The 2016 election was the year of insurgent candidacies. The campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump electrified large swaths of voters that had historically not been very involved in politics.
Yet, the inspiration and interest that these campaigns generated risks being wasted before it even has a chance to make a mark on the political process.
Traditionally, as the new president is sworn in, the public’s attention to and interest in politics is falls dramatically. Presidential campaigns seem to be the only thing that the public takes notice of. Meanwhile, midterm election turnout is the lowest it’s been in over half a century.
However, voter turnout is not the only problem with American political participation. In fact, voting is probably the most a majority of Americans involve themselves in the political process, and therein lies the problem. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
While this problem may be as old as America, it should not be one that continues to plague the country. With confidence in the government and democracy in general at concerningly low levels, (40 percent of Americans said they have lost faith in Democracy according to a 2016 poll), the only way public confidence can be salvaged is if citizens do more than just vote. This can take numerous forms, and even if you’re short on time you can help.
Writing a letter or making a phone call about an issue you care about to your representatives can go a long way. This can help them get a sense of what their constituents feel about the issues and better advise their vote. It’s very important to express your displeasure with your representatives; they will reconsider even their most entrenched positions if they face a wave of phone calls from angry constituents. However, even if you already agree with their position it’s important they hear people that are in agreement and not just dissenters.
Local government like the Purcellville Town Council and Loudoun Board of Supervisors can enact the most visible changes in day to day life, like approving a new shopping center or road that will make your commute easier. Attending these local meetings can empower the average citizen and let them take a more active role in the government.
Another effective way the average citizen can get involved is joining a protest or political movement. There are already encouraging signs; planned movements like the Women’s March and the March for Life have attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters and demonstrators, and drawn attention to their causes. In addition, spontaneous protests that have sprung up across the country in response to the recent executive actions have put government officials and lawmakers on notice.
Real change does not come from the ballot box. It comes from being active and standing up for what you believe. It only takes one person to start a movement. As the famous cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
This article first appeared in our October issue of our news magazine.