It's not our place to talk about politics, and it's not our place to tell you what to believe. But, it is our place, as citizens of this wild country, to be informed and to help you get informed, too. We've put together a list of six super easy and super important steps you can take to get your voice heard by your local representatives and congressperson to win back our democracy. If these last few weeks have taught us anything, it's that we must listen for the truth and believe in our country, and that nothing can take away our voice. Words by Dee Gross.
I like to avoid things like politics, local news, and global affairs. Given that my last several articles have been about surviving family events with booze and subterfuge, it may surprise you to learn that I struggle with anxiety and depression. This means that listening to every terrible thing from the news, is tantamount to torment. So, I excused myself from the pain and went on my merry way. This system worked for quite a while, I would check in periodically with NPR, The Daily Show, or more recently, Jon Oliver, just to stay informed, but hard news was not my jam—that is until Donald Trump won the Republican nomination.
This is not a slam against the Republican party. Honestly, I do not identify with either party and consider myself a political moderate. But, how could the man who made me uncomfortable on the Celebrity Apprentice now have the fate of the free world in his tiny hands? Mental illness be damned! I was ready to do something. Since then, I have done my best to take action and look for opportunities to make an impact where I can. If you are looking for a way to have your voice be heard, here are some things you can do, too.
1. Be an informed citizen.
As difficult as it may seem considering the present hostility towards the media, correct information is at your fingertips. Fake news was the big story of the 2016 election and continues to be written about above the fold. The lesson we must learn is DO NOT TRUST EVERYTHING YOU READ ON THE INTERNET! The internet allows us global communication and social media allows us a means to share that information with a click of a button, but much like that rumor about your classmate in 7th Grade, you need to check the facts before you share it.
"How do you know if a news story is trustworthy?" I am so glad you asked. The good folks at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay have gone in to detail on how to tell if a website is credible. (It should be noted that I pronounce the name of this university with my best/worst Wisco-accent. I suggest you do the same. It makes it super fun!)
Always, always confirm the information with multiple sources! This is my favorite fact-checking website, but if you want to be sure, check multiple sources against one another.
2. Contact your representative.
So, you have social anxiety and are pretty sure you will die if you have to talk to an actual human on the phone. Me, too! Plus, we’re not alone. There are enough people who feel this way that Echo Through the Fog wrote an article on how to call your representative if you have social anxiety.
It seems scary, but I have actually tried it. So far, I have not had to speak directly with either my Congressperson or Senator, but I have spoken with their staff members. At first, I was sure this would be a fruitless endeavor, but I have received a letter from my Congresswoman addressing my concerns.
I have enjoyed even more success through the beauty of email. This is by far the best way I have found to express my concerns. It gives me time to properly formulate my thoughts, and time for my representative as well. I used this method to contact my state representative and I received some of the most thoughtful replies from Tennessee State Senator William Lamberth. I do not agree with some of his political standings, but we were able to have a discussion without the stress and aggravation of having a conversation in person. Not a good writer? Do not worry, the internet has several email forms you can use to submit a letter to your representative.
Not to be crass, but if you are going to protest, the rule is don't be a dick! If your idea of protesting includes violence, looting, arson, or basically anything that could classify your group as a mob, stay at home and spew your bile on Reddit where it belongs.
The most powerful form of protest must have a plan and must not be overshadowed by acts of hatred. If you are going to make a difference, you must not become the oppressor, but rise above them with your dignity and humanity. When we are talking protest, I have to quote MLK Jr. It may seem trite, but his civil disobedience was so powerful, the only way his enemies could silence him was to take his life. This is what he proposed in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: 1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive; 2) negotiation; 3) self-purification; and 4) direct action.
This means in order to change, you need to think, try to reach common-ground with your advisory, assess your own motivations before you take any direct action. In this world of social media and instantaneous reactions, I wonder how different recent history would be if we truly behaved more like Dr. Martin Luther King?
4. Donate to charity.
So you say you care about women’s reproductive rights, animal welfare, veterans, education, and on and on. Well, put your money where your mouth is. I'm sure many of you may have reservations about this, but there are a lot of amazing charities and nonprofits that need money, volunteers, and/or goods. I try to set aside a small amount each month to donate. If you do not have an organization you are passionate about, check out Jon Oliver’s list of charities accepting donations. He and his staff vet each organization and offer compelling reasons as to why we should care.
5. Vote, and not just in the Presidential election.
For some reason, it is easy to overlook state and local elections. Perhaps, they are just not as sexy. These last few years, however, when the U.S. Congress was ground to a halt, state and local governments were passing laws like they were going out of style. Many of these laws were passed without fanfare, and in some cases, with seemingly little scrutiny. If you really want to make an impact, find out what your state and local legislations are doing. The answer may be surprising.
6. Disagree, but remember to love each other anyway.
Recently, I began reading Trevor Noah’s autobiography about growing up in South Africa during apartheid. Don’t be too impressed, I am only halfway through, but something he said stuck with me. He noted that the genius of apartheid is that it convinces us we are all different or separate, but in truth we are all the same. I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. I have loved ones who are die-hard Trump supporters, gun-toting Baptists, rednecks, Bernie supporters, feminists, Women’s Marchers, scientists, teachers, and many more labels. Some of my friends post things on social media that make me want to reach through the computer screen and shake them. I don’t, however, because I know the ultimate way America is already great. We are a group of people who are different, who disagree, who bring their own voices, their own special set of skills to our nation. The conflict we face will only define us and divide us if we let it. Our fear will define us only if we cower to it, we must remember what made us great to begin with—our unity.
We can unify despite differences of politics, religions, or gender identities. These manmade constructs do not matter. Our diversity should not separate us, instead it should be the foundation on which we strengthen this great nation. I know we have it within us to change this country for the good—it is at this point I would usually include a joke about filtering political posts from your Facebook feed and I have that information listed below, but instead, I'm going to take the high-road and quote Lincoln/Jesus, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We have seen the dangers of buying into the us-versus-them mentality. Just read a history book, pick up a newspaper, and you'll see what happens when people divide themselves arbitrarily. Let's be the kind of people who make history, not due to our destruction, but through our endurance. There is no need to make America great, again, we're already there. We just need to keep from screwing it up.