How To Get Involved In Local and State Politics
There are a lot of things going on politically that give me heartburn, but one thing I'm glad to see is an uptick in engagement. I've worked in local, state and federal Tennessee politics since 2006, and I still do as most of my social media clients are public figures, candidates and consultants. While we're all interested and engaged in national politics, I'd like to make the argument for paying as much, if not more, attention to what's going on locally. These state laws and local ordinances have a much greater impact on our daily lives than most of the stuff going on at the federal/national level do.
I know it can seem overwhelming to get involved, or to even get information, but there are simple things you can do to get involved at whatever level of engagement you're comfortable with - and none of it involves getting in fights with your cousin on Facebook.
Civics 101, aka This Is Who Represents You Locally
State House Representative
Nashville Metropolitan Level:
Council Members At-Large (you have 5)
District Council Member
This is a basic list of your elected officials. Most people don't know the names of these 11 people - that's okay, it's normal not to know. But it's super easy to find out! For Metro, go here. For the state, go here.
How To Get Involved
Find out who your reps are
Follow them on social
Subscribe to their newsletters
Engage on Twitter
Vote: The next election cycle in Tennessee is in 2018, so you have a year to either register to vote, or to change the address on your voter registration, which you can find here.
Find out who your reps are: Covered above. Send me a PM and I can help you figure out who your people are.
Follow them on social: You guys, all of these people are on the internet. Follow them. The younger ones are better at Twitter. The older ones are better at Facebook. Adjust accordingly.
Subscribe to their newsletters: My State House Rep is John Ray Clemmons and he sends out one hell of a newsletter. I bet your people do, too. You should find out, and subscribe.
Engage on Twitter: Or Facebook, but Twitter is better.
If you send an email to one of your elected officials, odds are, it gets read. But there are things you can do to make sure it gets read:
Use their title in the salutation
Include your home address
Tell them you live in their district
When possible, include the bill number you're writing about
Keep it short and sweet
Close with a call to action
Include your contact info
123 Fake Street
Nashville, TN 12345
Dear Rep. Clemmons,
I live in your District and want to thank you for your work on behalf of the cycling community. As a cyclist, I am constantly worried about getting hit by a car when I'm riding my bike. I'm writing to you in strong opposition to HB 1650. Please vote no on this bill if it makes it to the Floor. It's currently moving through committee.
Petitions and Form Letters:
Petitions and form letters aren't as effective as a personal email. When an office gets 300 of the exact same email, it kind of loses its punch. Also, it's fine to email elected officials who don't represent you, but know that their constituents (i.e. the people who vote for them) get top billing.
Things to know about Twitter. One, you can "mute" people from your feed. Two, you can make lists. I have a list called "Local News & Politics" and another one called "State Legislature". I have everyone on these two lists muted so that they aren't in my feed. If I want political news, I go to my lists. I highly recommend doing this.
Who to follow: Follow your elected representatives. All of mine are on Twitter and I bet yours are, too. You can also fall down a political wormhole and follow all the various caucuses, state parties, political reporters, newspapers, and various advocacy and resistance groups. If there is a cause or organization that you care about, follow them.
From where I sit, there are a lot of issues being debated at the state-level that aren't aligned with my views on what I do or don't do with my body, or what I believe my LGBTQ friends have the right to do or don't do. These issues aren't just bills being debated to get on the six o'clock news. These bills are being voted on, and they're passing, which means they could become Tennessee state law.
Yes, it matters what happens in Washington D.C. - very much. But it also matters what the laws are in your state, and if your neighborhood gets sidewalks, updated infrastructure, or that you can sell your house and afford to buy another house in the same neighborhood.
Pay attention. Get involved. VOTE!