Several difficult, emotionally charged, and polarizing issues are dominating national discourse in recent weeks.
As humans, we all have opinions and we all want to be heard. One of the most convenient and tempting ways to share our opinions is, of course, the internet. Shouting into the void may be satisfying in the moment and you’ll definitely find people to both argue with and support you, but it’s not the most effective way to enact real change. It can even have the opposite effect. (Though if you’re interested in how social media platforms could adapt to promote more constructive conversations, check out this fascinating study done by the University of Washington.)
If you want your voice to have more influence, here are some options for directing your time and energy in meaningful ways.
Before throwing yourself into the fray, take a moment to make sure you understand the issue in its entirety. What conversations are already being had? What action is already in progress? Knowledge is power; researching an issue can help you better argue your point, contribute more effective solutions, and direct you to the most appropriate forums for change. Arm yourself with information, and be sure to use reliable resources.
Contact your representatives
Let your government representatives know your opinions on current issues. It’s their job to listen to and represent their constituency. Regardless of party lines, your representatives should know what you care about. They can’t know if you don’t tell them, and the best way is to tell them directly.
To find your state lawmakers, visit the Wisconsin State Legislature’s website or find links to other state legislature sites here. For federal representatives, visit Congress’s website. If you’d like assistance learning who your representatives are and how to contact them, ask at your local library.
Register to vote
At MyVoteWI.gov, you can register to vote, check your voter registration status, find your polling place, preview upcoming ballots, register to vote absentee, and find your local municipal clerk. For help registering or navigating this website, drop by the Information and Reference desk.
Are you particularly passionate about empowering all voters to have a voice? Get in touch with Chippewa Valley Votes, a nonpartisan volunteer group that seeks to register, educate, and advocate for all voters in Chippewa, Dunn, and Eau Claire counties.
If you’re passionate about a specific cause, chances are you can find like-minded people in your community. To find organizations, service opportunities, and a wide variety of resources in the Eau Claire area, check out our extensive Community Information Directory.
Is there a gap in your community? You can always start your own organization. Check out this resource from Candid first. It’s geared toward starting nonprofit organizations but also includes some excellent advice on whether nonprofit status is right for you and what your alternatives may be.
Find more resources for nonprofits and funding opportunities on our website.
Get involved in local government
Getting involved in your local government doesn’t have to mean running for office, though that is certainly an option. To be more involved in your local government without dedicating your career to civil service, consider joining a board, commission, or committee.
Positions on city boards, commissions, and committees are held by members of your community. These groups may advise the city council, hear appeals, oversee city departments or projects, or provide accountability. You can find a list of City of Eau Claire boards, commissions, and committees here, as well as information on how to get involved.
Protest legally and peacefully
The United States has a long history of people making their voices heard through peaceful protest. We so value our right to free speech that it was the first amendment made to our Constitution. If you choose to exercise your First Amendment right through peaceful protest, there are still some rules you have to follow. If you’re organizing or attending a protest, use this guide from the American Civil Liberties Union to brush up on your rights beforehand so you can stay safe and be heard without breaking any laws.
Honest and genuine discourse
No matter how you choose to make yourself heard, you’ll be most successful if you are honest and genuine. Be clear about your motivations, what you think needs to change, and how you want that change to happen. When you are open with people and take the time to explain your thoughts and opinions, you encourage others to do the same, which results in constructive and meaningful conversation.
The takeaway: in this, as with many things in life, you get what you give. If all you contribute to a conversation is negative comments on the internet, that’s what you’ll get in response. But if you’re willing to put in a bit of extra effort, you might be surprised how much you can change.