The news is full of it. Lots of people are crushed by the results of the election. Folks are taking to the streets and protesting; suicide numbers are up a little. Despair is everywhere.
And that’s wrong.
I’m not going to tell you here just how great a guy Donald Trump is or how qualified he is to be president. (That’s what his campaign was for, and apparently it didn’t do a very good job.) Instead, I’m here to reassure you that life and hope didn’t end with Hillary Clinton. We can still act to change the world — and we’re needed, now more than ever.
“Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear…”
The newly elected congress will convene in January, and it will consider the new laws and measures that will define the Trump administration. Everything from tax rates to the new healthcare laws will begin as a bill in Congress, where it will be debated in seemingly endless committee meetings, discussed in back-room dealmaking sessions, and eventually filibustered in a floor vote until it either passes or fails. And, while that’s happening, you have a recourse: You can write letters to your representative, expressing your opinion. These people live and die by public opinion; their future employment prospects rely on your approval. So if you feel strongly, write your congressman — send an email, a letter, a telegram. They read them all, and even though they don’t convene until January, today is not too soon to start.
The link above will direct you to a business that will charge you a moderate amount of money to send telegrams to all of your representatives in Congress. That’s their job, and if you don’t mind spending the money, you’ll know your message is going to the right place. What’s more, the recipients will know you cared enough to spend a fair amount of money to tell them.
If you’re writing a letter or email or placing a call, however, it’s vital to know who you should be sending it to. There are several websites like GovTrack and the League of Woman Voters (to name just a couple) that keep updated mailing lists; use those. And make sure you’re writing the correct person; your Congressman, for example, probably can’t do much about your local parking problem.
If you’re concerned about one thing in particular, that’s your new cause. It’s the banner for your knightly lance. Pick it up and go forward; charge to glory! I’ll cheer you on.
But if you’re just generally worried and not sure where to go from here, I’ve got some ideas for you.
This is a guy who gave up a nice salary, a comfortable life, and his personal freedom and even safety. He gave it up because he found out our government was doing things that were immoral, and he blew the whistle — and fled the country, because one thing he’s not is stupid.
Right now, President Obama, the pardoning-est president in our history, has the ability to write a pardon for Snowden’s actions. It would be the right thing to do, and it would not undercut the rule of law by setting precedent.
These folks have already begun the campaign, so you don’t even have to compose your own letter: PardonSnowden.org
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe are protesting the construction of an oil pipeline in order to protect their water source. This is unarguably important to them. But other groups have joined with them, hoping to delay the Dakota Access pipeline to the point where it’s no longer profitable, and in general environmentalists are helping because they oppose oil, and more broadly fossil fuels. Which is fair enough, although the science doesn’t necessarily hold up.
Be that as it may, though, it’s still a protest over the tribe’s water supply, and that ain’t nothing. What’s more, there have been frequent claims of civil rights violations on the part of local law enforcement. So, while this is not my cause, the people certainly are.
And this website, while otherwise hopelessly partisan, can tell you how.
One of President-Elect Trump’s big campaign promises was to get rid of Obamacare. Even its proponents will tell you that it’s not a great program, but there are some parts of it that have great value. More to the point, if it’s to be eliminated, there’s going to be something new put in its place — and in my opinion it ought to be a simple expansion of Medicare to the entire population. (I’ll write an article about that later, after which you might just agree with me. Until then, this is a solid article on the subject, albeit a bit boring.)
The good news here is that even Mr. Trump agrees that some parts of the present scheme are good and should be kept. So — let’s talk to him and to our congress about it and let them know how we feel.
Ranked Choice Voting
The State of Maine just approved a referendum to start using this, which in theory improves the chances of third-party candidates. It’s a method which, any way you look at it, gives power to the common vote and increases its value.
States like New Hampshire and Vermont could really use this, and had Utah had it, a third party candidate might have scored electoral votes for the first time in a century.
This is a state-level project, and organizations like FairVote can give you more information on how to introduce it.
Electoral College Reform
What people are most upset about now is the recent election, and there’s a backlash against the Electoral College as a result. Personally, I’m not in favor of scrapping it; there’s a lot that could go wrong (and I discuss the pros and cons more thoroughly in another article). Most politicians, even the ones presently sponsoring legislation to eliminate it, know that there’s no good way to make that happen. But there are options for reform that don’t involve elimination, and those are worth taking action on.
One big thing that can be changed is how states assign their electors. Generally, this is something that each state decides for itself; the Maine and Nebraska models are gaining a great deal of traction going forward, especially in “swing states”. (It’s basically breaking down the state into districts and awarding each elector separately.) Another possibility is the proportional award model. Either way, in my opinion, is superior to the present “winner takes all” method, in that it will increase the power of the average individual vote — and giving more power to the people is a good thing. This would be a matter for your state’s legislature and governor to decide, so they’re the ones to write.
Likewise, in order to keep Congress from doing something drastic just on the wave of public opinion, it’s worthwhile to write them and express your support for keeping the Electoral College.
One more thing: By the time the election comes around, the identity of the candidates has already been decided through primaries and caucuses. In practice, this means that the populations of Iowa and New Hampshire effectively choose our president. We really ought to address this, which is up to the national parties. And there, it’s the people that run the party that make these decisions, and it’s them that need to be pressured — both on the national level and for each state. If you’re really committed to this cause, you could even volunteer for the local party, working for change from within.
The Bottom Line
Democracy isn’t something that just happens to us once every four years. It’s a continual process, and we have the right to participate year-round.
We can’t pick our next presidential candidates tomorrow, but what we can do is sway the opinions of the people that are currently in office. You may think this is small, but the Senate is one member from a tie on any contentious issue — and a lot of Senators are about to get replaced next year. They live and die on public opinion, which is why they pay so much money to run polls. And it’s why your calls and letters and emails and telegrams can mean so very much.
So pick your cause, or your causes. Choose them with care, and invest some time into researching them. You can just do as I tell you, of course, but that’s not a good habit to be in. Take some time to read up on things, not just from pundits and political action committees — and certainly not from Facebook memes — but from real scientists and economists and actual policy-makers. Discuss what you learn with other intelligent people, folks you know have decent judgment and flexible minds.
And above all, act.
Because this is your country. It’s a representative democracy, which means you have the power to change it and to guide it. With that power comes the responsibility to use it wisely. Make no mistake: If the country does something in your name, you are responsible for the consequences. So do everything you can to make sure those actions are the right ones.
If you don’t, you have only yourself to blame.