Submission: Tips on flexing your citizen muscles | Part 1: Tech tools

Living in West Virginia as a progressive is hard, but this year, the challenge is exceptionally overwhelming. Paired with the national political scene, it’s a hard balance between your head exploding and wanting to make a difference and speak up. All while simultaneously wanting to curl into a ball and never get out of bed due to the magnitude of the task. Sometimes I find that my inbox is filled with folks reaching out to help me be more actively politically, yet, even that can be overwhelming. Where do I start?

One of the first places to start is getting to know your reps. It couldn’t be easier today; you can simply go to a site like this and type in your address. The particular site I linked lets you choose local, state, and federal level which is fantastic. Be sure to read up on them and check out their values, but most importantly, their records. Oftentimes, everyone says the same nice things, but the key is how they vote.

Next, consider incorporating tools in your life that make political activism more of a lifestyle than just big events (though big events are awesome, too!).   Thanks to these techy advances, it’s easier than ever to channel our inner Leslie Knope and be an active citizen. The other day we were between patients at the hospital and my co-worker said “Ugh, I need to call so and so about that bill!” *Bam* Whips out her phone, calls the staffer, and chats with them as we walk down the hall. It really can be that easy.

Before we dig into these tools, I do want to make an important note: it’s impossible to advocate for everything, all the time.

Like all things in life, there must be balance or you'll find yourself stretched too thinly and that feeling of being overwhelmed will come creeping back in. I personally find it helpful to focus on a few areas specifically to stay up to date on. I care about TONS of other things (don’t we all!?), and I certainly speak up for those things, too, but my core passions are things I invest more time reading about and staying in the know about. For example, I am very passionate about water quality here in WV. I have been tracking bills that pertain to it over the last few years. I hope my friends know that if they ever want an update on what is going on with those types of things in our state, hit me up. Likewise, I have friends that enlighten me on other topics so I can speak up about those issues, too. We all have to work together in that way; it’s the beauty of diversity.

Now, here are a few ways to step up your activist game:

5 calls: This app is perfect for the days that are full, and you may not have a burning passion for something in particular, but you want to stay active in the political game. Takes less than a minute to set up, then each day it presents you with issues you can call about. It even gives you a script if you are not sure where to start. Then, you can track if you called, left a voicemail, etc. and help 5 calls collect data on just how* many calls they help people make.  In fact, I encourage you to check out their FAQ for more info on this. It gives tips on the methods they use. Con: this app focuses on the national level.

Resistbot : This all starts with a simple text. Type "RESIST" to 50409 and let the magic begin. Unlike 5 calls, there are no scripts. But ResistBot will help you out with topics. After you send a text of "RESIST," you will be prompted with questions regarding your info. Once you are set up, it's game on. You will be helped, with simple prompts, to write letters to your state and federal reps. Once the letter is complete, it will be faxed to your representative's office. The more you resist, the more features you get to use -- for example, my letters now have my signature at the bottom. Resistbot is your best bet when you want to say something about a specific issue you have in mind. Bonus points: after channeling your passion into a letter, be sure to copy and paste it to friends so they can resist, too. This is super helpful as it does take time to write something out. A copy and paste job with a few changes makes resisting super easy. In literally 1 minute, your friends can copy, paste, text, and boom! Another letter is faxed! Everyone has one minute, right?

Here are a couple of other great groups that are making it easier than ever to follow bills and join in a collective effort of making political noise: Indivisible and Countable.

Finally, one of my favorite groups, Represent.Us is for someone who really may not know where to start because it has a mission that overwhelmingly most Americans agree with: Get corruption out of politics.

On top of these tools, below are a few extra tidbits of info.

Other helpful tips:

  • Experts all seem to agree: phone calls are the best way to get your rep’s attention. Letters seem to be number two, followed by emails. Unfortunately, when you write emails that are prepared by organizations emailing you and all you do is type in your name sometimes are seen more as spam than original thought. So if you like those prepared comments, copy and paste them into a separate email and send them to your reps.

  • Speaking of, put all your reps in your email contacts list so it’s very easy to connect with them.

  • Nervous about calling your reps? Start by calling after hours and leaving a voicemail. Be sure to leave your name and street address so your call will be tallied as one of your rep's constituents.

Alright, let’s get calling, texting, writing, typing, and flexing those citizen muscles. Just as when we are physically well, it is a gift to be able to exercise our bodies, it is also a great gift to exercise our rights.

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Kati Holland is nurse practitioner in Huntington, WV. Currently balancing enjoying this world but also fighting for a better one.