In 2016, Michigan’s congressional districts were among the most gerrymandered in the country, heavily favoring Republicans despite Democrats winning equal or more votes in local races. Frustrated, a group of Michigan voters with no political experience connected via Facebook to create a grassroots anti-gerrymandering campaign called Voters Not Politicians, collecting over 400,000 signatures in support of a ballot measure to redistrict the state. In November 2018, 61 percent of voters cast their ballot to support the creation of an independent citizens redistricting commission. “In Michigan, now we have the benefit of more competitive districts because we ended gerrymandering,” says Nancy Wang, the executive director of Voters Not Politicians.
In the case of Voters Not Politicians, their strategy was to demand a fairer system and to hold the powers that be to task for changing that system. Average citizens identified a problem and worked together to institute a change — and you can, too. While the political landscape can look dire, constituents shouldn’t feel powerless. “You actually have a lot of power,” Wang says. “Especially now, it’s people banding together. That’s how we change the system so it works for voters again.” A crucial aspect of our fragile democracy is to make our voices heard, both in times when the public is focused on core issues and when lawmakers are under less scrutiny.
Who to talk to
While national issues get a fair amount of media attention, your efforts will make the most impact on a local level.
Online tools like Find Your Legislator allow you to enter your address and will then display your legislators on the state and federal levels. Your town and state websites will have lists of representatives, the mayor, council and board members, and other elected officials.
For more context, read your local newspaper, including the editorial and op-ed pages, and follow coverage of your community, Wang says, to stay abreast of who’s championing what topic.
Getting on their radar
Securing time with a lawmaker doesn’t have to be mystifying. Their job is to connect with the people they represent. First, start with city council, county commission, school board, zoning, or other local legislative meetings, like town halls. If there is a public comment portion of the meeting, you’ll have a chance to speak up then.
Remember, elected officials are regular people outside of their roles and you should feel comfortable talking with them the same way you would communicate with a friend, Wang says. Keep the lines open and you’re likely to forge an ongoing conversation. “When something comes up that concerns you, or when they do something you approve or disapprove of, give the office a call, send an email, tag them in a post, slide in their DMs,” she says. Once you’re in regular contact with the lawmaker and their office, they may give you more direct means of communication with the elected official, like their personal phone number.
This story was originally published by Vox. Read more here: https://www.vox.com/even-better/23351674/hold-elected-officials-lawmakers-accountable-political-engagement