The votes are cast. The dust is settling. For many Americans, the election is over, and with it, our civic duty to engage in democracy. They’re right in celebrating a historic turnout, the narrow rejection of the president (if not his party), and a surprisingly smooth election. If they think their job is done, however, they’re wrong.
Civic engagement does not mean vote, rinse, repeat. Voting is a crucial civic engagement activity, but it’s only one step.
No one knows the importance of staying civically engaged throughout the election cycle better than our guest this week, Maria Yuan. Maria founded IssueVoter, an online tool that lets voters track bills and votes on specific issues of interest—and to hold their elected leaders accountable.
Listen to our interview with Maria!
This election, the absolute repudiation of Trumpism didn’t come, and civic participation over the next four years will dictate how our democracy fairs. If the GOP keeps the Senate as they are on track to do, gridlock will grip our nation, and our acts of engagement will have more impact than ever. Regardless of your political affiliation, issues like climate change, police reform, healthcare reform, election protection, and infrastructure investment are too important to sit out.
“If you’re a Democrat and your rep is a Democrat, or you’re a Republican and your rep is a Republican, there can be a tendency to sit back and think everything’s fine,” Maria told Mila. “But people that have been using IssueVoter have actually told me that after using IssueVoter, they’re surprised to see that their Rep. is not necessarily representing them 100% of the time or even as high a percentage as they would have expected.”
According to Maria, we cannot become complacent if a member of our preferred political party represents us. You may be received better by your lawmaker if your political affiliations align, giving you a more meaningful opportunity to make your voice heard.
If you’ve voted and are wondering ‘Now what?’ we’ve got a few ideas for civic participation that ensure you’ll stay engaged in between elections—and that your needs and ideas are heard by those who need to hear them most.
First, we highly encourage you to check out IssueVoter and sign up, if you haven’t yet. If you listened to our interview, you’d know that IssueVoter does more than send reminders and updates. Maria told us 30% of users named it their primary motivator to vote; 59% said it inspired them to partake in another form of civic engagement; 94% learned about new issues; and 47% said it exposed them to new viewpoints. Even more impressively, 34% of users changed their voting habits based on the information they found. Signing up for IssueVoter doesn’t qualify as civic engagement, but it can be your first step in participating in democracy year-round.
Next, it’s time to become your elected official’s pen pal. Whether this is your Senator, Congressman, or state official, reaching out to politicians is shockingly effective. According to Brad Fitch of the Congressional Management Foundation, an in-person meeting with your elected official has a staggering 94% success rate. If you can’t take the time to meet them in person, give their office a call. All US Representatives employ staffers specifically to field calls from constituents. If you’re wondering what to say when you call, check out this clip of Brad explaining how to make your voice stand out.
Calling your elected official is an excellent start, but it’s not the only way to stay current on your civic engagement duties. Consider signing up for a local organization or grassroots political group.
“Find out what groups are there in your community or need to be there and either join them or found one,” legendary social scientist Theda Skocpol urged our listeners earlier this year. “Democracy is better if it’s done together.”
Grassroots groups enjoy an outsized impact on electoral politics. The Tea Party was an important precursor for Trump’s blend of xenophobic misogyny and ‘outsiderism’ to take hold. A progressive grassroots movement during the George W. Bush years helped elect President Obama.
“We’ve lived through a half-century in American politics in which we’ve thought we could outsource politics to a bunch of highly paid consultants and people putting together television ads,” Skocpol explained. Now, however, “people are rediscovering that politics is about social activity, things done together.”
Groups keep us motivated, and they hold us accountable. You may eventually forget to write your senator, but your group of like-minded individuals will remember. If you’re looking for a group to join but don’t know where to start, check out Indivisible, and see if there’s a chapter near you. If you’re wondering what Indivisible is all about, take a listen to the interview we conducted with their co-founder, Ezra Levin.
Finally, civic engagement can mean talking to those you care about, about the things you care about. This may sound simple, but it’s a meaningful part of civic engagement in an age of politics over family. America is still more divided than ever, and no amount of political rhetoric or breathless fact-checking can change that. Open, honest, challenging dialogue between friends and loved ones is the only way to mend our splintered psyche. If you need tips on having those difficult conversations, be sure to check out the guide we made with Dave Fleischer here. Before you do that, we recommend listening to his insights in podcast form—which you can find here.
The election is over, but the hard part is just beginning. We hope you’ll rise to the challenge, and we’re excited to be there with you every step of the way. If you haven’t yet, check out our brand new season on rebuilding America.
Let’s get to work.
10 EASY STEPS TO CONNECT WITH ANYONE, ANYWHERE. (2020, July 10). Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.futurehindsight.com/10-easy-steps-to-connect-with-anyone-anywhere/
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The Blueprint for American Democracy: Ezra Levin. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.futurehindsight.com/episode/the-blueprint-for-american-democracy-ezra-levin/
Brad Fitch. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.futurehindsight.com/episode/brad-fitch/
Canvassing with Love: David Fleischer. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.futurehindsight.com/episode/canvassing-with-love-david-fleischer/
Kevin Schaul, K. (2020, November 04). 2020 turnout is on pace to break century-old records. Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/elections/voter-turnout/
Lasting Civic Engagement: Maria Yuan. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.futurehindsight.com/episode/lasting-civic-engagement-maria-yuan/
Morgan, D. (2020, November 04). Republicans on track to dash Democratic hopes of U.S. Senate majority. Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-senate-idUSKBN27K2T0
Organizing Power: Theda Skocpol and Caroline Tervo. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.futurehindsight.com/episode/organizing-power-theda-skocpol-and-caroline-tervo/
Peters, J. (2019, August 28). The Tea Party Didn’t Get What It Wanted, but It Did Unleash the Politics of Anger. Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/28/us/politics/tea-party-trump.html
Season 12: Rebuilding America. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2020, from https://www.futurehindsight.com/season-12-rebuilding-america/