It’s easy to get your head stuck in the silo that is college. Between student orgs, exams and career development, it’s hard to find enough time to breathe and pay attention to what’s happening outside of campus.
Alas, staying civically engaged is yet another responsibility of adulthood. If you are not informed about decisions that affect your life, then other people will make decisions on your behalf (and they may or may not be in your best interest.)
Plus, it’s important to remember, that as a college student you are part of a bigger community. Your voice counts but it only counts if you know what you’re talking about. That’s why it’s so important to stay informed.
I know it can be a tall order sometimes so here are some easy ways to keep up to date with what’s going on.
#1 Learn more about the people who represent you in government (local, state, and federal)
Use whoismyrepresentative.com to find out who represents you on a federal level. Then follow them on Twitter. Following them on Twitter doesn’t mean that you agree with their politics. It’s just an easy way to keep tabs on them. If Senator X is planning on cutting federal financial aid for DREAMers, you’ll get a notification on your phone and you’ll be able to educate yourself on what’s going on in real time.
Don’t forget to get involved on the grassroots level either. Learn who local and state representatives are as well. They want to hear from you too! They represent your interests. Following them on social will allow you to easily keep tabs on initiatives that affect your local community.
If you have a quick and simple question, you can also ask them on Twitter as well! It’s definitely worth it.
#2 Learn about issues that affect your demographic
I know there’s a lot to learn about in politics and civics in general. I also know that it can get very overwhelming. Take a deep breath. This is how to break things down.
Learn about issues affecting your demographics first. The reason I say this is because you’ll probably be able to relate and mobilize on these issues the fastest. For example, if you are a DREAMer entering the STEM as a woman then start educating yourself on issues related to immigration/citizenship and women in the workforce.
If you are a South Asian, transwoman entering the military after college then you probably want to start educating yourself about military reform, issues affecting transpeople in the military and issues affecting transpeople as a whole.
You don’t have to become a subject expert on these topics, but getting informed goes a long way, especially when you start tweeting your political representatives about issues you care about and sharing it with your friends and family.
Ideally, once you start learning about issues affecting your demographic specifically, you’ll branch out to other demographics as well.
#3 Read, read, read
This means finding reputable news sources and reading them. As a student, you probably have a free or heavily discounted access to articles from major newspaper publications. Use your best judgment when it comes to news publications you consume from, but some notable ones include New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, etc.
Newspaper publications are large and cover a lot of ground. This can be a double edge sword. It’s great to have access to all these resources, but sometimes it’s hard to find a place to start.
Well to fix that issue, sign up for notifications on topics you are passionate about. This will prevent information overload. For example, if you are passionate about women’s health and immigration, make sure you receive notifications on those topics only. Also, limit yourself to about 2-3 articles a day if you’re just getting started.
Trust me, once you get started, you’ll want to read everything. Having a smartphone makes it easier too because it comes directly to your phone. You’ll soon be reading much more than that, but take it slow at first.
#4 Communicate with your local representatives
Your local reps love talking to college students and young people in general, especially when they take the time to educate themselves on the issues at hand. Again, you don’t have to be an expert on the subject but you have to know something and show a willingness to go out on your own and learn something.
After a couple of weeks educating yourself (again, you don’t have to be an expert) figure out a way to articulate your specific concerns to your reps. Even after just a couple of weeks, you have been consuming a lot of information. There is a lot of ground to cover. It’s not going to get done overnight so make sure you make a list of the issues you are concerned about an address them to your local rep one by one.
Communicating with your local reps (mayor, state senator) will be easier than communicating with congresspeople. When you communicate your concerns or support, make sure you are concise and accurate. Also, include an action item or a request. If you want them to support a certain bill or block a certain action, say so. If you want them to introduce something new, say that as well.
The most effective way to do this (other than by meeting them in person) is to call them. (I know. I know. I know. Calling is so antiquated but it still works.) Then I recommend writing a letter. I won’t promise that the actual recipient will read it. What I mean is if you write a letter to Senator X chances are Senator X won’t read it. Probably the secretary or intern to Senator X will read it and make a response. The point is to create a paper trail and be engaged. If you are consistently calling and sending a letter once a month then someone will take notice.
#5 Show up
If there is a (peaceful) rally or march in support of a cause you believe in, go and bring a friend. Make an event out of it, by creating signs and posting your support on social.
You do not have to attend every single march available but it’s important to show up. The collective is a powerful force. For example, if you want military reform but only 5 people show up at the protest, will reps take the initiative seriously?
(Correct Answer: No.)
I know you’re busy as a college student. You have a lot on your plate. Trust me, I get it. I really do. You don’t have to do everything all at once, but getting started on at least one of the 5 ways mentioned above will leave you in a better place than where you started.
I want to know how you stay informed and civically engaged. Share your experience in the comments section below. If you have any questions, comments or concerns share them here or in the comments section. If you found this article helpful, please pass it along!