Maybe it's because of the subjects I study, but I can't seem to escape what's going on in the world around me no matter how hard I try. Regardless of where you lie along the political spectrum, you can't deny that the world seems especially dark and scary these days. It's so easy to feel like there are no solutions to the pain and suffering we see on the news.
It's especially easy as college students to say "oh, I don't have time to get involved" or "there's no way I could have a real impact, I'm just a student." But those statements are false! Advocacy and activism have no age requirements and there are countless simple ways to make the world a little brighter and transform yourself into a more informed and impactful individual.
Here are just four easy ways to impact your community and your country, many of which you can do right from your laptop!
This one is the most obvious and the easiest, but what so many people fail to realize at that your civic duty to vote extends far beyond the presidential primaries and general elections. Oftentimes before legislation reaches the desks of our national legislature, an iteration of it first goes through your state legislators. Additionally, locally elected representatives, such as city council members, make decisions that can have immediate impacts on your day-to-day life.
For example, most city-level public servants are the ones responsible for deciding what local taxes go towards, whether it's education, infrastructure, or security measures. The decisions made by your local representatives will have the most immediate and tangible effects on your life and it is for that reason that it is so imperative to remain aware of the elections happening at every level of government and when they are happening.
One way to stay informed is to register with TurboVote. TurboVote is an application created in partnership with Democracy Works that, once you sign up, emails you reminders regarding upcoming state, local, and federal elections as well as information regarding voter registration and absentee ballots. It's ideal for college students, particularly if you are studying at an out-of-state college or university.
2. Find Out Who Your Representatives Are, Then Contact Them.
It's super easy to find out who your representative is. A simple google search will solve that, but it can be intimidating to simply call up your representative, particularly if you've never done it before. My suggestion is to gather up a few of your friends, and set a time once a week or month to get together and call your representatives together!
Even if you agree with the decisions your representatives and senators are making, it is still so important to make that known to them. Telling your representatives how you feel about their decision is one of the easiest ways to convince your representative to either stay committed to their previous decisions or change their stances on certain issues to better fit the needs of their constituents (that's you!).
If you're at a loss for where to start, Common Cause is a nonpartisan organization that not only tells you who your representatives are at the state and federal levels, but it also connects you with strategies and ideas regarding how to better combat government corruption on a personal level. Additionally, Common Cause lists the bills your representative has sponsored, the committees they're on, and from what resources they get their campaign funding. C-SPAN is also great for more in-depth information regarding your federal representatives and their decision-making history.
3. Diversify the Media You Consume.
The first two steps might be some of the easiest, but this one is definitely the most fun. Did you know that an Italian study showed that children who read the Harry Potter books grew up to be more empathetic adults? That's because the types of media we consume, particularly when we consume media created by people who don't look and think like us, can actually affect the way we see the world. A no-brainer, right? As NPR's Shankar Vedantam explains:
When stories allow us to empathize with people who lead very different lives or come from very different backgrounds, it allows us to get into their shoes in a way that no amount of preaching can accomplish.
So does this mean you should just go reread the Harry Potter and call it good? Of course not (although it is the greatest series of all-time so definitely take it for a spin if you haven't yet).
What this means in terms of becoming a more empathetic and understanding adult, is read books and watch movies and tv shows written by, created by, and starring those individuals whose voices have historically been silenced.
Refinery29 has a great round-up of articles, books, and podcasts for readings struggling with the recent rise of white nationalism in our country as well as a great list of non-fiction and fiction novels written by black women.
Check out Wired for a phenomenal piece that not only highlights an abundance of tv shows created by and starring non-traditional stories and storytellers but also points out that while progress has been made in film and TV, there is still a lot of work to be done before we achieve true representation of all.
And lastly, the New York Times has a frequent feature in which they round up the best partisan writings on current issues from the right and the left which is a great way to better understand how those with differing political viewpoints see the current issues in policy and current events.
4. Find a volunteer opportunity that best suits your passions and abilities.
Finding the right organization can be challenging, particularly if you don't know what's out there. Thankfully, VolunteerMatch.org is a service that uses your location and area of interest, whether it be animals, education, or the environment, and tells you all the different organizations in your area that are dedicated to your interests.
What's more, the website's listings are written much like those mass job application listings so they feature specific details about time requirements and the actual duties of each volunteer opportunity so that you can be sure to find what works best for you and your schedule.
What do you think?
Did I miss anything? What are some ways that you ensure that you remain engaged in the world around you? How do you balance the requirements of college life with your responsibilities to your community?
Any other suggestions for alternative media or entertainment sources to check out? Let us know in the comments below!