Everything that we touch, eat, do, wear, and buy is directly impacted by politics. As the saying goes, "the person is political." Where we live, how we talk, what we have access to, and even what our cities look like are a direct result of political actions. Which is why parents can, and should, get involved in local politics to help their children thrive. Because, just like us, how our children will live and enjoy their lives is directly impacted by their government, too.
While it's important to vote, making your way to the ballot box isn't the only way to be politically active. Direct action and civic engagement can take many forms, and you can participate in the politics of your community 365 days a year. And while it's the "big elections" that usually receive the most attention (like the upcoming 2020 presidential election, for example, or the unprecedented 2018 midterms), getting and staying involved in local government can lead to progress in ways that start as a ripple and evolve into waves of change; a change that everyone, including people outside your community, can benefit from.
As parents, getting involved in local government can even impact our child’s lives for the better. Sure, it's not always easy to stay politically active when you're caring for a child or children, but it's vital that, as parents, we remain politically vigilant to ensure that our children will have access to the future we know they deserve.
1. Learn About Your Local Representatives
If you visit the official website for the U.S. House of Representatives, you’ll find a section where you can enter your zip code and learn who your local representatives are and how you can reach them.
Once you enter your zip code and find out who your representative is, you can go to their official website and learn about their background, main causes, political views, current projects, and more. Knowing your local representatives by name can help you keep trace the things going on in your town to the person or committee making them happen. It can also help you learn who to contact when you want to encourage them to change something.
2. Attend City Council Meetings
Look into your area’s city council and find out when they have open or public meetings!
If you live in a small town, there’s a chance those types of local legislative bodies may be called a town board or town council. Either way, at those meetings you can find out what is going on in your area. Local issues related to things like transportation, zoning, and businesses are just a few of the topics covered at these meetings, and sometimes there are votes for change or ongoing conversations about policy that you can participate in.
When it comes to our kids, committees for things like education, parks and recreation, and youth safety offer a way to get involved with the decisions made in and for your area. Maybe try to channel your inner Leslie Knope and help start a new park!
3. Join Your Local Community Board
My local community board is overseen by a District Manager, who is incredibly transparent about how important it is for people to get involved in their communities. In a message to the community, he said that while it is his goal to make our community a better place to live, it is impossible for him to know what happens “within the entire district 24-hours a day and report it to the appropriate City agency.” He encourages people to “inspect and report any need of municipal service where you live or work” by getting in contact with the appropriate people, departments, and representatives in your area.
The great thing about local community boards is that they are generally made up of other residents (like you!) who just want to help their community. Public board membership and work is almost always on a volunteer basis, so it’s really intended for people who have a passion for direct action and genuinely want to help make a difference. By joining your local community board, you can be a voice for your child (and young people in general!) and help be a part of policy and legislative change in your community.
4. Look Into Participatory Budgeting Initiatives In Your Area
As an undergrad, I was a part of a Participatory Budgeting (PB) initiative and helped educate my fellow students about the movement. Basically, PB is a way to empower people to choose how public funds are spent in their area. Community members vote on projects that other community members propose.
In my district, community members voted to fund a new courtyard renovation at a middle school, a renovation to an elementary school gymnasium, a certificate of technical education nursing program renovation at a school, and a project that will provide a local historical site with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access. Our local representative said “these projects will give our students the opportunity to become more physically active and live a healthier way of life.” Who knows what PB projects are being proposed in your area! Maybe you’ll even be inspired to come up with a proposal yourself!
5. Donate To Local Organizations Doing Work You Believe In
If you can afford it, help fund efforts you believe in by donating to local organizations. More often than not, there are already groups of people doing the work, and any dollar amount will help them continue to provide for their communities.
When trying to find a local organization, I suggest using Google and inputing search terms like “health equity K-12 organizations in my area” or “education justice activist groups near me” to get started. Smaller organizations rely on donations to survive, so if you have the funds to spare, consider helping them with your pocketbook.
6. Volunteer for Local Organizations Doing Work You Believe In
If you have the time, energy, and ability, there are so many local organizations with close ties to government that need your help, too. Find out what organizations near you are looking for volunteers and consider becoming one! The possibilities are endless, and if you have the drive and the purpose to help with an important political mission, volunteering is a great way to get involved.
Some places are even open to people volunteering as little as an hour a week, or have options to volunteer with digital projects and other types of remote work.
7. Tell Your Representatives About Causes You Care About
You can email or call your local representatives by finding out their direct phone numbers or email addresses. Of course, many are also active on social media and can be contacted that way. I’ve spoke with multiple local representatives via Instagram and Twitter, for example. In some cases, they have office hours in local government buildings or rented office space that you can visit.
However you choose to contact them, though, getting in touch with a local representative is really important. You never know the power your words could have, especially when it comes time for them to enact policy or vote for a bill that could impact you and your family. This artist and activist even made a helpful infographic you can use for guidance if you have social anxiety but still want to call representatives. Give it a try!