In case you missed it, there is a lot at stake for the upcoming 2020 election. This year, the United States could potentially elect a new leader that might advocate for or against abortion access, who could alleviate the student debt crisis, and who will consider demands for stricter gun control. There are a lot of important issues students need to be conscious of during this election cycle, and that can be solved if you’re politically engaged. Fortunately, there are several ways you can become – and remain – politically active without overwhelming yourself. If the upcoming election means a lot to you, then it makes no difference whether you receive breaking news alerts to your phone, or just casually stay engaged through conversations with your friends. This list is guaranteed to help you, no matter your level of involvement or political expertise. Here are 10 of the best ways you can become politically engaged during the 2020 election season.
Famous author and activist, Alice Walker, once said: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” The easiest way to exercise this power is by registering to vote and becoming an active voter. In order to have well-functioning democracy, its members must actively participate—and that means voting in most, if not every, election. Don’t think your vote matters? Tell that to Boston City Councilor At-Large Julia Mejia who won her seat by just one vote. Not only is voting our civic duty, but we should feel a moral obligation when we are fortunate enough to have fair, free, and accessible elections. Did you know that in 27 countries, voting is mandatory? This voting requirement is called “compulsory voting” and some countries even enforce penalties when not followed. Voting is the easiest, cheapest, and least time-consuming way to become politically engaged. If you’re certain about voting in the upcoming election or want to vote, but you’re not sure if you’re registered, find all the information you need at vote.gov.
- Do your research
Figuring out where to begin your research can be very overwhelming. Try making a list of issues that are most important to you whether they feel “political” or not. It can range from filling those massive potholes around your neighborhood or your concern for the lack of WOC leading within your local government. From there, further your research by looking into local, state, and national candidates or elected officials that have stake in these issues. This can be a great way to learn more about what you care about and your community. Ultimately, this research will help you envision what you want in a 2020 candidate.
The best way to help any campaign is by volunteering your time. Even with a busy student schedule, just dedicating an hour or two on the weekend to make phone calls or knock on doors makes all the difference. Having face to face conversations is the most impactful way to inform people about your candidate and also listen to community perspective. There’s always a polite and respectful way to listen to others while still holding onto your own political values. Canvassing is a great way to explore and learn more about your community and the issues it cares about. My favorite part of canvassing is doing it with a friend and figuring out who knocked on the most doors! If you can’t or don’t feel like getting involved with a presidential campaign, find a local campaign you can join. This will give you such great hands-on experience, you can put it on your resume to showcase to jobs, and it will show you how local policies can impact the national level.
- Donate money
Running campaigns are super costly—especially when it’s a grassroots campaign. Even if you’re a broke college student sacrificing your daily cup of coffee for the week in order to give to a campaign, you’re already making a difference. If we want campaigns to be people-powered, we need them to be people-funded. Donating just $1, $5, or $10 is a great start to being politically engaged without having to sacrifice time away from school and work.
- Have the tough conversations
In politics, there’s a term called “third rail politics,” or issues that are “untouchable,” like social security. I’m sure for many of us, this is similar to talking about politics at the family dinner table. In order to move our country forward, it’s really important to have open dialogue and create discourse in environments where we feel comfortable doing so. If you’re able to talk to friends and family about issues that are important—this is a crucial and impressive way to politically engage yourself and others. Discussing politics is so important that it extends past just family or friends and could even be talked about it in public spaces like your classes. Despite your initial thoughts to avoid these touchy subjects, they will inevitably expand your perspective. Even if you don’t agree politically, creating the space for conversations opens up the opportunity to find common ground. Believe it or not, we have a lot more in common than you may think. Try talking to a friend, a relative, or a classmate and see for yourself!
- Attend town/city hall meetings
Itching to see democracy in action? Find out when your town/city hall meetings take place and sit in on a session. You can listen to your local representatives speak about legislation they’re introducing and the issues that are important to them and your community. This is another great way to see how the local level can inform the national level of government. Don’t like how the local police handle your off-campus parties? Try to listen to how they affect the neighborhood’s residents and they might offer you some insight. Don’t think your campus’ surrounding city settles parking ticket disputes fairly? You might find some well-deserved answers within that city hall session.
- Spread information on your social platforms
Social media is a powerful tool that allows us to access a plethora of information every single day. With all those people that like your tweets and view your Instagram stories, it’s a no brainer that you should use your platform to spread awareness about the issues that matter to you! It takes only a few seconds and you can reach hundreds, or even thousands, of people depending on what you’re talking about. This is a great way to share the information you’re learning while taking a stance and educating others. Utilizing your platform can encourage other people to pay attention to the election and also create space for dialogue—so make sure your DMs are open!
- Join clubs on campus
If you’re interested in exploring this election further but want to do it alone, try joining a club or organization on campus that can help to politically inform you. This can be your school’s clubs for presidential candidates, political parties, or even ones related to issues you care about — like climate justice. These are great spaces to meet other students that have interest in these issues or causes and a way to learn more about them.
- Find local protests and marches
When you don’t have consistent time or money to spend, joining your local protest or march every now and then can be a great way to stay engaged, meet like-minded people, and let your voice be heard. Protests and marches are great because they can be on any and all issues that are local or national. They allow you to be loud for your most passionate causes and make you feel powerful among the masses.
- Encourage someone to run
If we want to see more representation in positions of power, that starts with encouraging the people around us to run. Whether it’s for class president, club president, city council, or state representative—think about the people in your life that you think would be great candidates and should run. There are fantastic organizations like She Should Run and Emerge that help women looking to run for office – you can even nominate yourself!
This 2020 election cycle requires your undivided attention. That includes voting and donating your time, money, or knowledge. Just know that there are so many ways you can get politically involved on a scale that feels manageable for you.