best way to express democracy–if people are angry enough to do something themselves when the government won’t do it, it’s a great way to demonstrate that that government has failed. Other forms of direct action include strikes, boycotts and blocking access to buildings and other infrastructure. Sometimes this will be disruptive, but again, disruption is what gets things done.
At the core of democracy is the idea of the will of the people guiding policy. If our elected officials aren’t going to live up to those principles, we need to constantly remind them–politely or otherwise–that we are how they got up there and that, if necessary, we can bring them back down.