By Rebecca Canright
America is experiencing some troubling political times right now, to say the least. Though the actions of our federal government may leave us feeling tempted to curl up in a fetal position and weep (I have been there myself), I am learning that we, as individuals, hold more power than we think. Acting together, we are a force capable of challenging the hatred, greed and ignorance that we are witnessing in our world. We truly can be the healing change we need right now. I have become fond of calling and writing letters to government officials to respectfully urge them to support environmental protection legislation (such as laws that would safeguard endangered species, our national parks and forests, and others that would increase renewable energy technologies like solar and wind power while decreasing our reliance upon fossil fuels).
I first want to acknowledge that not all human beings have the privilege to voice their opinions to their government. I respect and have much compassion for those who live in less-than-democratic nations where folks’ yearnings for change are oppressed. As someone who lives in the U.S. (which has innumerable government challenges and imperfections of its own), I am fortunate to be able to involve myself in political advocacy, and I want to support those who cannot do this however I can.
Advocating for meaningful change in the U.S. can be easier than you think. Calling your Senator or Member of Congress on the phone takes two minutes or less, and the receptionist who takes your message is trained to be friendly and helpful. Channel your inner activist! Putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone by trying new activities often leaves us feeling more confident and empowered. Here’s an example of what you can say: “Hello, I’m a constituent (and young person) asking the Senator to support land and water conservation and endangered species protection laws such as the Endangered Species Act. Can this message please be passed on to the Senator?” And don’t worry; if talking to a live person on the phone about a political issue sends you trembling under your bed covers, you can call after-hours, when no one is in the office, and leave a voice message.
Handwritten letters are even more effective at getting lawmakers’ attention. In this age of speedy, technology-oriented interaction, they demonstrate your commitment to speaking up about an issue that matters to you.
Imagine if everyone in the U.S. wrote one letter and made one phone call to their legislators, even just twice a month. What an engaged, politically-effective populace we would be!
Here is one more crucial, easy way to exercise your citizen power: vote! In these politically-charged times, both in America and throughout the democratic world, it is extra important to vote for the change we wish to see in the world, while also remaining realistic. For instance, though a candidate may have a few aspects that you don’t completely love, it’s still worth voting for them if, on the whole, they stand for compassion, honesty and justice for our Earth and fellow human beings. If you’re on the fence about voting, it might help to mull over the potential outcomes: hmm… would I rather accept this candidate’s human imperfections and vote for their positive qualities, or not vote at all and possibly witness their less competent, less compassionate opponent get elected and cause harm in our community?
It’s also helpful to imagine the best potential outcome: our preferred candidate gets elected! Surely in our enthusiasm we might consider contacting this person’s office regularly by phone, email or written letter to express our views and hopes on issues that matter to us. Any legislator worth their salt takes the suggestions of their constituents seriously. We voted them in, and we deserve to have our voices acknowledged.
If by now, you’re feeling peppy and zesty as a lemon about political engagement, I encourage you (if you live in the U.S. or in another country that welcomes citizen input) to take it a step further by paying your elected official(s) an in-person visit at their office. It’s simple enough to call ahead and schedule an appointment with their scheduler. Taking time from your busy life to meet with your legislator illustrates to them your deep care about your chosen issue. And do be sure to let them know that you appreciate their time commitment to hearing your perspective. It’s a great learning experience to express our hopes and concerns on, say, a local environmental issue that we would like to see addressed, or a current bill they will soon vote on that, if enacted, would benefit our community. If, after meeting with them, we learn that our legislator voted in support of our position, it’s a wise idea to call their office and thank them for their dedication to constituents like us, and it increases the likelihood that they’ll consider our views in future decision-making.
Meeting with legislators always helps me feel more confident and grounded in my strength as a young activist. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from letting our politicians know that we care and desire meaningful change.
My good friends, I encourage us all to not feel discouraged by the current state of our world. If we’re able to, getting active in our local government, in whatever form this takes for each of us, contributes to positive and visible change. Together we are returning the power to the people!
About the Author
Rebecca Canright is a 20-year old college student, studying Environmental Policy at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. As a lover of all plants and animals, she is passionate about protecting Earth’s ecosystems for generations to come. She aspires to use government as a force for good in the world, and believes that our current political situation demands activism. She hopes to contribute to the positive evolution of the system by working for an environmental nonprofit one day, or even perhaps serving in the government herself. She grew up on a small organic fruit and vegetable farm in New Jersey, and cherishes time spent gardening with her family. She also enjoys playing ukulele, reading, meditating and spending time outdoors with her animal friends (humans included).