How To Stay Politically Engaged After The Election
Beyond The Ballot Box
When I heard the clank of the ballot box close, I felt a wave of relief. Voting, which had been lingering at the back of my mind for months, was finally done. I rubbed my hands together, symbolically washing them of all the tense conversations I’d had and social media scrolling I’d done, as if all of it had been enough. Looking back, it could always be better.
But now that November is done, we’re moving into the next season and a new administration. Maybe our local government has a bunch of fresh faces, or maybe it’s remained under the same officials we’ve had our entire lives. No matter what, it’s not enough to cast our ballots and leave the rest up to chance, like our government is nothing but a dice roll. We still have influence and a responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable.
So, what does it look like to stay politically engaged after the election? And why is it important? We all have unique skills and different constraints, so our approach to involvement must be individualized. Depending on your strengths, staying politically engaged is a balancing act between education and action—some of us may invest in one more than another, but both are required to some degree to make an impact.
There’s also a hearty dose of self-awareness involved in how we approach a new administration. If you don’t have to “worry” too much about federal policies, that means political engagement is a luxury for you. For others, staying involved is an act of self-defense, self-preservation, and continuously establishing humanity in the face of a political body that is not equitable or representative. If political engagement feels optional, consider how opting out impacts your community—and re-frame involvement into the urgent issue that it is. Anything that’s happening to our neighbors in this country, regardless of citizenship, religion, or economic status, impacts us all.
How To Stay Educated About Politics
It could take several lifetimes to become experts in the sociopolitical, legal, and economic history of the United States—not to mention gaining the very specific knowledge of lived experiences we do and do not share. That’s why it’s crucial to rely on each other when it comes to the places our own expertise does not reach.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep learning! Start by brushing up on your basic knowledge (we’ve come a long way since “Schoolhouse Rock”). Read about how the legislative, judicial, and executive branches work and explore the podcast Civics 101 for deep-dive audio on specific current events, amendments, founding documents, and more. Here are more political podcasts and related books you can explore, too.
You can even take a course on Coursera or another online education platform, depending on where your interests lie. Here are a few covering current issues:
Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases
In addition to making sure you’re familiar with the basics, research the causes you care about most and connect with organizations doing work in that capacity. “I always tell people they should find an organizing home,” says Erika Washington, Executive Director of Make It Work Nevada, explaining that it’s “an organization where they can go to be filled with love, hope, and expand their civic education.”
Bushra Amiwala, a member of the Skokie, Wisconsin 73.5 Board of Education agrees: “Take things one piece at a time, whether that means focusing on the status update of one issue or shifting your focus to be on local matters over national right now.”
Focusing on the issues you’re most concerned with will make it easier to keep up with research and current events. If several issues come to mind, consider selecting a new one to learn about each month, and add it to your calendar. That way, when new articles, books, or podcasts pop up, you can save them for later rather than try to absorb everything at once. “I think it is important to divert attention accordingly and to consume what you can handle media-wise,” notes Amiwala. (Whew—Siri, remind me in January to learn about congressional budgets.)
For federal issues, you can also stay up-to-date by following your representatives on social media, reviewing their existing platforms, and finding the bills that are relevant to your cause. Keep an eye on the House and Senate floor calendars, watch live legislative activities here, and read the “Daily Digest” of Congress’s activities here.
Finally, fact-check the media you’re consuming, even if you agree with it, and think critically about the intersectional impacts of the concepts you explore. This way, when it comes to taking action, you have a cohesive, thoughtful, and factual argument to present to your friends, family, and representatives.
Overwhelmed? Same. Keep the focus by subscribing to alerts for specific bills and updates here. Remember: if this isn’t useful for you, you can put your energy towards other educational avenues that feel impactful and sustainable.
How To Take Action
So you’ve got your books and your fancy new congressional alerts—congrats! You’re on your way. But there’s work to be done because now you have to do something with the information you’re gaining. For some, it’ll look like confronting conversations with loved ones, and for others, it’ll look like protesting, speaking at town halls, or even running for office. Here’s a closer look at the actions you can take next.
First and foremost, just because the presidential election is over doesn’t mean we don’t have to vote for the next four years. Mark upcoming local elections on your calendar and set alerts to check your registration well in advance (here’s looking at you, Georgia friends). Research early-stage candidates to see which newcomers could use your financial and/or volunteer support. Early fundraising is essential, especially for women and BIPOC candidates to have longevity in the race.
Delve a little deeper than “just vote,” as well, by advocating for the rights of all voters. “Since there’s a constant need to register voters, being active in a voter-registration group is a great way to stay active outside of elections,” says Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), who recommends contacting your local party or elections office to get involved.
Currently, I’m watching legislation surrounding the Census and how that impacts redistricting (aka gerrymandering). We can also hold officials accountable for re-evaluating the electoral college, restoring voting rights, and making clear, accessible guidelines to register as a voter (or make it automatic).
Have you called your representatives this year? Sent a letter? Attended a city council meeting? If not, you can add it to your list of 2021 resolutions—these are the very ways we can hold elected officials to the promises they made during their campaigns.
Washington notes that contacting representatives—even by writing op-eds or posts on sites like Medium—can take a proactive tone, too. “Offer to help push policies through by encouraging others to rally behind the electeds working for our betterment. We have to publicly show our support, not just our disdain.” It’s all about being open and truthful about our experience, she says. ”We encourage new policies by telling our stories and not being ashamed of the issues that keep us from thriving.”
Take a few moments to note your senate, house, and city council representatives, their contact information, and track how they’ve been voting. Next, review upcoming meetings. (Here’s the calendar for Los Angeles, but a simple web search for “[city, state] city council meetings” should take you to your local results!)
“Remembering campaign promises and bringing them up at public forums is always a great reminder for our elected officials,” says Amiwala. And don’t hesitate to ask for answers; if a promise isn’t being fulfilled, you can always ask why not.
If you’re not comfortable speaking just yet, you can attend silently (even virtually). But when you’re ready to speak, look for rules on how to submit your name for consideration—some public forums are first come, first serve, and others require signing up in advance. For ADA accommodations, you can contact your city hall for details. Before you present your argument, head here to review Freedom Forum Institute’s guide to your First Amendment rights while speaking at public meetings.
You can even write letters to your elected officials in addition to making public comments; you can find a guide to writing a memorable and impactful letter here.
Share What You Know
If you were glued to your phone during the 2020 election cycle, redirect that energy to sharing less amplified messages as we move into the new administration. Those bills and policies we discussed earlier? Talk about them! Just because an issue isn’t trending doesn’t mean you should step away from the conversation (remaining neutral is, in fact, a privilege).
Speak directly with your loved ones about issues that are closest to your heart, especially in the shadow of a divisive election year. Or, share upcoming meetings you’re attending with your local social media acquaintances, celebrate historic votes, and acknowledge milestones when you can.
But social media isn’t where political and community change happen. Jessica Salans, Co-campaign manager for Nithya Raman‘s LA City Council Campaign, encourages an offline approach. “Our brains and body need deep rest away from the constant barrage,” says Salans. “Our struggles are long term, unfortunately, and so we need to pace ourselves and find other ways to heal ourselves, and the communities around us, while continuing the good work.”
Salans recommends supplementing our activism with enjoyable offline practices like tactile hobbies and outdoor activities. “These help engage a whole other part of ourselves we sometimes forget about in urgent, high stakes political moments.“
If you’re not seeing the change you want in your community and have the resources to do so, get involved as a volunteer or even by running for office. Find grassroots campaigns and volunteer to get the word out, support organizations that are identifying qualified candidates (like She Should Run), or seek out virtual volunteer opportunities.
“Renters’ rights, affordable housing, public spaces and transportation, healthcare justice, combatting our military industrial complex—all of these issues need folks of all backgrounds and skills to engage and keep doing the good work,” says Salans, who also recommends the Sunrise Movement for climate activism and SURJ for social and racial justice. Amiwala highlights the importance of consistency and suggests setting aside time regularly to engage with the causes you care about (like designating “Service Saturdays” for yourself, for example).
While you balance education and action, remember to take care of yourself. Perhaps you need space from shouldering the movements that have been on the national stage in 2020; if so, rest when you need it. “We can take breaks so we don’t feel overwhelmed,” says Washington. She suggests setting aside a certain number of hours every week or month to stay engaged. “Every hour helps, but we need folks to live long healthy lives so they can enjoy what we’ve been fighting for.”
If your social, emotional, or financial situation gives you more room to be involved, step up for those whose activism is born from necessity. Then while we’re at it, let’s celebrate the changes we are making.
“There will always be problems to address and conflicts to resolve, but we must also take time to appreciate the progress that has been made, too,” Congresswoman Escobar reminds us. ”Make sure to seek out the stories of success while you’re making your way through the harder news stories and updates.”
Just because we have a new administration ahead of us does not mean we’ve arrived in a new era. We’ve only taken a crucial first step of the journey—let’s keep the pace.
How are you staying involved in the aftermath of the 2020 election?
Share with us in the comments below!
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!