For most people, politics is not a full-time job. Instead of focusing on our role as constituents of America’s democracy, most of us are, understandably, more focused on our roles as employees, family members and community participants.
But, the truth is that politics does not end at the ballot box, your office door or your front step — and neither does your ability to impact the political power structures that impact you each and every day. These spheres of our lives — the personal, the professional, and the political — are not as separate as they might seem. And in order for women to achieve true equality in America, we must be leading in all of them.
Civic engagement extends far beyond voting and running for office. It includes any action that we take to access and influence political power, on the local, state or federal level. Politics does not need to be your full-time job for you to make an impact. It’s up to you to bring civic engagement into the spaces and places where you already are, in a way that works best for you, around the issues that you care about most. Here are four ways to do so.
1. Use your experience to identify your “issue priorities.”
You do not need to be an expert on anything but your own life experience in order to raise your voice on the issues that matter most to you. Whether you draw on your experience in your industry, your community or your family, sharing your personal story is a powerful tool for advocacy because your representatives have an obligation (and desire!) to understand how policies impact people and to represent the experiences of their constituents.
Think about which issues best align with your personal experience, then consider which issues you’re passionate about and which feel most urgent right now. Sticking to a formula of experience, passion and urgency will allow you to stay committed to, informed on and active around these 1-2 issues even during life’s busy seasons.
2. Meet your representatives (they are real people!).
Building personal relationships with your representatives and their offices is a lot easier than you think, especially at the local and state level. Think about your issue priorities and which level of government has the ability to make the changes that you want to see. Then, find a way to meet with your elected officials, either by attending a town hall, visiting their offices or inviting them to an event that you are hosting.
In-person meetings are often the best way to make an impact because they are personal, and maintaining communication with your representatives (even when you agree with what they are already doing) will allow you to get to know not only your representatives but also influential staffers. Sustained relationships with elected officials’ offices will also help you to establish yourself as a source of information on a particular issue or topic.
3. Get appointed.
If you are looking for a way to become more involved in your local government, consider applying for an appointed position on a local commission or board that focuses on issues that you are passionate about and have experience in. Appointed positions are typically filled by community volunteers who apply and are then selected by local government officials.
Holding a position will allow you to weigh in on decisions and shape the initiatives that directly impact what happens in your own backyard while also growing your track record of leadership. Visit your municipal or county government’s website to see what appointed positions are opening, and find out how you can apply.
4. Create a regular advocacy schedule.
When we make ourselves feel like we’re never doing enough, we run the risk of doing nothing at all. So, set realistic goals for yourself of how much time you want to spend, how often, and around which issues you want to engage. Whether it’s once a week, one a month, or taking a few bigger actions each year, schedule your civic engagement into your calendar and invite friends, family, or coworkers to join you and keep one other accountable.