Strong opinions, weakly held

Actually getting involved in politics

Matthew Yglesias answers a question from a reader about what to do to contribute to political change in this country. As the reader points out, reading political blogs, watching The Daily Show, and chatting about it with your spouse is not really going to get it done.

Matt offers two suggestions: write Congress and promote your views out there in the world, among people who may not agree with you. I second both of those recommendations. I can say first hand that I have changed the political views of some friends and family members through sheer persistence and a willingness to be annoying. I would also point out that I have had my changed on some subjects by engaging with people who disagree with me.

I would also add that there are two more organized venues that you can become involved with if you want to create change — activism and campaigning. Getting involved with activism involves joining organizations that advocate for a specific policy or principle and then working on that cause. Amnesty International, the ACLU, and, for that matter, the NRA are national activist organizations. There are activist organizations focused on local issues everywhere as well.

Campaigning is another option. Organizing for America already has volunteers phone banking to recruit even more volunteers and registering voters. We also have a local election in October. When you campaign, you forget what you know about the insufficiency of the President’s jobs plan or the fact that we escalated the war in Afghanistan, at least while you’re volunteering. You’re there to make sure that the least bad viable candidates get elected. I realize that this is offensive to ideological purity, but it is essential work.

Whatever frustrations I have with President Obama or North Carolina governor Bev Perdue, the truth is that they are both infinitely better than John McCain or Pat McCrory from where I sit. Obviously liberals need to pressure elected officials to support the policies that are important to us, but Democrats are more amenable to pressure from liberals than Republicans are. The long term goal has to be to build a progressive political organization strong enough to elect truly liberal candidates rather than moderate ones. To do so, we need liberals to show up and help build the party.

Obviously not all of these options are for everyone, but if you’re frustrated with the state of things, you should choose one or more and throw yourself into it. I volunteered during the 2008 Presidential campaign, but I didn’t really get into it until 2010. It was August 28, the day of the Restoring Honor rally that Glenn Beck was throwing, and I was just incredibly frustrated by the whole thing. It occurred to me that wandering around the house being angry at Glenn Beck wasn’t going to do anything to create a world that resembles my ideals more than it resembles his, so we went down to the local Democratic headquarters and started volunteering.

In closing, I’d urge you to read this post by Ta-Nahesi Coates, which explains as well as anything I’ve read that creating change is the responsibility of the people who desire that change. Being disappointed in President Obama or frustrated with the Tea Party is a waste of time. The only thing we really control is the amount of effort we put into getting what we want.


  1. One extra bit I’d add is that it may be easier and more immediately fruitful to get involved with local politics.

    It might not seem as awe-inspiring as national politics, but the issues are very real, and the need for engaged participants at least as strong.

  2. great points, well put. people who disengage because of their frustration are taking the wrong tack — become a fly in the ointment of your frustrators! avalanches start small!

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