So you’ve cast your vote. Now what? That’s what numerous friends and relatives are asking me after Election Day this year. A lot of Montanans seem to have lost faith that one vote can make a difference in their community.
Making A Difference After Election Day
From my experience, average Montanans who engage with their local representatives directly and peacefully can truly make a difference.
The great thing about our American system of government is that voting is only a small part of what the average person can do to make a change.
Drawing from my years as an advisor for statewide Montana candidates and officeholders, here are a couple tips for how the average person can make a difference beyond election day:
1: Contact your representatives directly
The popular sentiment seems to be that once a candidate is elected, they stop listening to their constituents. On the contrary, the sole job of elected officials is to represent you. In fact, our federal and statewide officeholders have entire departments dedicated to reading and responding to email inquiries, answering phone calls and connecting constituents with people who can help solve their problems.
Obviously, statewide officeholders can’t directly monitor or respond to every inquiry (they have busy schedules!), so you’ll most likely be interacting with a staffer. However, don’t take that to mean your message won’t make a difference. Staff are paid to help elected officials be effective representatives and credible interactions provide valuable information about what constituents care about.
Montanans are lucky to have an even more direct line to local and legislative officials. The benefit of having a part-time, citizen legislature is most representatives have their email or phone number listed on the legislative website, and they watch it closely. Contacting your local representative directly is a great way to get their attention, make them aware of your concerns and get to the bottom of an issue.
Second and third-hand accounts of political issues on social media can often be unreliable and intentionally inflammatory. By contacting your representative directly, you give them the opportunity for a direct explanation. Odds are they can share important information about an issue that wasn’t communicated clearly or fairly by others.
2: Aim for peaceful dialogue
In our polarized political environment, most messages our representatives receive is hate mail, filled with insults and threats that accomplish nothing. Engaging in an impactful way with your representatives requires breaking through this vitriol and demonstrating your credibility.
Start by being charitable in your interactions. It’s safe to assume your representative, like most people, is simply trying to do the right thing. Try approaching your local representative like you would a new neighbor. Introduce yourself politely and offer genuine interest in their point of view. Perhaps invite them to sit down for a coffee and an extended discussion. By offering them respect, you’ll receive it back and your representative will be more open to what you have to say.
Next, do your research and come prepared. Representatives have a lot of smart, informed people vying for their attention. Worn-out catchphrases and passionate hyperbole from social media don’t translate well into constructive information an elected official would find useful. This is one reason why disruptive protests rarely lead to concrete policy change. Instead, marshal your arguments, gather evidence and try to focus on communicating your unique perspective about an issue.
From my experience, average Montanans who engage with their local representatives directly and peacefully can truly make a difference. But don’t take my word for it, give it a try.
This article originally appeared in Lee Newspapers