How can I be an effective political activist?

I have been trying to think of some way I can personally become active in opposing the onrushing tide of fascist insanity. I have been guilt tripping myself for not being “politically active” my entire adult life, but the current situation seems to demand that we all step up our games. However, there are also real reasons why I haven’t succeeded in making this happen previously.

I don’t really like talking to strangers. I am just not the person who is going to be passing petitions in the supermarket parking lot. Also, I have very little free time. I’m not going to be signing up for anything that requires me to show up for several hours a week.

So, I am looking for suggestions on how I can make a constructive difference without making major time commitments or having to deal with members of the general public. Basically, the ideal would be if you could convince me that ranting on SDMB actually constitutes constructive political activity, and thus I am already doing my duty.

I do make pretty good money, so maybe the best idea is just to work an hour or two more a week and donate the extra money to social change organizations?

Any thoughts would be welcome.

Well a good way in is to get involved with a community project, might be real local or town/city wide.

It’s kind of like a new field of work - feel your way in, you’ll be working under people who have experience, are better connected.

Jsst saying you don’t have to rock up at campaign HQ and start filling envelopes or something.

Would you be comfortable talking with your local elected officials? Well, more probably, some member of his or her office staff.

If so, make a list of the issues that concern you. Do a Google search to see how your official (US Senators, US Rep, state senator, state rep, and [for more local issues] county/township/municipal officials) stands on the issue. Then call the official’s office (or email, although I understand calling is generally considered more effective). Identify yourself as a constituent and either ask for support for your stance or thank for the support.

Repeat monthly or as often as practicable.

Donating money as you suggested is also good.

So I can tell you what I have been doing. You may or may not want to do any or all of it.

  1. I picked non profits that I like that I expect will be hit and made donations. Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center etc. I am making recurring donations to the ACLU. I also donated money to the DCCC.

  2. I called my congress people. Both Senators (one a D one and R) and my District Congressman. I called the local in state district offices and I made a phone call rather than email or letter because I have been told from a few different places that phone calls to the local office get the most attention. I called to talk about a single specific issue that mattered to me, and asked each office if there was anything that I personally could do to help with that issue. They all said no, but took my name and told me they would relay my feelings to Washington. I plan to call back to discuss other issues. It was a good experience and I HIGHLY recommend everyone does it.

2a) I plan to do similar things with my state reps, but I honestly know so little about state politics that I need to do some self education first. It embarrasses me how little I know about what is going on at a state level.

  1. I reached out to my local political party representatives. I am a Democrat (last week I was a staunch independent who disliked the very idea of parties and was only registered to a party so I could vote in the primary, now I am a Democrat.) I found out when there next meeting was going to be held (December 5) and I am going to attend. I am good on the phone so if they need people to call folks I will volunteer. But I also plan to volunteer for anything they need short of handing out flyers on a street corner. I want them to start to know who I am. More importantly I want to know who they are. Local elections are next year for almost every office, and I want to know what I am voting for in a more real way.

  2. a group of my friends and I are getting together Sunday to talk about all of this. This Sunday is just going to be talk. See where we all are. If we want to keep getting together we will figure out what causes bind us all and start taking steps to become directly active in those causes. When/if we do I plan to call the local district offices of my representatives and the people I meet at the local democratic party as well as the organizations I have given money to and let them know what we are doing. I also plan to have my group of friends and I attend their events, town hall meetings etc.
    So, that’s where I am.

I am also writing every day. I used to be a pretty good writer, but my skills have really dropped off. Right now it’s just journal entries for myself, but if I get good again I may start a website that no one will read. If I get really good I might start sending letters to the local paper.
The only super time consuming part of the above is volunteering to work for the local political party or organizing a group of friends to do political action. Chunk out the rest and you can do any of that in your spare time in whole or in part.

What value is there in writing congresscritters, attending local political meetings, etc. if you live in a completely blue state in the northeast? Here, every Dem running for a national or state-wide election won by at least 15 points.

I guess I can just pay closer attention to my congresscritter’s votes and statements, but I really don’t expect sudden loyalty to Trump and rejection of the Democratic party.

Noteworthy political activist
From one perspective, minimal time investment. From another perspective, maximal.

There is still value in making sure that your representatives vote the way you want. That they know if you want them to filibuster a particular agenda item or work for compromise. Let them know that you will support a primary opposition to their candidacy if they don’t back your position. That’s not meaningful on its own, but if you get a bunch of people working together…well the Tea Party was pretty successful and worked primarily in already Red states.

More importantly its important to start building relationships you can call on in the future if you ever really need them.

If you really really want to be deeply involved the best way seems to be to start with local politics and effect change in your home town.

If I did not know better, I would have thought the OP was written by my wife. Or as a friend we met the other night put it, “Activism is important but extroversion is hard.”

I have been politically aware since I was a teenager, but forced to sit on the sidelines for various personal reasons. Yet I have participated in small ways in many campaigns, from phone banking, stuffing envelopes, handing out fliers, protest marches, even occasionally delivering a speech here and there. I have often been one of the ‘masses’ that make up a ‘mass movement’.

And from the bench I have seen some amazing players, and my friends and I have drafted what I hope is a solid strategy going forward.

  1. Create a ‘solidarity circle’ - a small group of friends that can participate in different events. It can as simple as going to trivia nights for your favorite local charity, to meeting up for a march or demonstration, or canvassing a neighborhood together. More the merrier, and all that. Think of it as a ‘social circle’ with a purpose beyond dinner and drinks. A good core activity is an ‘Activist Book Club’. My wife just joined one, and thanks to social media, expanded to a bit more than a circle, but her core group is about a dozen or so that meet once a month. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

  2. Join a community - it can be religious, secular, public, or private, but become part of a larger community than just the ‘circle’. Faith-based groups are a great foundation, and can broaden circles and replenish them. Congregations and schools often have social action committees or the equivalent that can focus the energy of your group where can be more effective.

  3. Be effective - this has three parts.
    A) Specialize! The ‘political activists’ I have met are some of the least effective people I have worked with. Jack of all causes, and master of none. The most effective people I have encountered were focused on a particular cause or set of causes - labor, civil rights, environment, health, etc.
    B) Strive for a tangible target! “I support the clean energy” is a nice bumper sticker, but a useless ordinance. Working with the local sustainability commission to draft zoning laws, solar panels easements, rain garden specifications, etc., was far more meaningful and constructive.
    C) Start small. Work your way up the ladder. I know of very few national leaders that started at the national level. Contrary to public opinion, fighting city hall is very easy, and often, they are very responsive to well thought out proposals. But the council members will just walk right past your picket signs and fliers. And city hall contacts may lead to state house contacts which may lead to regional contacts, and so on.

  4. Be informed - this has three parts also.
    A) Read up on your specialty. Determine who the experts in the field are and follow them. Read their books, articles, blogs, and see what issues concern them.
    B) Read up on your opposition. Know thy enemy and all that, but more importantly, get out of the echo chambers and media bubbles.
    C) Engage in dialogue with the opposition. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments on both sides of an issue, and see where common ground may lie. Love thy enemy and all that.

  5. Most important - determine what kind of activist you are. I have broken them down into four major categories.
    A) The organizers. The ones who lead the campaign and rally supporters.
    B) The campaigners. The chiefs-of-staff for the organizers. They rent the offices, connect the utilities, make the coffee, but they don’t make speeches. They will design fliers, but hate passing them out.
    C) The canvassers. The ones at the forefront, holding the banner, knocking on doors, making the phone calls.
    D) The patrons. They won’t hold a sign, but they will write a check. They will support the cause in the quiet ways. They may host a party or gathering, recruit others, use of word of mouth and other means to spread the message. Never confuse quiet for passive.

And you may find yourself in different categories in different campaigns. I have often been mostly D, but I enjoy being B now and then. I have dabbled in A and C, but they are not my strong points.

Thanks to all for your constructive and practical suggestions, especially **NAF **and Agnostic Pagan!

To echo some things from above and maybe add:

Phoning a representative is better than a letter, and a letter is better than an email.

Yes, call even the ones who are on your side in a deep (whatever color) state. Why? Remember that everyone who is on your side has things they care about deeply (for example, I care deeply about health care) and things they don’t care much about (for example, I don’t care much about guns). If I were your representative in a deep blue state and you were blue and you cared deeply about guns, you would want to call me up and say “Julie, you ignorant slut, don’t give up something on guns to get something on health care!”

Or say that there is a bill that I might agree to because it gets me something on health care, something not great, but better than nothing. You want me to stand absolutely firm on this issue and let the Rs take the hit. You would want to call and say that. “Do not compromise on this issue. It’s incredibly important!”

I might not listen all of the time, but I will likely listen some of the time.
There are a lot of organizations out there, some big and some small. The tendency for donations is to pick the big guys, but sometimes the small guys are the ones who focus so much on an issue that they have more power. If you really care about X and a big org does XYZ and a small one does X, the small one may be the better bet for a donation.

If you really care about an issue, find where the orgs stand. You can look for things like sign-on letters, etc. and find who is joining together in certain causes (this is also a good way to find small orgs dedicated to specific issues). For example, say you really care about right to die and end of life care. You find sign-on letters about end of life counseling and find big orgs and small signed on. The big orgs maybe care about health care in general, the ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Among the small orgs, maybe you’ll find one that focuses entirely on right to die. The fact that they are on the letter means they work in coalition, but they are focused on one issue. That might be the right organization to donate to.

And sometimes such orgs can use your help in other ways. Sometimes. Not all organizations are ready to use the help of volunteers.

Social media does impact politics. It’s unclear exactly how much, but facebook and especially Twitter are places where politicos do look to see what people are thinking. Always remember that the vast majority of staffers for federal politicians (I’m assuming this is true at the state level as well) are in their twenties. And remember that the staffers are the people who get things done and are the gatekeepers.

Become knowledgeable. Don’t talk more than you listen. Don’t assume you know the issues just because you care a lot and share the ideology of the people who have strong opinions. Recent events notwithstanding, opinions are not better than facts. Have both.

Be an idealist, but a functional pragmatist. You can talk big but accept small. It’s possible to come back from cuts in programs. It’s next to impossible to come back from fundamental alterations in programs, eliminations, or structural changes. Someone wants to cut some funding for Medicaid? We can accept that. Someone wants to block grant Medicaid? We can’t accept that. Understand how programs work and what changes would mean. If you don’t know the current lay of the land, you can’t know what the changes would mean.

(BTW, I am not an extrovert at all, but I work in health care advocacy and policy.)