This is a guest post by Dr. Heather MacIndoe, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Public Affairs, University of Massachusetts Boston (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For millions of Americans, approximately half of the voting public, the 2016 Presidential election did not result in the election of the candidate they supported. Many Americans anticipated the historic election of our first female president of the United States, and an administration that would defend and extend the policies of the Obama administration. We woke up Wednesday morning--or never went to sleep--in disbelief and despair. The Presidential election result appears to be a remarkable repudiation of political expertise and experience. The question “what happened?” will be debated and discussed for a long time to come. The next logical question for many is “what do we do now?” What can we do individually, and collectively, in the face of this electoral defeat? I propose three avenues to channel our energies: voice, volunteer, and vote.
First, use your voice to become a more engaged citizen. Educate yourself about policy proposals as they make their way through the legislative process. Follow the national news via newspapers, TV, and the internet. Join email listserves, Facebook groups, and other virtual communities that disseminate information on issues that are important to you. Also seek out news sources with which you disagree: listening is an important step to understanding and responding. Finally, voice your opinion about policy and legislative votes to your elected officials. Locate the emails, office phone numbers, and U.S. mail addresses of your Senate and House representatives. Access the power of social media to stay informed about pending legislation and make your voice heard. Websites and apps like Countable make it easier to follow pending legislative issues. Contact your elected officials, especially if you did not vote for them, and make your voice heard.
A second way to harness our energies and stay engaged following this election is to volunteer. Find an organization that works towards a cause you care about. Volunteer your time and money if you can. One hour a week for a year, or for six months, can make a difference. There are many different types of volunteering from mentoring, to stuffing envelopes, to website design, to serving meals. One place to look for volunteer opportunities is the nonprofit sector. Organizations big and small, secular or religious, left/right or center, local/state or national can use your help. The vast scope of issues addressed by nonprofit organizations means there is something for everyone: including animal welfare, civil rights, criminal justice reform, education, environment, health, homelessness, women’s issues, and many more. Volunteering not only helps an organization or a cause, it can connect us with our communities, teach us about other people and places, and help us to foster connections in a disorienting time.
Finally, it is important to remember that, as consequential as this moment feels, this is one election. An additional way to direct your energies following the 2016 election is to make a pledge to vote in the future. Exercise your right to vote, and educate others about the importance of voting and of registering to vote. Make a pact now to vote in the next election, and the one after that, and the one after that. Vote in local, state, and national elections. Before the next election, talk to family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers. Encourage them to vote.
By expressing our rights as citizens with our voices, being of service and learning through volunteering, and pledging to vote, we can move forward in the wake of this election.