Some of the biggest battles over President Donald Trump's policies aren't being fought in the halls of Congress or the streets of Washington. They're being fought in city halls, state capitols, and individual neighborhoods across the United States.
Politics may play out most dramatically on a national scale, but it's felt most directly in the cities and towns where we all live from day to day.
So if you're having trouble getting through to the president or to your congresspeople, you should consider how you can affect change locally.
Here’s how you can leverage the power of local, grassroots organizing to make the place you live in better for everyone.
If you don’t know who your local officials are, USA.gov has a tool for finding out who represents you–including your state senators, state representatives, county executives, mayors, and other local officials–based on your address.
Once you know who your officials are, you can visit their websites. Many will have newsletters that will keep constituents informed about what they’re up to. The Indivisible Guide suggests taking it a step further and adding a Google Alert so you can get an email every time your representative is in the news.
Depending on where you live, there may be tools to help you learn more about what local officials are doing. The Ohio treasurer created OhioCheckBook.com so residents can track where every penny of the state’s budget is spent, and residents of California and New York–and soon Florida and Texas, too–can use the online tool Digital Democracy to quickly search testimony in state legislatures for issues or speakers they'd like to know more about.
Once you're informed about what what these people are doing, you can act.
One way to act if you don't like what you're seeing? Get in touch. The searchable USA.gov database includes the contact information–like phone numbers and local office addresses–for your elected officials.
If you’re wondering how you to get your local officials to notice you, the Indivisible Guide has a list of suggestions that were intended for communicating with members of Congress, but can apply in your local community, too. They include:
- Try to keep your requests simple: one issue per correspondence.
- Make sure you include a specific, actionable ask: "vote this way," "support this bill," etc.
- Consider going to local papers for coverage or with your opinion–local officials want good local press, especially when elections roll around.
Petitions can also be an effective way to get your mayor or city councilmember’s attention, and to show them how much an issue is affecting you and your neighbors. Change.org allows you to create, circulate, and promote petitions online. Their online guide suggests addressing petitions towards a specific person you can keep accountable, like your mayor, and pressuring them to see your requests through.
You’ve researched your local officials. Maybe you tried talking to them, but they still aren’t the change you wished to see in your town. Why not trying running for office yourself?
"Great idea," you're saying, "but, uh…how do I do that?" Luckily, there are groups out there that can help.
For example, Run For Something recruits young progressives to run for local elected positions like mayor, city council member, and state representative by reaching out and connecting them to organizations like Higher Heights—which focuses on developing black women leaders—and the Latino Victory Project. Some of the chosen members will even receive money and staff members to support their campaigns, especially candidates who would run in North Carolina or Virginia.
You probably know that the next big federal election is in 2018, but there are often other important local elections happening even sooner, like primaries, municipal elections, and ballot measures. MyTimeToVote helps users figure out when primary and other local elections will be happening, based on your location.
Once you know when you need to vote use and share Vote.gov to get yourself and others registered.
But candidates need more than your vote to succeed. Consider donating time or money to up-and-coming candidates who reflect your views.
Since the election, donations to national organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have surged. But it’s worth it to consider groups that work within your local community that may not have benefited from the national call to action.
If you have funds to spare, consider giving to local shelter services and food banks, schools, and libraries, as some tough times could be up ahead for these programs. Local groups that work with immigrants, at-risk youth, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and those that work on environmental causes may need your support now more than ever. If money’s tight, consider donating your time to the causes you believe in.
If nothing else is working, don’t be discouraged: your voice is needed now more than ever. Showing up to the hearings for bills that you take issue with is a powerful way to speak directly to the decision makers about how you feel. For instance, in Austin, Texas, hundreds lined up to give testimony during a hearing about SB 4, a bill that would punish sanctuary cities, and there are examples of that everywhere.
If this sounds intimidating, don't worry: you don't have to go it alone. In fact, you shouldn't. The Indivisible Guide suggests joining a local action group. Meetup.com also has a tool for finding social justice groups within your area. Joining a group can bring you closer to your community, increase the efficacy and reach of your message, and serve as a support system when times get tough. Of course, you should do your research into whatever group you're joining to see if it shares your values. Take a look at its leadership, its goals and its past actions and figure out if it's the kind of organization you want to be a part of.
Being in a group makes it easier to make a big statement when you hit the streets in protest. Just look at how much groups like the New York Immigrant Coalition were able to accomplish when they helped organize protests at JFK Airport in the wake of Trump's Muslim travel ban.
And local protest movements can also directly effect national policies. Take, for example, the Fight for $15 campaign. Back in 2012, it was just a group of two hundred fast food workers in New York City, organized by the SEIU, who walked off the job and into the streets demanding a raise and union benefits. The local government heard their demands. As a result, the minimum wage is slowly increasing every year, hitting $15 per hour for every New York City employee by 2020, and now the Fight for $15 has expanded to fight for higher wages around the country.
Aside from public acts of protest, you can also take advantage of your proximity to your representative to make your voice heard. You can organize concerned neighbors to go to the elected official’s office during open hours or for a scheduled meeting–or, if you just can’t get through the traditional way, you can crash a public meeting, appearance, or hearing the official is already attending.