So, you want to be able to influence people in the position of power, eh? If this were a cookbook, it would describe the process something like this. Start with two pounds of voting, for the best results slowly mix one pound of consistent voting at primaries and one pound of consistent voting on regular elections. Add one pound of continuous communication on a variety of subjects with your elected officials during their term. Slowly pour one and half ounces of choice campaign contributions over it on a slow fire. Let it simmer for a few years, while you keep the constant communication going. Now you are ready to get to the table.
Well, this is not a cookbook, but the ingredients are still the same, participation, communication, money and patience. Let’s look at each of them separately, first participation. Let’s face it, without any sugar coating. If you are not voting, then the politicians have absolutely no reason to care about your welfare. You are not impacting their future, so they turn their attention to those who do. A bit harsh, but true I am afraid.
I have heard many say, well, I am so disgusted with the politicians I refuse to vote. A small blow with a blunt object to the side of the head may help these people think straight. Would the genies care to explain, how they intend to get rid of the rascals by not voting? So, vote and vote often, politicians have a database of all the people who have voted in their district. If you are not in that database, your voice means precious little. Furthermore, vote in the primaries. In some instances it’s more important to vote in the primary.
For example, if the district is a safe Democratic or Republican district, the primary is the real contest. Oh, and another thing, you have to first register to vote before being able to actually vote. If you have not registered before, or even if you have but changed your address, you need to register. It’s a simple process, you fill out a short form and the ballots will come to your address about a month before each election with all of the details. The forms are available from your Secretary of State office, DMV or your local public library. You can also register online at a variety of sites, including baivoter.org.
Politicians normally look to their constituency to form their opinion; after all, they are your representatives. It’s your responsibility to tell them what you think. Do not wait for them to come knocking on you door for your opinion. Unless you live in a town with seventeen other people, your elected officials don’t have the time to come to you. You need to communicate with them. Communicate regularly and on a variety of subjects. Foreign policy is near and dear to many of our hearts, but that’s just one category. There are many subjects that are important to many of us.
Education is relevant to all parents. Civil rights are essential to many of us, especially since the passage of the Patriot Act. The economy is important to literally everybody. So communicate with your representatives, tell them what concerns you and send them a thank you note when they support one of your issues. It’s much easier than you think. You can send them a letter, a fax, an email or just pick up the phone and politely tell them what you think. Every time you contact them on a subject, you are establishing yourself as a person of opinion on that specific topic. Pretty soon, you’ll receive letters or emails about your issues from your representative.
If you don’t have the time or the inclination to write your own letters, find groups or organizations that are advocating your issues. Many advocacy organizations have written letters already for you. Sites like here help you find the advocacy groups for your issues.
That brings me to the delicious subject of cash; many people argue political contribution is the biggest factor in achieving political access. Well, that might very well be true, if your contribution has enough zeros, but if your contribution is anything like mine, it’ll be counted, but will not be the single most important part of your engagement.
I have read a few articles recently that are only focused on the money. I contend that is but a piece of the whole puzzle. The funny thing is, you don’t even have to put up the cash yourself if you can't afford it. You can organize events to raise cash from those who can, or volunteer your time in your candidate’s campaign organization.
Finally, bear in mind that this a process. Think of it as a game where you need to collect twenty brownie points before you get a seat at the table. Every action results in points. So, every time you vote in a primary election you bank one point, every regular election vote is worth another point, any letter you write to your elected officials earns you half a point, for every $50 you contribute you receive two more points, volunteering two half-days a week for 3 months in a campaign earns you seven additional points. Of course this is a gross over-simplification of the whole process, but you get the picture.
Abtin Assadi is member of board of directors at Bay Area Iranian American Voter Association baivoter.org.