I heard someone recently describe this last election by saying, “The whole time it was happening I just wished it would end, but now that it’s over I wish to go back to before it ended because now we must face the result.” After a rollercoaster of an election which began as humorous and devolved into ballistic, Donald Trump is going to become the next president of the United States. There was an aura of hopelessness felt on the morning of November 9th. Many of us were emotionally invested when it came to an end, regardless of who we supported. Many have channeled their feelings into action, and it is still too early to know what the long-term impacts of this election will be. There still exists a sense of worry across the political spectrum though, as we are entering uncharted territory with an unconventional and even dangerous President. While this isn’t a “Top 10 Ways to Impeach Your President” article, it is a guide to what you, as an average citizen, can do to influence policy, and will naturally be skewed towards those upset with the election’s results.
The phrase “time is money” was initially extolled upon humanity by philosopher and businessman Eugene Krabs, as he violently berated his gentle laborers, Patrick and SpongeBob. It rings painfully true in the political world, as the simplest methods of enacting change are volunteering one’s own time and donating one’s own money. This creates a problem in which those who control the most money often have the most influence over politics. Especially with money, donating large sums either to aid politicians or to promote a certain interest group can help to protect one’s personal interests. Oftentimes these interests benefit big businesses, such as in the tobacco or dairy industries, at the expense of the public, and it is for these reasons that the term “interest group” has a negative connotation. However, it is a vital aspect of citizen involvement in the political process as it allows for groups of unprivileged people to pool together their resources and fight for what they care about. Their interests may conflict with the interests of the mega-wealthy, and so being able to bear the burden together is essential. Therein lies another issue: potential members of interest groups may need incentives if they are to join, and if no one is willing to put forth resources or take on organizational duties then the group won’t be successful. One of the beautiful things about being a college student is being surrounded by many other passionate, resourceful students who are attempting to lay the groundwork for their futures. This consolidation of devotion will go beyond a single campus, as universities across the nation create a large network of students who have incentives in that their activities in college will be used to judge their merits upon graduating (in addition to the more altruistic fervor they feel regarding certain issues). Humans are extremely self-interested, and so the fact that joining an activist club on campus will benefit both the collective and the individual makes it a great opportunity to enact change. Individuals benefit if they’re more heavily involved as it gives them a more impressive resume, and the collective benefits from heavy involvement due to their interests being fought for. It’s a win-win that isn’t available for many grown adults, even if they feel as strongly as students do. Find a group that fights for something you care about and get in on the action. There are many other larger interest groups that fight on behalf of the citizens, mainly defending human rights and collective goods (e.g. healthy environment, stable economy). Volunteering time and money isn’t something everyone can do, but if you can there are many groups which would openly embrace you.
While it still requires a group to be effective, reaching out to members of Congress is another method of influencing policy. Again, the roots of this aren’t beautiful, as a politician’s main objective is almost always to get reelected. They need popular support in order to do that, and thus they’re inclined to listen to the people who are voting in their district. The problem again arises when wealthier interest groups back a politician who will enact policy that benefits them, as getting exposure and funding is a huge part of winning an election. When comparing this to the people, it’s more difficult because of how college students come from all over the country, and it won’t be as easy to connect with those from their hometown as it will be with those here in Boston. The key here becomes reading up on the representatives and senators from the state which you vote in and educating yourself on the contentious issues that divide your state. Being able to mobilize people to advocate for one side or the other may be enough to make up a politician’s mind as they are keeping their own interests at the forefront of their decision making. Understand that they do care about you, and you are the one who controls if they get hired or not. It’s also important to differentiate between the politicians who you’re writing to. For example, senators act as a representative of their state on national issues, whereas representatives in the House have closer ties to their constituents and to local-level issues. There are also governors who almost solely act upon what is best for their respective state. Research into the specific person you’re writing to and attempt to formulate a compelling stance that they might already have other incentives to lean towards, in addition to pushes from the people.
Beyond that, there are many small ways a citizen can keep up with the political process and ensure that their voice is heard, even if it isn’t the loudest one. Make sure that you’re registered to vote and that you’re active and engaged not just with the presidential, but also the mid-term elections. Read up on the candidates and their stances and find issues that are contentious so you can fight for them and fight for the politician who supports them. Voting with a certain party isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as party identification gives you a broad and reasonable understanding of what a candidate may stand for. At the very least make sure to brush up on the partisan issues and vote for the party that represents your beliefs (though researching candidates in-depth never hurts). Keep up with what’s going on in Congress by paying attention to bills that are proposed and passed. It’s important to remember that government is created so it can check itself and so that no individual or branch even is able to run rogue, pursuing its own agenda. The president is viewed as extremely powerful, and there are many tangible things they can do, but much of their power exists within a cycle where they are able to influence public opinion greatly, and then the public elects members of Congress who align themselves with the president’s views, creating unified government. The situation seems bleak for many due to the current unified government. But everything is temporary, and keeping in mind that large groups are able to influence the members of Congress is vital, as it allows us to remember that we still control so much of the policy that is created so long as we can work together to achieve it.