How to be an Active Citizen After the Elections

As most things during 2020, the presidential election was definitely an unforgettable and unique event. With over 140 million casted votes, this election broke turnout and vote-by-mail records. As well, it revealed the intense organizing efforts that happened for such a large turnout. The new president-elect, Joe Biden, can thank the efforts of Black--specifically women--organizers that helped motivate citizens to vote in key areas, despite active voter suppression within their communities. Without the labor and effort of Black women organizers, the election could have gone a different route. As well, the youth vote was incredibly powerful during this election. Seeing a surge from the last election, young voters were also a key factor for Joe Biden’s win.

For many, this election was an opportunity to steer the state of the country towards a different direction. Many were motivated by the current state of affairs within the U.S, including the COVID-19 pandemic, major national protests about racial inequality and high unemployment rates. Despite the ability to use your voice through elections and the impressive amount of people that utilized this tool, it’s important to note that activism doesn’t stop here. Voting is only one tactic that people in the U.S can use to change the current conditions we live under.

Also, many of the issues that Americans deal with affect people who don’t have the right to vote. Immigrants, ex-incarcerated people, and minors are just some of the people who are affected by policies that concern them, yet they cannot vote on these matters. As voting advocacy and voter education increases, we must remember that the work for our community and members who cannot vote must extend outside of the electoral arena. Here are some ways you can do work beyond elections or after they have passed.

  1. 1. Get creative

    Oftentimes, the most effective forms of bringing about change in your community rely on direct actions you can take right now. Whether it be helping houseless folks in your area with care packages or writing letters to incarcerated folks, there are countless amounts of action opportunities to take and that need to be done right now! While we may think about protesting or contacting senators as the only routes of activism, small actions that impact your community can have quicker and more direct effects on the material conditions of the people around you. All you need to do is brainstorm and get creative with the ways you choose to help out. Try to see the issues that surround you and how you can think of direct ways of aiding those affected by them.

  2. 2. Join organizations

    Whenever I get the chance to, I’m always recommending people who care about social justice to join local organizations. While it might seem that you have to start your own group for issues that you are passionate about, there is almost always an organization that already exists and has experience doing the work you want to do within your community. These local organizations often have wisdom and knowledge on topics ranging from environmental justice, immigration reform, criminal justice and much more. While not all organizations may be a fit, you can get information or volunteer with them to see what they’re about and how their goals align with your own. This is important to get a feel for the actions they’re involved with and see if you’re comfortable working with the members.

    If you’re looking for a Florida based organization, I highly recommend checking out your local chapter of Dream Defenders. Located in various cities across the state, Dream Defenders is an organization focused on racial and social equality for marginalized communities that have led campaigns centered around the election of progressive candidates and the restoration of felons’ right to vote. Not only have they focused on these things, but they host political education workshops, food and clothing drives, and fundraising events.

  3. 3. Raise awareness

    You don’t have to wait every four years for an election to voice your opinion on what matters to you the most. On a day to day basis, you can use your conversations, whether it be in person or through social media, to bring awareness to issues that are happening right now. While it may be uncomfortable at first, it can definitely help open up conversations that never would have happened if you didn’t take the plunge. Many times, people are willing to talk if they feel invited to the conversation and you can reach a mutual understanding on many topics. You can also raise awareness through petitions, which have become more accessible for folks to organize around and show support on a specific issue.

  4. 4. Self-care

    While this may seem like a point that isn’t activism, self-care is definitely necessary for everyone committed to social change. While we may feel that we can take on the world, it’s important to remember to check in with our mental and physical well-being. We often tend to throw these things onto the back burner when dealing with community efforts and change. It’s important to be able to step back and gather ourselves when doing this work, which is often very demanding. Hydrate, pause and disconnect whenever necessary, in order to preserve your own well-being. When we take care of our own health, we can be a greater tool for others.

While this is definitely not an all-encompassing list, this is a guide for how to begin to shift away from voting as our sole tool within activism. Remember to find out different strategies that work for you and how you can be a better tool for social change. There is never a one-size-fits-all way of being an activist. We all have something unique to offer and there are so many different ways to help out in our communities.