The answer? A lot.
We live in a Democracy, which means every individual has a right to voice their opinion and to make their positions known. Going on the record for or against policies you agree or disagree with is fairly simple.
Take last weekend as an example. Tens of thousands of Americans gathered in hundreds of rallies and marches held all over the country to protest the unlawful detention of migrants and migrant children, and the cruel, inhumane separation of families at our borders. Here in D.C., hundreds, maybe even thousands, braved intense heat to make their voices heard.
Public protests are becoming more and more common in the era of Trump, which isn't surprising given the inhumane policies he promotes and endorses. As exciting as protests can be, not everyone who feels strongly about what the government is doing can march. That doesn't mean you can't participate in Democracy. There are so many ways to go on the record against government decisions you don't agree with. Here's one of them:
Write letters and make phone calls to your elected leaders. Better yet, do it with a group of friends.
That's exactly what I did last weekend when a neighbor and friend organized a letter-writing party for those in Silver Spring who couldn't make it to the rally. This party was both an action of solidarity with marchers and an act of resistance. Together, we wrote dozens of letters and post cards to elected leaders, including our governor, Members of Congress, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and others, calling for an end to family separation and the reunification of families that have been separation, among other things. It was easy, doing it with friends was fun, and we felt good knowing we were exercising our rights as citizens. Special thanks to Kefa Cafe for hosting our party and the Unofficial Handlettering Society of Silver Spring for donating pens, pencils, and post cards!
Doing this on your own, or hosting a party to amplify the number of voices heard, isn't hard and only requires minimal prep work. Keep scrolling for a how-to guide on making your voice heard!
Democracy doesn't just happen because some old guys a long time ago said it should happen. Keeping a democracy alive and well is an active process, and it involves staying informed. Our first amendment guarantees freedom of the press, and now, more than ever, it is important for Americans to value this right -- and use it. I get my news from a variety of sources, including but not limite to The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, Vox, and The Root. If you haven't already, consider subscribing to a newspaper... then READ it. On a budget? Check out public radio. It's free and every community has a local station.
Step 2: Identify the issue (or issues) you want to speak out on
Given how bananas things have become today, this shouldn't be difficult to do. In case you need help, here are some of the most pressing issues of the day:
- The government wrongly detaining and caging asylum seekers
- The government separating immigrant children from their parents
- Trump appointing a Supreme Court nominee
- The government using the First Amendment as a weapon against unions
- The government engaging in a trade war
- The government taking shots at affirmative action
- The government not taking Climate Change seriously and dismantling environmental protections
- The government allowing people with violent histories to have access to guns
You can also use the tool You Lobby to find specific issues that matter to you.
Step 3: Identify your elected leaders
Every citizen in the country is represented by a host of people, including (and not limited to) a state governor, two Senators, and a Congressman. Not sure who your elected leaders are? There are resources that can help, like this tool from the League of Women Voters or this one from Common Cause.
Step 4: Know what to ask for
This is the only step that can sometimes get tricky -- but fear not. The internet is here to help!
Once you've identified the issue or issues you want to speak out on, it is important to know what to ask for. Asks can be as specific as supporting or not supporting specific legislation, or, if the issue isn't legislative in nature, they can be as broad as requesting your elected leader make a commitment to a certain set of ideals. It is also important to remember that Members of Congress deal with policy at the federal level, while governors, mayors, city counselors, etc. focus on local issues -- so make sure your ask appropriately aligns with the office you're contacting.
There are a lot of tools that can help with this, such as Resistbot or You Lobby.
When it came to knowing what to ask for in terms of ending family separation and reuniting families, I simply did a google search and learned that all of my members of Congress had co-sponsored the Keeping Families Together Act, and that the best thing to ask for going forward (because it involves action my members of Congress can take) is defunding ICE and CBP, the agencies responsible detaining immigrants and separating families, respectively.
To help keep myself and friends on message, I wrote this script. You can use it, too:
Dear (insert elected leader's name here),
My name is Jonna (use your name) and I live in Silver Spring, Maryland. Family separation and the Trump Administration's zero-tolerance immigration policies are inhumane and must stop. Thank you for cosponsoring the Keeping Families Together Act, and for speaking out against this cruelty. Please vote no on any future spending bills unless they reduce funding for ICE.
Jonna (use your first and last names)
Now that you know who you're contacting and what you're asking for, it's time to write your letters or make your phone calls. This is the fun part, and it doesn't take a whole lot of time. As the example above shows, I was able to state my case and make my ask in a total of 5 sentences.
Send your letters to the offices of your elected leaders. (You'll need a stamp for this. Don't have a stamp? You might want to place a call instead).
That's it! With six simple steps, you, too, can participate in our Democracy.
Need more encouragement? Read what those who participated in Silver Spring's letter writing party have to say:
I decided to see on Facebook if anyone felt the same way and wanted to get together to express ourselves and advocate for change. Thankfully not only did some local friends feel the same way, but several out-of-town friends said they would also write.
I looked up some sample scripts for calls and letters on resistbot and 5calls.org to make writing the letters even easier. One friend brought postcards and fun pens, a another wrote the important information on large sheets of paper, and by the end of barely two and a half hours, we had 67 pieces of mail. It was so simple, two little girls even joined in to make sure Congress knew they wanted families reunited! The trickiest part was figuring out a good, age-appropriate explanation when they asked what we were doing.
Writing to our officials is important because we are ultimately their bosses. If we don't tell how we feel and what we want, how can we expect them to know? Like the saying goes, if you don't ask you don't get. All the mail gets counted and tallied so this makes sure they know. Plus, it shows that we cared enough to write.
To be honest, I'd like to do it again soon because there are always causes that need champions. I can't do everything, but I can see if friends are available. Stamps aren't that expensive. Plus, writing as a group was fun and reminded me that I'm not alone in wanting better for my country. I still hope to go to protests in the future, but I'm definitely going to keep writing.