If you got involved in the election at any level, you might have gotten a feel for the excitement and passion that political discussion and activism brings. If you're candidate lost, you likely a little depressed. Even if your candidate won, you may be feeling down a little right now simply because its over. I want to take a moment to plead with you to stay involved.
The problem with presidential elections is that they only come along every four years. Sure, they're big and exciting, and full of complex and important issues, but your chances of having a significant impact are pretty small. But there are plenty of other causes where you can make a difference. Tip O'Neill said, famously, that all politics is local and that's more true than you might expect.
You state legislature, county commission, school board, and city council are full of important issues, many of which would benefit from your technical expertise. They're also full of people who, for the most part, are willing to listen and appreciate all the help they can get. So, how do you get involved?
- Read the papers on local issues and find things that interest you and about which you have an informed opinion. Electronic voting, telecom policy, broadband issues, spyware legislation, identity theft, and cable television franchising are examples of issues on which you can have a real impact.
- Talk about local public policy issues on your blog and use your blog to shape your opinions and to gather feedback on them.
- Start a mailing list or RSS feed for like minded people. Start to form a community in your community around technically oriented, public policy issues.
- Become acquainted with people in your local government and your local legislators. In most jurisdictions, these people are part time, so they have other jobs and probably work close by. Invite them to lunch and spend the time listening to them about the problems they're facing.
- Show up for legislative committee meetings where issues you care about are being discussed, listen to the debate and speak up in the public comment periods.
- In everything you do, be polite, respectful, and non-confrontational. For the most part, these people will welcome you help. They're not evil or power hungry monsters; they go home at the end of the day yo their kids, order pizza, and watch Monday Night Football. My experience is that they want your help and will take it if you offer it respectfully--even when its not what they want to hear.
- Write guest opinion pieces for the paper. Most people know you can write a letter to the editor, but don't realize that most of the guest opinion pieces, which have more impact, are largely unsolicited as well. Call the opinion page editor and explain that you're like to write an opinion piece on a particular topic. This works best if its close to some other news event that it ties into or offers a counter point to another editorial in the same paper on that topic. Often you'll get a positive response.
- Hold a news conference. If you've got an opinion informed by your technical expertise about a local issue, write up a press release and create an event. This works best when a group has created the document and has to be about an issue that the press is interested in right now. Call the local newspaper, radio, and TV stations and ask them to come. You'd be surprised that this can work. If nothing else, you'll get them to read the press release and may get some interviews from it.
These are just a few ideas. There are plenty more. The most important thing is to realize that you can make a difference in issues and that your expertise is sorely needed in public policy. There's much public policy today that has a technical angle to it and too few public officials who understand it in sufficient detail to do it by themselves. If the dream of connected democracy becomes a reality, it won't just be because it has the power to affect national events once every four years--it will be because it is effective at changing public policy for the better on a day-by-day basis and that is most likely to happen when smart people get involved in local issues.