I’ve been Assistant Director of a community organization in my city for nearly a year now. At this point, opportunities to be involved with political movements fall into my lap. But of course, I wasn’t always getting e-mails and Facebook invites to rallies and marches. I had to start by seeking those things out.
Halfway through my college career, I became interested in being more politically active in my community. But how do you do that, I wondered? The answer is actually simpler than it seems it would be. There are plenty of ways to stay involved with your community, and these are some of the tried and true methods I’ve used myself. Who knows – maybe you’ll find something that really clicks with you, and you’ll find a niche for yourself in the community like I have.
Use Social Media
We all know that social media provides a platform to keep in touch with your friends and family. But community leaders, council members, and mayors are using the same social media accounts that you are, and their pages are usually public so constituents like you know what’s going on. Take them up on that!
Facebook: This is one of the best and easiest ways to stay involved with local community movements. Follow local nonprofits and community organizations so that their updates and events pop up on your feed. Mark “interested” on any politically-involved events that you come across (and search for more by looking through local events). Send friend requests to local community leaders you meet at the events you do attend.
Twitter: Chances are your local city officials have a Twitter account. They know that’s one of the easiest ways they can stay in touch with their constituents, so take advantage of that! Follow them on Twitter and they’re likely to follow you back. Feel free to tweet your questions and concerns to them, and you’ll probably get a response. Twitter is a great way to hold your city officials accountable because it’s public, and they know that too. Nobody wants to look like they’re ignoring the public, so you’re likely to get the answers you want.
Attend City Hall Meetings
A quick Google search can let you know the upcoming dates for these, and if your search is coming up fruitless, contact your elected officials (via Twitter, perhaps?). These meetings give you a close-up look of the behind-the-scenes action happening in your town that you may not have put much thought into. These meetings can also be the location of major political statements. I recently attended a City Hall meeting where well over one hundred community members turned up to argue that their elected officials vote a certain way on a rental housing inspection program.
These meetings are an opportunity to speak directly to your elected representatives and learn what’s going on in regards to policy in your city. Some meetings are more interesting than others, no doubt, but they always provide the chance to learn something new – and you never know who else is going to be in attendance, or what kind of surprising political stance someone might take at a seemingly ordinary city meeting.
Get to Know Elected Officials
You’re following them on Twitter and you’re seeing them at City Hall meetings, but now what? I’m not suggesting you walk up to your council members and ask them to dinner, but try to do your research. Read the biographies they provide on their websites or your city’s website, and search their name in local news search engines. Figure out where your representatives stand. Once you get to know which city officials you agree and disagree with and on specific issues, you can start formulating a plan for how you want to reach out to them. I tweet at my mayor to applaud him for taking a stand on an issue that I support, and sometimes to criticize him for taking an opposing view from me on an issue that I feel is important. City officials want to hear your feedback, and it’s the collective feedback of your city that can really make change happen.
Once you get to know your city’s officials, try moving on up to state level too. Your city needs support from state representatives, after all. Get to know them and where they stand on issues, and you can start reaching out to them via social media too.
Read Local News Sources
Go to your local Starbucks and spend twenty minutes skimming the newspaper. Grab a free paper from your college campus and read it while you wait for class to start. Check out local websites and blogs. Not only will these sources provide updates on events and organizations you might want to look into, but they’ll also keep you informed. It’s best to read multiple news sources too, to ensure you’re getting a wide range of information and are avoiding potential bias. You may come to have a favorite paper or website: chances are there’s something like that for you in your town, too.
If there’s a particular cause you’re interested in, the best bet may be to dive right in. Use Google to look up local volunteer opportunities and start getting involved. For example, say you’re interested in animal rights. Contact a local organization that shares the same concerns, start meeting other like-minded individuals that are potentially in positions of power, and get invites to the related events happening around the city. Just by donating a few hours each week to a cause you care about, you’ll be brought into a new area of your community you might never have known existed before. That’s a less political example, but it’s a near guarantee that no matter where you are on the political spectrum, there’s a group of like-minded people out there who could use your help.
There’s probably multiple opportunities like that either in your city or in a city near you. Google is your friend in these cases. Feel like you don’t have the time to consistently volunteer right now? Try reaching out to the contacts provided on volunteer listings and ask about upcoming events or other ways to stay involved.
If you truly want to be involved in local community movements, there are hundreds of ways to do that. These are just some of the quickest and most efficient ways I’ve learned to keep up-to-date with the political going-ons of my city. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be attending marches and rallies, mutually following your council members, and meeting great people in no time at all.