The General Primary elections have now come and gone. Many took the opportunity to cast their vote this week, completing their civic duty and having their voices heard.
No matter the actual outcome of the elections, whether a person's candidate collected the most votes and won, or whether their vote actually "counted", their civic duty is done until the next election.
But politics doesn't end at the poll booth. In reality, that's where many political careers begin. So why should citizens limit their political involvement to voting?
Don't get me wrong; voting done right and responsibly is hard work. It is not confined to the time spent in the elections office. Many times it involves researching policies, asking questions and comparing candidates. It takes hard work to make sure you're casting an informed vote.
But voting is not the only way to have your voice heard. We live (for the most part) in a democracy. A government that is run by the people must also have the involvement of its people in politics. Too often we think our only civic duty is to elect a person to represent us. It is irresponsible to elect candidates then turn a blind eye to those candidates' actions. Elected officials need to be held accountable and they need input from their constituents. Elected officials should not be the only people involved in politics.
Attend a city council or board of commissioners meeting. Go to a rally or sign a petition. Volunteer to help with the campaign of a candidate you support. Start a group within your neighborhood that fights for the needs of your community. Get involved. Do something.
That involvement will look differently for each person. Some opt out of voting. Some don't have time to attend meetings, or they're too shy to approach their representatives. That's o.k. Get involved in whatever way you can.
During an election year - especially one like this year where tensions are high - social media becomes an outlet to discuss (complain about) politics. Suddenly, every Facebook friend is a political analyst and an expert on foreign policy, government spending and immigration. People are interested in politics. But they're not going to get much done by complaining about it online.
Social media provides a sense of community. But aside from fundraising efforts and maybe petitions, online civic involvement doesn't have much power. It is great for sharing ideas and organizing thoughts and groups. In some situations, social media can help create larger change. But the city council doesn't scroll through their Twitter feed when deciding which bills to sponsor, they don't look through Facebook to see which of their constituents "like" postings on gun control.
But there is power in physically showing up to share your views. Maybe that's signing up to speak in favor or opposition of a rezoning application at your city council meeting. Maybe that's introducing yourself to your state representative and asking them for an update.
What ever form it takes, there's power in your physical presence. Not only does it show commitment and make politics personal, but it's hard for someone to ignore you when
you're speaking face-to-face.
Our involvement in politics shouldn't be limited to electing officials that will be involved in politics for us. Communities should be involved in their local politics. Americans should be involved in national politics. The decisions made by local, state and national politicians do affect us in both large and small ways. And how those decisions affect us cannot always be controlled by elections. It takes action far past the elections to ensure a responsible government.