We all know voting is important! Voting is how you choose your representatives in government and express your opinion on issues that matter to you. But there are other ways to participate in US democracy and make a difference too! Here are some ideas for how you can make a political difference in 2022.
About 159 million Americans voted in the 2020 election, more than 60% of our eligible voting population. But that means that a lot more of us can make 2022 the year we participate in our democracy by voting.
The first step is to register to vote! The website Vote.org is the place to go to register to vote in your state, and it can also help you find out the location of your polling place and the ability to vote early or by mail. Websites like Turbo Vote and Ballot Ready can also help you with registration and reminders about deadlines and election days. Remember that state and local elections may occur at times that are different from the national elections, so don’t wait: get yourself registered today!
But then the next step is to prepare to vote—by making sure you are educated and ready to vote for your best interests! Most of us don’t have the ability to spend hours researching each item or candidate on the ballot. The website We Vote has a cool feature where you first indicate your values (e.g., climate change, criminal justice reform) and follow public figures and organizations whose opinions you support. Then, the website shows your full ballot with a score that indicates how your preferred values/figures/organizations would suggest you vote. You can click on the ballot items to learn more about each, and ultimately the voting choice is up to you—but this is a neat way of combining your own values and the opinions of trusted others to help you vote with confidence!
Focus on state and local issues
The 10th Amendment of the US Constitution notes that all powers not expressly given to the federal government are reserved to the states. That means that states have a lot of power over important issues that affect you and your community on a daily basis—including policies that govern education, policing, health care, housing, employment, and transportation. The states even make the decisions for how elections are run! So it’s worth paying attention to your state, county, and local representatives—and focusing on the most important issues in your state and local community!
Know your government representatives: federal, state, county, and local!
Who represents you in government? Don’t feel badly if you don’t know the names of your state legislators or county commissioners—you’re not alone! According to a 2018 survey, only about 20% of Americans know the names of their state legislators. And yet, there’s a good chance your state and local representatives will be more accessible and will listen more to your voice than your federal representatives. So find out who represents you with My Reps, a simple one-stop website that tells you all of your government representatives with all of their contact information (websites, social media, email, phone number). With this information, you can reach out to your representatives—and also plan to attend town halls, school board meetings, and other events (which are often live-streamed if you can’t make them in person)—to make your voice heard!
Volunteer for the 2022 midterm elections
The 2022 midterm elections are coming up, with plenty of federal, state, and local races! There are many non-partisan organizations that focus on voter registration and voter education in local communities throughout the US. Check out the volunteer opportunities at the League of Women Voters (for men too!) and Rock the Vote, just to name a couple. Or, if you want to volunteer for your preferred political party, find opportunities through your local political office and party officers by checking out the Democratic and Republican party websites. And don’t wait until November 2022 to get involved! Many primary elections happen in the spring and determine who is on the ballot in November—so they matter too!
Learn about what matters to your community
What is it that your community needs? Talk to your neighbors and people in your community to find out what they care about! Challenge yourself in 2022 to widen your circle of friends and acquaintances and think about your community as “all of us” instead of “us versus them.” There are all sorts of books and resources out there about how we can listen better to each other and find areas of agreement and common concerns, like Talking Across the Divide, Beyond Your Bubble, and How to Have Impossible Conversations. More dialogue might be just what we need in 2022 to move forward together!
Think creatively to solve local problems
What could be done to help solve problems in your community? Think creatively! It’s amazing what locals working together can accomplish. For example, local restaurants are finding it hard to stay open due to the pandemic, while at the same time people are facing food insecurity and hunger. How about copying the model of Cooking for Community in Portland, Maine? This brilliant local partnership raises money to pay local restaurants to produce delicious meals for those in need. This idea started small, with an agreement between just two restaurants and a few social service organizations, and now it’s expanded to many restaurants, organizations, and even cities in Maine! This is the kind of impact that anyone can make happen, with some time and effort and passion. And what a difference it makes to the people involved!
Did you know that 26 states have some form of a state-wide ballot initiative, which is when citizens can propose new laws, changes to existing laws, or even repeals of existing laws, simply by collecting enough signatures to get on the ballot? These citizen-led ballot initiatives can make huge changes. For example, in 2015, a grassroots group of Maine voters delivered 70,000 signatures to get an initiative for ranked choice voting onto the November 2016 ballot. (Ranked choice voting promotes the election of moderate candidates that are supported by a majority—more than 50%—of the voters, by allowing voters to rank their choices and transfer their votes to alternate candidates if their first choice isn’t successful.) The initiative passed with 52% of the vote, paving the way for Maine to become the first state in the country to use ranked choice voting for state-wide elections! Check BallotPedia to see if your state has state-wide ballot initiatives, and if so, the details about the process. And if your state is not on the list, do not fear! Almost all states have a local form of ballot initiative, where citizens can propose changes to local laws. Time to start your petition!
Running for office
What about actually becoming a candidate yourself? You don’t have to move to Washington, D.C. to impact politics (although you can if you want to!)—there are so many opportunities to contribute as an elected official at the local and state level too! If this possibility interests you, why don’t you make 2022 the year that you get some training and resources to help you learn how to run a successful campaign? The National Council on Independent Living has put together a great list of resources for candidates who want to run for office, including resources specific to conservatives and progressives, as well as various demographics, such as differently abled, youth, women, and others. For women in particular, the elections of 2018 and 2020 saw record levels of women candidates running for office and getting elected, at both the state and federal levels! But we are still not at gender parity (50%), so let’s make 2022 another record-breaking year for women elected officials!
If you’d like to read more about how to make a political difference in 2022, check out some of these recommended books. But remember, don’t just read about making a difference—go out there and do something in 2022!
After You Vote: A Woman’s Guide to Making an Impact from Town Hall to Capitol Hill (2021), by Courtney Emerson
Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide (2020), by Tania Israel
The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind (2020), by Jonah Berger
Change Your World: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make a Difference (2021), by John C. Maxwell and Rob Hoskins
How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide (2019), by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay
Local Politics Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Making a Difference (2020), by Richard J. Meagher
Jocelyn Sage Mitchell is a political researcher, speaker, and author. Find out more about her work on her website, jocelynsagemitchell.com!