If you spent any time on Instagram yesterday (or even today), it’s likely that every story or post you scrolled by included a smiling selfie with an “I Voted!” sticker flashing boldly and proudly. It was enough to motivate you to get your butt out the door and race to your polling station… That is, unless you’re too young to vote.
If that’s the case, you may be dealing with an unprecedented case of FOMOP. AKA a Fear Of Missing Out on Politics– on becoming politically engaged and making a difference. Some of you may have recently become inspired to become politically engaged after seeing the great push that occurred on social media (and maybe in your local community!) to vote in yesterday’s midterm election. Some of you may have become inspired literally yesterday. You saw everyone flashing their stickers and you wanted one too, darn it.
It may seem too late now that the midterm elections have come and gone. But that is not the case. It most certainly, most definitely, is never too late. And you, despite being unable to vote due to your age can most certainly, most definitely, still make a difference year-round. But how?
First of all… What even happened in the midterm elections yesterday? Midterms are named as such because they take place halfway through a President’s four-year term. They cover a huge range of candidates, from congressional seats (here’s an explanation of Congress) all the way to mayoral races and county sheriffs. Congressional votes include all members of the House of Representatives (and here’s an explanation of the House of Representatives), and approximately one-third of the Senate (and lastly, an explanation of the Senate). Many states are also electing their governor, as well as judges, sheriffs, mayors and many local officials. All in all, they’re arguably just as important as the Presidential elections.
That might explain why social media was overflowing with calls from celebrities, influencers, and your peers to get out and vote! Which can leave those of us under-18 feeling a little lost. What can we do, if not vote? Turns out, there’s lots that needs to be done, and it needs to be done all year round.
Read below for seven ways you can become politically engaged that don’t involve voting:
Even I, a self-proclaimed active political member, find that the many issues, platforms, candidates and terms can get jumbled into one big swirl in my head. It can be difficult to understand American politics, but before you become involved, you must begin by being well-informed. You can’t make a change if you don’t know what you want to make a change about!
It’s really easy to say “get informed!”, and not as easy to do it. So below I’ve broken down some really quick, digestible ways to learn more about politics.
Once you’ve acquired a solid base of knowledge about your political system and the popular topics at hand, it’s important to know who is representing you (at all levels!) and where they stand. This is especially true now that mid-term elections have occurred, and many of your local representatives may have changed! It is important to remember that state and local officials are typically the ones who make decisions regarding issues that affect our day to day lives. For example, your local elected officials are often focused on topics like school district choices, public health measures, and access to public services (like the local park!), and more- all of which directly affect you. Knowing the names and faces of those behind local and state decisions, and what they stand for, can help you better stand up for the needs of your own community. Learn who your elected officials are here.
Not only does volunteering look good on college applications (whenever you’re applying!), it also has very real-world benefits. Once you’ve done your research and decided what’s important to you (whether it’s climate change, mental health, or anything else!), find opportunities in your community to help those causes. Examples of organizations include the following: ACLU, Young Democrats of America, Young Republicans, local city councils and political campaigns. Most cities or counties have a government-run community center where you can volunteer or get a job. In fact, many candidates for local elected officials have volunteer options such as going door to door, making phone calls from the comfort of your home, or showing support at events. It’s important to promote the people and organizations you support to make sure that your issues are voiced in government.
School clubs are a great opportunity to learn more about an organization, support a cause you believe in, and help you meet like-minded people. For example, some schools have clubs for political debate, young Democrats, or young Republicans. If your school doesn’t boast these clubs, start one! Work with officials at your school and then get friends involved to help spread the word and join the club. Some ideas for interesting clubs include:
If your school has clubs affiliated with parties, you may want to consider occasionally attending a club with which you do not agree, as it may open you to new ideas. In addition to clubs and organizations, consider talking to a teach about running mock elections at school! This can help get your student body politically engaged, while providing a better avenue for yourself and your peers to learn about the political environment.
If there is a cause you feel passionate about, but are unable to vote on, sign a petition! If you want a bill to go to Congress, there’s likely already a petition about it. If you disagree with a bill passed by Congress, it’s very likely that there’s a petition for that too. One signature may not seem like a lot, but they add up quickly! Change.org has a seemingly endless list of petitions to look through.
Once you have done your research, joined clubs, learned who your elected officials are and what they stand for, you are ready to share your opinions, thoughts and perspectives with your peers and community! It can often feel intimidating to discuss politics, particularly with those who are older than you. However, age is absolutely should not be an obstacle to being politically engaged and discussion is the best method of learning, expanding and shaping your views. The important lesson to remember, is to express your opinions in a polite and reasonable manner and be open to listening to all feedback- whether you agree with it or not! In fact, discussions centered around opposing views can be some of the best learning experiences. It is critical to understand how and why others think the way they do in order to relate to each other and form a national community not defined by political identity. You may find that you become aware of thoughts and ideas you’ve never had before, or you may convince someone of your own beliefs. Or, you may agree to disagree- and that is completely OK! What is important is to keep all pathways of communication open, and to feel empowered and confident to engage in that communication.