A Beginner’s Guide: Getting Involved in Local Politics
If the 2016 election cycle did not mobilize you, there is a pretty good chance that the events of 2020 have. The presidential election is over, but it’s not too late to get involved in politics. In fact, we are just getting started. While general elections are important, some of the most influential policy occurs at a local level. You may be a bit worn out from the presidential election, especially if you are new to being politically engaged. You may even feel overwhelmed figuring out where to start. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a beginner’s guide to getting involved in local politics.
Step 1: Find Out Who Your Elected Officials Are
This is an easy first step and you don’t have to leave home to do it. You can visit your city’s official website to find out how your local government is structured, who’s running it, and how to contact them. If you are unsure about how to identify your elected officials, Ballotpedia is an excellent place to start. If you navigate to the bottom of the homepage under the “Get Engaged” section, you’ll find an option titled, “Who Represents Me?” On that page, you can enter your full address, and the database will populate all of your elected officials, from the president of the United States down to your city council leaders.
Step 2: Contact Your Elected Leaders
Don’t be shy. You are their constituent and they work for YOU. It’s their job to listen to your ideas and concerns regarding your community; that’s why their contact information is publicly listed — so you can contact them. Empower yourself to respectfully reach out, ask questions, and voice your opinions.
Not sure how to get the conversation started? Here’s a great resource with guidelines and examples.
Step 3: Stay Informed
In order to have productive conversations with your elected officials, you need to know what’s going on in your community. One way to stay informed is by following your elected officials on social media. Many officials have a social media presence where they share updates regarding their office and happenings within local government.
Another way to stay informed is by reading and subscribing (yes, a paid subscription) to your local newspaper. This is so crucial that it could probably be its own bullet point: your local newspaper matters. This is not to diminish the value of tuning in to national news. But national media is not going to report on the state of the public school system in your area, your city council agenda, or COVID-19 measures and resources in your neighborhood.
It’s also worth noting that local newspapers are often responsible for breaking ground on national stories (and while we are on the topic of subscriptions, there’s a great episode of “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” on Netflix about local newspapers). It may seem counterintuitive to pay for your local newspaper when we live in an age of free information. However, doing so will make you an informed, active member of your community. You’ll be supporting working individuals who are keeping your local government accountable and keeping everyone informed. If you aren’t sure what local newspapers are in your area, try this resource from The New York Times. Once you find a news source that you respect and trust, hit that subscribe button.
Step 4: Attend Town Hall Meetings
Pre-pandemic, this was an opportunity to get some real face time with local leaders. Town halls are typically held in public spaces where officials share updates and conduct Q&A sessions to address community concerns. Since the onset of corona, many government offices have shifted to a virtual format. But you can still attend these virtual meetings to hear directly from your council leaders. It could be much less intimidating to attend from the comfort of your home, especially if this is your first time. Many municipalities include event calendars on their websites, so check those frequently to see when town halls are happening in your area. If you don’t have time to attend meetings, subscribing to your local government office newsletter is a good alternative.
Step 6: Donate & Volunteer
This may require some research, but try finding nonprofit organizations in your area that are working on issues you care about. Once you find an organization that aligns with your values, show your support by donating funds and donating time through volunteer work. Guidestar is a useful tool to help you find nonprofits in your area. There is a paid subscription option geared toward administrative purposes, that allows you to conduct more refined searches and view detailed financial data. But for personal use, the free option is an excellent choice to help you get started.
If there is a candidate running for office in your local government that you want to rally behind, there are always opportunities to volunteer with their campaign. It’s often difficult to secure and raise all the funding required to run a successful campaign, so there will be opportunities to offer time, money, and skills to bolster a candidate you truly believe in.
Step 7: Vote
You’re probably tired of hearing this, but it will always ring true. Vote. Vote. Vote.
Vote in the general elections. Vote in the primary elections. Vote every single chance you get. The fact of the matter is voting is one of the most powerful things we can do and we should never take it for granted. According to Pew Research Center, there are 21 autocracies in the world where citizens don’t have the right to vote. Our ability to have a say in what happens in our democracy is truly a remarkable gift — so, vote. And more importantly, be a knowledgeable voter. When you are active in your local community, being a smart voter will become second nature.
And there you have it. A beginner’s guide to getting involved in local politics. Remember, no one is expecting you to be an expert. Making your best effort to remain engaged will help you ask the right questions and vote for the most experienced and qualified leaders. Take your time with these steps, have patience in the process, and before you know it, YOU could be running for office.
Call To Action
- Find and contact your local elected officials
- Keep up with local politics through social media, a local newspaper, etc.
- Attend some (virtual) town hall meetings and have some questions ready for officials
- Join a local nonprofit organization you’re passionate about
- Don’t stop voting!
-Jessica Couloute, Content Creator