The Pitcairn Islands must be a wonderful place to be a political activist. If you are a Pitcairn Islander, you are one of fewer than 70 citizens, the least populous nation on earth. (I realize the Pitcairn Islands is technically a British Territory, but work with me. It’s small—dwarfed even by the population of Vatican City at 800.)
I should think that a conversation in a local Adamstown tavern between two likeminded individuals constitutes a PI political rally. If there is an NSA equivalent in the PI, it probably consists of a man tooling around on a bicycle and snatching everyone’s favorite recipe for wahoo and boiled bananas. And while it might be difficult for a PIer to find external political allies—with Chile 3,400 miles away and Australia even further removed at 5,000 miles—I imagine that a single individual on a mission to change society is likely to have a major impact.
Case in point: the Pitcairn Islands falls behind Sweden and Corsica as the third political community to legalize voting for women, which it did in 1838. I’m not suggesting there’s a relationship, but two years later in 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton met Lucretia Mott at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Perhaps there was a Pitcairn delegate at the meeting who inspired these two suffrage leaders by bragging about her nation’s progressive accomplishments.
Political activism is a bit different, however, if you are a citizen of a somewhat larger country—say, the third most populous nation on our Little Blue Planet with a land area of nearly 4 million square miles. Sometimes it is difficult to buy into the “every voice and vote counts” mantra when you recognize you are one of 315 million United States citizens.
The citizens of Egypt and Turkey still buy into the difference that a single individual can make. In fact, the Mediterranean Basin has been showing us up of late with respect to political activism—so much so that there’s a part of me which increasingly wonders whether the crimes of the Bush Administration don’t partially fall at our feet for not having planted ourselves in the middle of the National Mall and saying “not no, but hell no.” Thank God we spent so much time posting about Iraq and the Patriot Act; it sure moved mountains.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with engaging the Internet and social media to learn about and discuss politics. We spend three hours-plus online each day now, and engaging in policy matters is more productive than devoting one’s time to the majority of Twitter trend subjects. (Seriously, more people are reading about Sharknado than banking regulations? Well, maybe that’s a tad understandable.) But it’s also important to remember that one’s collective Facebook “likes” of political zingers cannot be cashed in at the First Bank & Trust of Political Policy.
I thought it might be helpful to offer some practical solutions for those who want to make more of a political difference but feel mired in a seeming disconnectedness of the individual “against the megalithic machine.” The fact of the matter is, you can make a difference. A big difference. But you need to become the director of your political self.
How to Be a More Active Progressive in Six Easy Steps
This list is not intended to be didactic. Revise it. Expand it. Print it and use it as cat litter box liner. In other words, feel free to do with it as you please. But I have a feeling it will be helpful to more than a handful of folks out there—including myself!
I’m holding myself to 500 words. The rest is up to you.
1. Know Thy Political Self
What worked for Plato still works today. Here’s a three-page “know thy political self” challenge:
Sheet 1: Compose your Personal Political Philosophy. That’s about 500 words on a computer.
Sheet 2: Write a Top-Ten List of Political Issues that matter to you. Could be municipal, state, national, international issues. Provide a short description of what you believe about each issue.
Sheet 3: Write down your Personal Political Activity in the past year. Could contain anything from “I voted” to “I delivered a revolutionary speech at the U.N.”
2a. Create a Politician Contact List: Display It Everywhere
I suspect that if we simply took 30 minutes to make it easier to contact politicians, we would. Create a Politician Contact List for categories related to your political existence (local, state, national, etc.). Include email addresses, telephone numbers, mailing addresses, etc.
Put it multiple places. Your refrigerator. Your iPhone. Make laminated dining table placemats—should lead to interesting conversations this Thanksgiving.
(Most state websites provide a simple way to list politicians who answer to your vote. Here’s mine in South Carolina.)
2b. Become a Politician
[Does not apply to anyone currently engaged in a sex scandal.]
3. Support Your Local U.S. Post Office
Step 1. Take out 12 Envelopes.
Step 2. Take out 12 Stamps.
Step 3. Affix said stamps to said envelopes and write your return address on each envelope.
Step 4. Put a sticky note on each envelope: August 1, September 1, etc.
Step 5. Each month, write a one-page letter to a politician about an issue that matters to you. You already have a political contact list. It doesn’t have to be long; in fact, the more succinct, the better.
Get in the habit of communicating this way with politicians. Politicians pay attention to hardcopy letters.
Representative Joe “You Lie” Wilson and I have nothing in common other than our male anatomy. I once mailed him a letter about a problem I was having with a federal agency. Shortly thereafter, I received an apology letter from the agency, accompanied by the information I needed, plus a copy of Representative Wilson’s letter to the agency.
Calls and emails matter. But a mailed letter is a signal to a politician that you are really concerned. If you truly want to impress, deliver your letter in person with 10,000 of your closest friends.
4. Plug-in to Quality Political Information
Go back to your Top-Ten Political Issues list. Connect to groups that are trustworthy sources of information for particular subjects. (Example: World Wildlife Fund for conservation.) Trust me, these groups will tell you how to contribute to the cause.
5. Participate in a Political Rally or Protest
Pledge to attend one political rally or protest before December 31. You don’t have to participate; be a bystander. It could even be for a political cause you don’t support. Just make the effort “to be there.” The hardest part of dancing is stepping onto the floor.
6. Don’t patronize Walmart. Period.
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