Like It or Not: Getting Involved

Opinion piece by LeDawn Jones 

In today’s political climate, everyone can be an advocate, with more ways than ever to get involved. Voting alone doesn't cut it anymore. If you feel strongly about something, you have to do more than vote. You have to get involved.

True activism is about what one does outside the voting booth, from posting on social media to protesting on the streets.

My name is LaDawn Jones and I served in the Georgia House of Representatives for a number of years. I was routinely asked, "How do I make my views known to our legislators? How do I make a difference?" Here are some suggestions.

Start with speaking up, standing up and standing out from the crowd. Speaking up begins with knowing what you're talking about—researching whether it is a policy or a law that needs to change and who in government can make it happen.

Your concerns are likely not unique. Seek out other advocacy groups that are already addressing your issue. There is power in numbers—and no reward for recreating the wheel. Whether contacting elected officials via phone, email, or in person, speaking up in unison is a much more effective way to get your voice heard. Finding people who care about your issue is easier than ever in the age of social media.

And get your facts straight. Giving a direct, clear, concise, and factual argument is sure to win you more points with any elected official than an argument based on emotion—or internet rumors.

Next, stand up. And don't apologize. Being unapologetic is not the same as being unwilling to compromise or to consider a position from another point of view. 

Standing up can mean using your feet to walk into a live event in person. Elected officials with the power to make change have town halls and events to hear what you have to say. Use your opportunities for public comment to harness that power.

And remember, you have power, too. For elected officials, votes are currency. If they think you can sway other voters, they'll be sure to listen.

And, finally, stand out. Even in 2018, you still get more flies with honey. Be sure your complaints, concerns, and suggestions are constructive. Rather than focus on the problem you want to be addressed, focus on potential solutions.

Don't assume an elected official has the same experience, perspective, and passion that you do on a particular issue. Being an expert on the subject will distinguish you as a leader—and give more credibility to your proposals.

If you want a private audience, money is the fastest shortcut. Elected officials have to raise money to run for office. If you need more time to discuss a position on a detailed issue, considering raising money from your group to give one large donation to the elected official. Then schedule a meeting to educate the official on your issue. You are not paying for a vote on a position but rather paying for access to present your thoughts.

However you decide to advocate and get your voice heard, understand that now is the time, today is the day, there is no tomorrow. From being an advocate for animals to opposing xenophobia, the power is still with the people. When the people recognize the power of their voices, we can begin to make real change. Get off your social media soapbox and speak up, stand up, and stand out for change.

DISCLAIMER: This segment represents the views of the commentator and not necessarily those of FOX 5 Atlanta.