An Amateur’s Guide to Political Engagement

“The first requirement of politics is not intellect or stamina but patience. Politics is a very long run game and the tortoise will usually beat the hare.”
– John Major

As you may imagine, I’ve been following political news closely over the past couple of weeks (sidenote, how the hell has it only been two week of this presidency?) but I’ve also been following my friends and colleagues reactions to said news. I’m privileged to know some really incredible people, including activists who have spent years campaigning for causes and work that are near and dear to their hearts, and I’m awed to know them.

In seeing how my more engaged friends are springing to action, I’ve been thinking about how a relative newbie like myself can do better. There are a lot of think pieces out there at the moment, about how people can and should go about political engagement, but I feel like I’ve been able to dilute everything I’ve read into three basic lines of advice. This is for myself as much as anyone else.

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Read. Inform yourself on what’s going on and gather as much information you can to make sure that you are literate in current affairs. Vet your sources–when in doubt, research the author’s background or other reporting, and ditto for the platforms that articles and reporting appear on. Don’t overreact to any piece of incendiary information that comes your way without properly and critical examining. Be the first line of defense against sharing fake new or misinformation. Make it  point to read credible reporting and information provided by platforms that you may usually disagree with! There is no hope of common ground where it can be found without understanding the opposing stance, and you have no hope of changing anyone’s mind if you don’t understand what their position is in the first place. Challenge your own POV as well so that you can formulate and articulate your own position on issues clearly and responsibly.

Focus. Outrage fatigue is a real threat right now (whatever your political suasion) but it benefits absolutely no one. With so much information flying around, and different issues arising so quickly, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to even start trying to affect change. My advice is to decide what your top issues are and broadly stick to them in terms of donation, activities, and effort. Attend events and meetings (including local political gatherings, protests, events with representatives, or town hall meetings) where these issues are going to topics of debate and feedback, and come armed with facts to make arguments and support your positions. Not everyone can spearhead every fight, and that’s okay. There are a lot of angry, woke people doing a lot of good work right now and you are not required to be everywhere at once if you do not have the capacity. Pick your battles, quite literally.

Act. Clicks are not actions. Sharing articles, memes, videos, or any other kind of content on social media is not action. Arguing with people online is not action, and it’s seldom productive anyway. Signing petitions, making donations, showing up in person to events, volunteering your time or talents, calling/engaging with your representatives…that’s action. Don’t confuse emotional venting with being involved.

How about you? What advice have you found useful in evaluating your involvement in politics? What actions are you taking in response to the political climate–regardless of party? 

2 thoughts on “An Amateur’s Guide to Political Engagement”

  1. I completely agree about the political bickering on social media. It does nothing and causes outrage fatigue all at once. I’ve donated to Planned Parenthood and plan on donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Campaign, and the ACLU. I’m also considering destroying my pair of Ivanka Trump pants in spectacular fashion. This won’t really do a damn thing, but it will feel real good.

    1. Outrage fatigue is probably the most clear and present danger to enacting change, in my opinion, so I actively avoid picking fights on social media. Many is the tweet or facebook comment that I have written and then deleted because it would do no good!

      But let me be clear, I am all about private pettiness as a form of self care and action! RIP New Balance sneakers…

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