Activism and Advocacy: A Guide

By Jensen Soderlund (College Student)

In today’s current political climate, more and more people are taking to the streets to vocalize their displeasure with government actions. Public protest is a crucial part of being an active participant in democracy. Expressing frustration with oppressive legislation and government leaders is the only way to bring about real change. However, while marching and rallying and sharing petitions are crucial to bringing awareness to these problems, many people don’t realize that there’s an even more straightforward route to making your voice heard: talking to the government directly.           

One way to do this is by contacting your representatives through letter writing or calling their offices. It’s a quick and easy way to let them know where you stand on important issues being discussed in the legislature. It’s even possible to let them know how you feel about executive actions! If the president makes an executive order, Congress can overturn it through new legislation; it’s a long process, but if it’s important enough and the public is loud enough, it is possible to make change. It’s really simple to find prompts to use when contacting representatives.

Even better than calling or writing to legislators, though, is speaking to them personally. Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone. Some people don’t live close enough to a capitol or don’t have the time to participate as actively as they may wish to. That’s why it’s so important for people who are able to show up to actually show up. Follow your representatives on social media, keep up with the news, attend town halls and congressional hearings. Make your presence known. If you have the opportunity to represent your community, take it. Be the voice that you know needs to be heard. Be present, and be loud.

This can be a scary thought, especially if you’re new to government participation. That’s what this handy guide is for! One immensely powerful tool you have as a voter is the power to hold your representatives accountable. Legislators’ main goal is being reelected, and in order to achieve that, they need to keep their constituents happy. If they’re not doing their job, let them know, and they will listen! It can be hard to have faith in the political system, especially one that is infiltrated with hatred and built on bigotry. Advocacy is tough work. It’s discouraging, it’s hard, and it’s exhausting. A lot of the time, it feels like nothing’s ever going to change. But those little victories- they come rarely, so savor them- make all the hard work so worth doing. Remember that the only way to bring about change is by changing things yourself. You are so much stronger than the system makes it seem.

The best way to use this strength and this power is by exploring the personal impacts government action has on the lives of citizens. A lot of the time, it feels like politicians are outsiders, distant from our own world experience and perspective. In order to get them to recognize that their ideas and policies affect real people, we have to show them real impacts. So, if you plan on going to speak directly to a representative or a senator, or if you decide to testify at a public hearing, the most important thing you can do is formulate your story. You are a unique person with your own individual experiences, feelings, and opinions. Use this to express the changes you need to see and help make the difference you’re hoping for. Dig deep, really get to the root of why the issues you’re talking about are so important. Know the facts, definitely- make sure you do your research on the statistical effects of whatever it is you’re talking about- but remember to relate those facts to your own story. Everyone is going to have the same statistics to support them, but not one person is going to have the same story. Remember how powerful you really are, and share it with the world. You can be the difference.

Here's one way author Jensen Soderlund suggests you can get involved: Track Legislation in Congress

Take Action Now: Progressive Advocacy, Conservative Advocacy