You Voted in the Midterms. Now What?

For a lot of us, including me, the midterm elections were the first general elections we were old enough to vote in. Whether or not you consider the midterms a true victory for progressives, I was still excited and proud to cast my vote. The next big election (Presidential) isn't until 2020, but until then, it's still important to stay politically engaged. Voting is crucial, but we shouldn't forget all about politics until the next race. So what can you do to stay involved?

1. Know Who Your Representatives Are and How to Contact Them

Each state has 2 U.S. Senators and various members of the House of Representatives (proportionate to that state's population). These people work for you, so it’s important to know how to make your voice heard. If you don’t know who your Senators are, that’s easy - all you have to do is look up who the Senators are for your state. Finding your Representative is a little trickier, since states are divided up into congressional districts, and a lot of people don’t know the number of their district. Luckily, the House website has a service where you can find your Rep by entering your zip code.

If there’s a problem with a policy that you feel strongly about, it’s always a good idea to contact the people who have the power to influence it. The best way to do this is definitely to pick up the phone and call one of their offices. Even though there are a bajillion memes about hating to talk on the phone - and trust me, I can relate - sending an email just isn’t as effective in this case. When you call your representative, you’ll end up talking to one of their staff members, who is responsible for tallying how many people call about a particular issue. If a large number of people call about it, more pressure is put on the lawmaker to do something - after all, most of them are aiming to get re-elected and to do that they need to keep potential voters happy. It's way, way easier to ignore an inbox full of emails than an office full of ringing phones.

If the idea of making that call freaks you out, a really good resource is 5calls.org. It lists a whole bunch of problems and will give you the people you need to call about it, as well as a script to use if you don’t know what to say (though it’s best to personalize these as much as possible). I promise, calling your representative is easier than it may sound. All you have to do is say that you’re a constituent who has this opinion on whatever. The staff member will ask for your address so they can make sure you actually are a constituent, that is, that you’re a voter in their state if they’re a Senator, or their district if they’re a Representative. So make sure to call based on where you’re registered to vote - for example, I may live in South Carolina right now, but I’m registered to vote in North Carolina (and if you’re not registered to vote at all, get on it!) Calling usually only takes a minute or two, which is good for all us busy (and lazy) college students. So pause your 5th Vine compilation of the day, swallow your nerves, and pick up the phone!

2. Try Not to Fall for Fake News        

I think we’ve all heard the term “fake news” so much so that it’s almost a joke, but it really is a problem. As we scroll throughout Facebook feeds, we’re bombarded by links and photos and memes about current events - but too many of these news stories are either made up entirely or wildly misinterpreted. Fake news is often right-wing, such as this fake photograph of President Trump rescuing someone from flood waters, which was originally posted after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, but I also saw circulating after Hurricane Florence just this year. We shouldn’t forget that fake news targets liberals, too, such as this story about police burning down the camps of Dakota Access Pipeline protesters. Either way, fake news spreads misinformation, paranoia, and confusion, which are all things that make it harder for our democracy to function. Falling for lies can seriously skew your perception of the world, and make you look way less credible. So before you trust that shocking headline you see on Twitter, make sure and check where it’s coming from. Snopes is super useful when it comes to debunking hoaxes, so when I see something questionable, that’s usually the first place I look. And don’t be afraid to politely let someone know if they’ve shared something that isn’t real - the only way to stop the spread of misinformation is to educate others about it.

3. Support Good Causes

Most of us don’t have the resources or time to start our own nonprofits and charities, but luckily, there are others who already have! The organizations who are working to create social and political change can’t do it alone, so consider volunteering for and donating to worthwhile causes. There are many websites dedicated to finding which nonprofits are worth your time, such as Charity Navigator, which rates charities based on how transparent they are about their finances, and just what all those finances are going towards. It also lets you browse by category, so you can find an issue that’s important to you - environmental protection, civil rights, disaster relief, etc - and see what charities are the most trustworthy.

4. Attend Demonstrations and Protests

Public protest has always been key to the biggest movements in our country, and in the past couple years, we’ve seen massive demonstrations like the Women’s March on Washington and the March For Our Lives. Whether it’s a march or something more subdued, like a candlelight vigil, public displays are a good way to show support for and call attention to a cause, so don’t be afraid to participate. However, it is important to be informed and reasonable before you do. Make sure that you actually know the purpose of the event you’re attending, and that you’re not there just to be part of a mob. And although the First Amendment protects our right to peaceful protest, that doesn’t mean there aren’t restrictions - do your homework and make sure the protest is taking place on public property, whether the organization has any history of violence, and whether they have obtained a permit if they need one.

Above all, stay safe. Sometimes things can get ugly, so never get into altercations with counter-protestors or police, and if things do start escalating, leave as soon as possible. Nothing good comes out of creating a dangerous situation, and it won’t help the cause’s public image at all. Before attending a demonstration, check out the ACLU for a lot more information about knowing and protecting your rights.

5. Don’t Forget to Be Involved Locally

Politics isn’t just something that happens at the national level. It’s possible for us to make big impacts in our own communities, too. If you’d like to see something change in your state, county, or city, this site will help you find your elected officials on multiple levels. But don’t just wait for politicians. As valuable as democracy is, it can be a slow process, so even as we push for legislative change, it’s important to do hands-on work in your community, too. Find ways to volunteer for schools, homeless shelters, food pantries, or anything else you’re passionate about. Political problems are huge and widespread, and finding ways to take them on may seem daunting - but we can all do something to improve our own corner of the world.