Be The Change You Seek, 7 Ways to Get Involved With Local Government

Elections are over, now what? Where do we go from here? That’s the question many of us are asking, and for good reason.

With a highly controversial and emotionally turbulent 4 years of the Trump administration coming to an end, there are so many questions about what the future holds. What we do know for a fact is that the increased engagement of young people and people of color, played a key role in the outcome of the elections.

We showed up and showed out! Here’s how:

  • In Georgia, it was the turnout and impact of Black voters who flipped the tide.
  • In Arizona, it was largely Hispanic and Native American voters.
  • In cities like Milwaukee, Philly, and Detroit – Black voters disproportionately influenced the election outcomes.

So why does this matter and what does this mean? During our Instagram Live conversation with Alder Joe Maldonado, we discussed the importance of civic engagement to bring about change.

Alder Joe Maldonado is a newly elected member of the Fitchburg Common Council, representing residents in the northwest side of the city in one of the most racially and socioeconomically diverse aldermanic districts in Dane County. He is a long time youth worker, husband, father of two, and Milwaukee bred Puerto Rican.

During our chat, Joe highlighted the need for young people to stay engaged, for current leaders to further engage the youth population and listen to what it is that they want to see in their communities. There are many ways for people to be actively engaged in political matters at the community, city, state and federal levels.

Unfortunately, many people often think their civic engagement ends at the Presidential elections. But here’s the reality, at the federal level, our engagement impacts the Senate and the House of Representatives, at the State level civic engagement plays a role in state senate and assembly while at the city level, the Mayor and Alders are all elected citizens. For a breakdown on what this all means, read our blog on “How the US government “actually” works” here.

Getting engaged in politics starts at the local level.

– Alder Joe Maldonado

Getting engaged in politics starts at the local level. Alders like Joe ensure that local issues are addressed. From addressing issues such as traffic lights, to the city budget, economic instability, and crime, citizens have a say in the decision making processes. For example, through feedback from community members and Joe’s leadership as Alder, he is working with other members of the Common Council to establish future community centers in two neighborhoods in the northern parts of the city. Through engagement and the work of previous community leaders, the Allied/Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood in Fitchburg and Southwest Madison have developed a mixture of regular single-family homes with Habitat for Humanity homes and made sure the units in affordable housing apartments have updated amenities so people in affordable housing have clean, comfortable places to live.

Incredible right? These are the types of changes YOU can influence.

The truth is, politics can feel so overwhelming that you feel like your voice doesn’t matter. Maybe, like many, you feel like you simply can’t make a difference. Joe emphasizes that this is not true. You have a voice and you should use it. You can make a difference. The issue is that a lot of people don’t know how, or where to start.

Here are 7 quick ways to get involved:
  1. Read the book, One Hour Activist by Christopher Kush. It provides great insight on how to get involved. You can buy it through our affiliate link here, or check it out at your local library. 
  2. If there are issues you are passionate about, get involved in an organization that prioritizes that issue. If Civil Rights is something important to you, the ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and Equal Justice Initiative are all great organizations. When you subscribe to an organization that focuses on issues you care about, you will receive notifications about things going surrounding that issue, and tangible action items of ways to help.
  3. Call, email, or request face-to-face meetings with elected officials. Talk to them on matters that are important to you.
  4. Show up in open public meetings to ensure your community is represented. Either reach out to your Alder for scheduled meetings or use the good old google search!
  5. Get on a committee. Find an issue you are interested in, and get on a local committee so you can be a part of the decision making process. Check out your city’s web page – they should have a listing of committees, and you can usually apply online. You can also reach out to your Mayor. In bigger cities this may be a longer process, but don’t let that stop you. Not only are there local committees, but there are also State, and National committees you can get on as well. Joe started out on a Racial Justice Committee, aimed at closing the racial gap. This included reviewing police misconduct and deliberating on how to address gaps. This will allow you to be a part of the decision making process. For those interested in a career in politics, this is the easiest way to start out.
  6. Check out these organizations: Adelante, a Political Action Group dedicated to promoting, preparing and supporting candidates of color to run for political office, Emerge, inspiring and training women to run for office. The Local Government Leadership Academy, through UW Madison, helps you gain tools to address issues impacting your local government and engage with other local government leaders to shape the future of your community.
  7. Once you’ve gotten involved, build a Squad or Slate. Slates are extremely powerful. When you run as a slate of people with similar ideologies, it builds name recognition for everyone. When everyone sees you together, it’s powerful- especially when your opponents aren’t doing the same and are all on their own. Not only that, but when you get in, you have built-in support of people who support your initiatives. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC) is a great example of how young people can get involved. She’s a social media wiz, and she meets people where they are. She’s active on the platforms her young constituents actually use, and she engages them and answers their questions in ways that are easy to understand.

Finally, remember that:

  • It is never too late to get involved. If you are really interested, contact your local politicians with roles you may be interested in.  Ask to set up a meeting (hey, zoom or skype!). 9 out of 10 times they will say yes, and you can learn more about their role as well as get advice, and
  • You can make politics your own.  Adopt strategies that speak to you and the community you serve. For example, Alder Joe regularly emails, makes phone calls and before the Pandemic, visits his community members, with community updates and ways for the members to get involved. Make politics relatable. Who said politics has to look or be done one way? You don’t have to be boring and stiff. It’s important to be yourself, down to earth and relatable.

At Fourward, we talk about the power of focusing on action and progress, not perfection. In these times when it is undeniably clear our voices matter more than ever, we hope you continue to exercise your civic engagement via action. We know we will.

We hope you found this helpful.



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