The 2016 general election is over. The votes were cast, counted and certified. It might seem that our job as citizens has come to an end. We researched candidates and issues, decided how to vote and sent in our ballot to be counted. We’ve done our part, right?
Wrong. The role of an engaged and active citizen doesn’t end with casting a ballot. That is just the beginning.
November’s victors are already setting priorities, forming alliances and planning the work that will be done at all levels of government. Now is the time that citizens should be doing the same.
What issues should be our priority? Where will we disrupt? What will we do to make sure our voices are heard? All elected officials who represent us, from local representatives to those in Washington D.C., have an obligation and duty to listen to their constituents. Now is the time to speak up and become involved.
Start by educating yourself. It’s impossible to have an opinion if you’re unaware of what is happening. Identify local and national news sources that are providing unbiased and accurate reporting. If you learn something that makes you stop and think, do more investigating. Effective activism relies upon understanding and the ability to connect issues of concern with well-informed opinions and possible solutions.
If learning is the first step, engaging is the second. Calling your representatives is likely the easiest and most convenient way to get involved. Reading local news outlets, following your representatives on social media and connecting with other concerned citizens are all ideal ways of knowing what issues and potential pieces of legislation are being discussed. When you contact your representative, you simply need to identify yourself, register your opinion and call on your voice to be heard. You will typically talk to a staffer who tallies each call and reports back to the representative.
If you’re up for more advocacy work than calling your representative, I urge you to connect with others who share your concern for a particular issue. Citizens are organizing, speaking out and gathering together to ensure their voices are heard. There are already eight rallies scheduled to be held on the steps of the state Capitol in January alone. Perhaps one of these groups is rallying around an issue you care about. A short drive to join a larger group may spark a future of activism for you.
I do more than offer these words as a challenge for others. I write of my own experience. I have two young children in the public school system and my activism now extends to working to ensure that all Washington children have access to a well-funded and high-quality education.
As I became aware of the controversy and concerns regarding public school funding, I knew I needed to learn more. I understood very little about the McCleary decision from the state Supreme Court, how Washington schools are funded and the challenge of passing both levies and bonds in local school districts. I connected with others in the movement, spoke directly to my elected officials and rallied with teachers and parents to raise awareness for improved funding for public schools. On Jan. 16, my family will be traveling to Olympia to join thousands of others from across the state to rally for full and equitable education funding.
Now is the time for each of us to stand up and speak out. How will you ensure your voice is heard? What will you do to make sure the work of an informed citizenry continues well after Election Day?
Meredith Browand is a mother and activist living in Purdy.