by Emily Stetson
CDM Communications Director
The January 21st Women’s Marches across the world drew in unprecedented numbers of people, including approximately 500 thousand in Washington, D.C. and 125 thousand in our very own Boston. After what is shaping up to be one of the biggest protests in history, many are wondering; what comes next? How can we capitalize on the momentum that this event has started, and how can we translate that energy into effective change? The following suggestions are just a few of the ways that I think we can follow up on the Women’s March in the following days and moving forward.
Contact Your Legislators
I know what you’re thinking, but it really does work. As the old saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If we want our representatives to vote in a certain way, we need to put pressure on them to do so. Whether it’s a matter of being the loudest voice in the room, or scaring the legislator about their next re-election campaign, being present and attentive alone could be enough to convince a legislator to change their mind or make a worthwhile stand.
This whole process doesn’t have to be mundane as sitting down and blocking off time to poke numbers into a phone or write. If your time permits it, get some friends together, grab some food, and have a letter-writing or calling party. You can also write up a petition and pass it along to your peers.
- Find your legislators in the Massachusetts General Court using the malegislature.gov “Find My Legislator” search engine.
- Find various congressional representatives, their party affiliation, their office contact information, and their committees in this Directory of Representatives. Alternatively, you can find your own representative with this search tool.
- Find your U.S. Senator’s contact information in the Senate Directory, or search Senators by their committee assignments.
Get Involved Locally
Civic participation can be rough as a student if you’re attending a university in a different area than your permanent address. Voting means having to travel home on a school day, going through the tedious process of obtaining an absentee ballot, or re-registering to vote in a community that might even see your vote, as a short-term resident, as obtrusive. However, our voices as students are unique and necessary to propel politics forward. Whether you plan on voting in the community or not, the following might help increase understanding of and trust within the community at which your school is located.
- Hold a voter registration drive for students and/or community members
- Attend a town meeting or city council meeting
- Read the local news to find out what issues matter to residents
- Volunteer at a local non-profit
Support a Nonprofit
This one’s a little rough for us as college students; financial support isn’t necessarily something many of us can readily provide; but our support is essential. Non-profits and community organizations are the institutions that are keeping in tune with the voices of the community. Sometimes interning or helping out with a local campaign run by a community organization will help you learn more about the political system than working for a local politician. There are a number of things we can do to support those non-profits and other organizations which work within the issues we care about the most.
- Follow them on Social Media: Stay up to date with an organization’s issues and events by liking them on Facebook, following them on Twitter, or signing up for their e-mail list if they have one. If there’s any news that you can share within your own networks, the organization could benefit from you sharing it.
- Apply for an Internship: If you happen to be looking for an internship, working at one of the organizations you support could provide you with an opportunity to engage in their work and gain experience within the nonprofit field.
- Write a letter of support: When you write to or call your legislators, mention those organizations that are working on the issues you care about. The name recognition and repetition will resonate in the form of awareness.
Have a Conversation with Someone You Disagree With
Especially in the state of Massachusetts, a Democrat to talk to about policies or social issues isn’t hard to come by. But we’re not doing ourselves any favors by only talking to people we agree with. For the sake of spreading and evolving our message, and for understanding those we disagree with, we need to engage dissent; both outside of, and within the party.
Of course, this all has to happen in a respectful forum. Too often, I’ve seen peers and family get riled up online, fighting over political issues. Maybe avoiding online politics is futile, but engaging dissent in person, in many cases, protects from misunderstandings of tone and fosters an environment more conducive to a productive discussion. Even in my own discussions, I’ve found my worldview evolving simply because I never thought of something in a particular way.
This said, I’d also add that respect is a two-way street; in no way could I ever expect someone to engage, or continue to engage in a conversation with someone who did not return the same regard, or made them feel unsafe to any degree. Nor do I expect anyone to attempt to justify blatant disregard for human and civil rights as a difference of opinion.
Run for Office
So called “millennials” have become the largest living demographic eligible to vote in the United States, and currently match the Baby Boomers in size of our electorate (Fry, Pew Research Center). It’s clear that we have some serious voting power if we start using it, but why stop there?
The best way to ensure the change that we want to see comes to fruition is by making it ourselves. By running for office, we can change the representation in our governments to accurately reflect and advocate for those issues that affect us as students.
Still not sure running for office is for you? Consider working with or volunteering for a young elected or young candidate. Just some of the young incumbents in Massachusetts include:
- State Representative Jack Patrick Lewis (7th Middlesex District)
- State Representative Natalie Higgins (4th Worcester District)
- State Representative Solomon Goldstein-Rose (3rd Hampshire District)
- State Senator Julian Cyr (Cape and Islands)
- State Senator Eric Lesser (1st Hampden and Hampshire District)
Some candidates currently running for office include:
There are many more whom I could list that haven’t crossed my mind just yet, but all of these individuals have demonstrated tenacity and success as young electeds and candidates. You could be one too.
Commit to Listening
It’s not enough for everyone to just have a seat at the table; it’s imperative that everyone has a voice as well.
A lot of these suggestions, while well-meaning, do assume a place of privilege. For example, taking an unpaid internship is often out of the cards without having the socioeconomic foundation to support it. Openly engaging in a face-to-face discourse with opposing views may feel more unsafe, or cause more undue anxiety, to one person than it may for another. There’s probably a host of other scenarios or conditions I could list, and probably some that haven’t even crossed my mind. But even if these contexts prevent people from sharing their opinions in certain arenas, they still have them, and those views matter. Therefore, it’s up to us to individually commit to empowering each other under our own respective terms. Rather than just stepping up, and stepping back, let’s emphasize on actively listening.
Be outspoken; but remember to open those spaces for other identities as well. None of these tactics can work if we don’t.