An Experiment in Citizenship – March 2016

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

Anil Dash tweeted out some suggestions on political engagement awhile ago that got me thinking. And, yes I lost the links and am too lazy to search for them as I’m busy being politically engaged.

Anyway, his rough ideas was to at least follow your representatives and write them regularly. I’m always thinking about how to be more civically engaged, and this struck a chord. I wonder often “what should we as citizens do” for our friends, family, organizations, country, and world. How should one be politically engaged – and, bluntly, what is the minimum we should expect of people.

I’m obviously a bit obsessed with the idea (I wrote a book on civic geekery). His posts have led me to this – an experiment in “projectizing” my civic engagement to find a good way to be regularly, appropriately engaged as a citizen.

So here’s what I’m doing – I challenge you to do the same.

STEP 1: Join And Follow

First, find reliable organizations that support causes you believe in, and follow them – via Twitter, newsletters, what have you. Make sure you’re getting reliable information so you’re informed.

Many of these organizations also support petitions, raise funds, do marches, etc. That gives you plenty of ways to get involved.

Oh, and if you can, actually join them and slap down that membership fee. They probably need it.  Some even have magazines.

STEP 2: Follow Your Representatives

Second, find and follow your representatives – at least on the national and state level (and try county and city). Follow them on Twitter or Facebook, get their newsletter, whatever.  Make sure you have a way to know what’s going on, and find the right web pages to write them.

STEP 3: Pay Attention

OK, so you’ve got:

  1. Organizations you follow.
  2. Your regular news feed (you have one, right)?
  3. News from your various representatives.

So you’re informed. Next . . .

STEP 4: Get active

Now simple, pay attention so you’re aware of what they’re doing, what they’re saying and what’s going on – and look for a chance to make a difference. Retweet. Sign the petition. March. Hell, take that part-time opening to do a vote drive.  Whatever.

STEP 5: Reach Out

Once a month (minimum) pick an issue you’re concerned about and write your appropriate representatives. Maybe this time it’s your Senator next time your city council. Whatever, just make sure your concerns don’t sit around in your head – go tell the people you bloody well elected what needs to be done – and be civil.

Chances are if you follow the news, you’ll quickly find things to talk about.
I’ve tried this for a month, and it’s already pretty informative. Among my findings:

  • My Representative is far, far more LGBT-right friendly than I knew.
  • Not all my state representatives are as high-tech as I expected (one guy isn’t that big on social media)
  • My new city is damned engaged in development and listens to people (I found some of that out when I dated someone from the city staff).

Also my monthly reach-out to my national reps was over North Carolina’s hideous anti-Trans/anti-LGBT laws. So I let my voice be heard on that – I got one response (sure it was boilerplate but it was something)
So, you up for this? You up to take the challenge? I challenge you to do the same thing – and blog the results, post to Facebook, whatever. Let me know when you do.

(Oh, and by the way, beyond this stuff, you should be voting and closing other forms of civic engagement like speaking or literacy programs or other stuff.  I may write more on that)

  • Steve