I was part of a discussion recently in which a motivated individual was asking for guidance. They want to fight for smaller government and more personal freedom but they had no idea where to start.
This unfortunately is a common feeling. If you stop 20 people on the street and ask they if they are happy with local, state and federal government I would be shocked if more then 3 said yes. If you asked those same 20 people how they could change what they dislike you'll end up with a mix of ideas and theories but most shrug and say they don't know.
That's why fewer and fewer people get involved. They feel helpless and like their voices make no difference. The political involvement of most people consists of posting links to pre-made graphics on facebook half of which aren't even accurate or consist of nothing more than opinions.
For that reason here is a top 10 list of things you personally can do that will make a difference.
1) Sign up to run for office. This option isn't for everyone and I know not everyone has the time but for those who can this is the most direct way to make changes.
Don't worry about running and not winning. No one will win every election. Just by putting your name on the ballot people will begin to listen to what you say. It will allow you to bring up issues you feel are being ignored and at the very least start conversations about them. I have actually seen people run and lose elections but make such convincing arguments about issues that the board or committee they were running for actually took up their suggestions and went with them.
2) Become informed about candidates.
Not knowing who you are voting for is even more harmful then not voting at all. Just because a candidate says they are for issue X doesn't mean they will actually be for issue X. The only real way to know if the person you are voting for actually supports X or not is to look at their voting history.
I realize that often times with local elections you will have someone new step up to run with no past experience. Not having any record to look at isn't always a bad thing but do your homework. Look at who is supporting them, that often times says more then what they say publicly because, I know this will be shocking, but politicians lie.
3) Become informed about issues.
This is often the most difficult since most towns in New Hampshire have very little coverage of local meetings and events. It is usually only when there is a lot of controversy that anything is covered at all.
When five board members all get along with each other and vote to spend $100,000 and there isn't any argument about it, that doesn't make the news.
So how do you become informed? Unfortunately this is what many people do not have the time for. That's showing up at meetings, watching them on local public access or even reading the minutes of what took place.
This leads us to the next suggestion...
4) Organize a community forum or facebook page for people to discuss what's going on in town.
If you don't have time to watch every town meeting, you can at least get feedback from those who do. Local forums do sometimes get heated with debate but that is far better then local communities not talking at all because they don't even know what's going on around them.
5) Speak out.
All too often I've heard politicians justify their actions by the fact no one complained about what they did. Nearly every town I'm aware of has the email addresses and phone numbers of the members of different boards posted. Send them emails or call them when you disagree with their actions. Or show up at meetings and say something during public comments.
Even if the local board ignores you, your comments will go on public record if you speak out so they will no longer be able to claim no one objected to their actions.
That said, be respectful. Showing up at a meeting and calling the board a bunch of jerks will not win them over to your point of view.
6) Write to your local paper.
Sometimes speaking to a local board isn't enough. Politicians often times want to continue to stay in power. They shy away from what they believe will cost them votes and rally behind things that will. If you have a hot button issue that you feel others will agree with, write a letter to the editor about it. Don't be afraid to call out politicians who disagree with you. Sometimes embarrassing politicians is the only way to get them to change their ways.
7) Put up signs for candidates you support
A lot of people think this is silly but it does get people talking. If you are known in town people who aren't informed will sometimes vote based on who people they know and like are supporting.
8) Donate to campaigns
Buying signs, putting ads in papers, even putting up informational web sites costs money. Helping local or state candidates can often times help getting their message out.
9) Talk to people you know
Often times in local elections word of mouth is the best way to help a candidate gain (or sometimes lose) a handful of votes. Talk about things going on in town. If someone voted to support something you liked or didn't like, your telling 2 or 3 people might spark them in telling 2 or 3 more people and so on.
This goes hand in hand with the first on this list, not everyone has time to step up and put their names in for boards or committees but sometimes towns have smaller jobs that you can assit with over one or two nights here and there. Some volunteer positions are even positions you can set your own hours on. This will give you an in, and by being active local politicians will listen closer to what you have to say because they'll get to know you through your volunteerism.
I'm sure others can come up with additional things and I'd love to hear you sound off below if you know of any.