Politics are like the weather—people like to complain a lot, but they hardly ever do anything about it! Luckily, politics is slightly easier to change, though it definitely takes longer to see those changes (Here in Utah, we say that if you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes!). Sometimes the pace of political change can seem glacial, but when enough people get behind an important idea, change can come with remarkable speed. Here are a few principles to help jumpstart your political activism:
Your government representatives work for YOU. So when you speak, they want to listen! Your support and vote are important to them. Don’t be shy about approaching them with issues that are important to you.
You are not alone in trying to get your representative’s ear. Each Congressperson currently represents about 711,000 people and each US Senator represents from 563,626 to 37,253,956 people. They can’t personally meet with everyone, but luckily, not everyone is trying to meet with them. Just by making an effort you improve your chances!
Your representatives have staff. Use them! Representative track lots of issues and delegate them to employees for day-to-day monitoring. In many cases, the subordinates may know the problems you are dealing with better than their boss, and they have the boss’ ear, even after you go back to work. Staff members can be your best friend or your worst enemy, so treat them right.
Your representatives are BUSY, so be respectful of their time. Get straight to the point and tell them what you would like them to help with, and how.
Understand the process and be informed. It won’t help your credibility if what you are asking for is impossible, or was soundly defeated three weeks ago. If you understand the lawmaking process, you can better contribute to the discussion.
Every bill is assigned to a committee for initial screening. Work with members on the appropriate committees to make sure your bill gets early traction.
Get bi-partisan support. If your bill or issue appeals only to one party, then its chances of success are minimal. Influential members of both parties will help your issue get serious consideration.
Representatives have differing priorities and objectives. Not every representative may be aware of your issue, and they may be fighting other battles so they may not want to lead out on your topic. Still, if you can find an ally elsewhere to carry the ball, you can at least get your representative to vote in favor of your pet project when it comes up.
Some representatives may just see things differently from you. That’s okay. You don’t have to win all of the votes to your side— only the majority. Treat other views with respect, even if they disagree, because you may yet need their vote on another issue. This is a good rule for life in general, even though it runs counter to the current polarized style of national discourse.
You are not the only person interested in your issue. Organize with others to multiply your voice and make it heard! The more you educate people, the better your chances of success!
Representatives can do more than just make laws. Sometimes a Congressional press conference, letter, subpoena, or hearing can be all that is needed to change the course of public policy. Be creative!
Be persistent. Few legislative successes come easily or quickly. Keep after it until you succeed.
Although these principles are written with an eye toward Washington DC, they also apply to state and local issues right up to the United Nations. Remember the old adage—all politics is local. Representatives listen most to the people they represent, so local connections are always the key to getting things done. Getting your neighbors involved with you on a cause you believe in can be both fun and rewarding and can help make your world a better place.
Finally, don’t limit yourself to thinking locally. Involve friends you meet from other places too! They can work on their representatives, whether they live across town or around the world.
Armed with these simple ideas, you can do a lot! Whether you want to help bring about world peace or save Franklin’s bumblebee (or both!), you stand a much better chance if you work smart! I hope this helps, and I hope to see you on the Hill - you will find me there advocating in just these ways for the supplement industry!