HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Read: The Indivisible Guide to Resisting the Trump Agenda

ACTIVISM GUIDE

You can make change by getting involved right here in Central PA, and it's easier than you think. Start below to learn about activism, and browse the Action Agenda for information about campaigns in Central Pennsylvania. You can be of any age and don’t need any special skills to participate.

Effective Action in the Midstate

A local example of effective action is organized by a group called Tuesdays with Toomey (TWT). Passionate Pennsylvanians rally together at lunchtime and deliver letters to Senator Pat Toomey at his regional offices throughout the state, including Harrisburg. Each week, letters and speeches focus on a central theme, such as the environment, the First Amendment, the Affordable Care Act etc... TWT's effective organizing and engaged citizens recently flooded the senator's offices with calls and letters demanding a town hall meeting. The national media picked up on the story and Senator Toomey could no longer ignore the voices of his constituents. On February, 21, he finally met with organizers who reminded the senator that we will hold him accountable and we will not stop until a face-to-face town hall forum provides citizens with direct access. While the senator has held telephone town halls--announcing them just an hour or two in advance--we continue to keep up the pressure and push for an in-person event.​

Personal Action Plan: Becoming an Agent of Change

 1. Learn the Basics of Grassroots Activism: read the Indivisible Guide and research issues that matter  to you

The most informed citizens are also the most effective at shaping public policy. Overtime, you'll develop a thorough understanding of what's happening in your community and how you can be an active participant. You don't have to know everything and you can stick to the issues you're most passionate about. Start by reading the Indivisible Guide for a primer on political activism. Stay up to date with a daily newspaper (in paper or online) and visit the websites of issue campaigns, such as the environmental group Sierra Club PA and the student group PA Student Power Network, or attend a seminar at a local college or university.

Beginner's Tip: Try to avoid spreading yourself too thin. It's natural to feel overwhelmed and burnt out in our fast-paced digital age. There's no need to retain every piece of information or act on every opportunity. Be consistent and stick to the basics. Soon, civic engagement will be as habitual as checking your Facebook feed.

 2. Develop a Personal Action Plan Based On Your Skills and Interests

Having a plan will help you become a more effective advocate. Consider how much time you'd like to

commit and schedule your involvement accordingly. Focusing on your specific strengths will help

guide you to the right action opportunities and make the biggest difference. If you're a writer,why not

spend more time crafting messages to your legislators.? If you're a people person, you'd make a great

canvasser and event volunteer. Computer aficionado?--contribute by helping to manage websites

(like the Action Agenda), social media accounts and data archives. For those who don't feel like you

have a special skill, try your hand at all of the above and see what works best for you. Photography,

research, data entry and helping set up events are all equally important. Every role is essential and

every person an asset.

 3. Contact Elected Officials and Sign Petitions

Political representation is an essential function of our Democracy. It requires informed and engaged citizens who contact officials directly and often. Calling and writing your officials helps highlight specific issues, communicates your positions and let's them know that citizens are paying attention to what's happening in government. It only takes one or two-hundred letters to attract the attention of an elected official--someone who earns a paycheck to represent you. Contact details for your officials can be found on the Action Agenda here.

A few tips on letter-writing from the American Civil Liberties Union:

  • Keep it brief: One page maximum and be concise

  • State who you are: Tell your legislators that you are a constituent and identify the issue up front

  • Hit your three most important points: Choose your strongest points that will be the most effective and persuasive

  • Personalize your letter: Tell your official why legislation matters in his community and include a personal story that shows how this issue affects you and your family

  • You are the expert: Remember that your legislator's job is to represent you. You should be courteous and to the point, but don't be afraid to take a firm position

Add your name to Pennsylvania petitions here.

Visit the Community Toolbox for more letter-writing tips here.

 4. Join an Organization and Attend a Meeting: connect with others and learn the ropes of political organizing

Local organizations develop campaigns to shape public policy. They act in several different ways to support one or multiple issues. In addition to helping you learn and practice practical advocacy skills, they conduct research, organize rallies, recruit candidates, raise public awareness, operate election campaigns, conduct voter registration drives and influence the debate about legislation. Visit the Organizations page for links to local groups; there you can find information about meetings and how to sign up.

Social organizations and events are also great places to spark connections. They're perfect for raising awareness, recruiting volunteers and having fun while making a real difference! From LGBT meetups and interfaith dinners to book clubs and local travel groups, Central PA hosts a large variety of opportunities.

 5. Participate: attend demonstrations and town halls, canvass, and write letters to editors

Now that you’ve learned about the issues, written your elected officials and joined an organization, continue your personal action plan with direct action by going to rallies, visiting representatives' offices, and supporting election campaigns. As an expert on your issues, also consider speaking at an event or writing letters to the editor of local publications (learn how to write letters to editors here).

Canvassing is a fancy word for engaging people in your community 1-on-1. It is the most effective way to persuade voters to support your issues and candidates. Canvassers can learn the craft in a small amount of time from experienced organizers. First, you'll develop talking points about your cause or candidate and learn how to incorporate persuasive techniques into your dialogue. Then you'll practice with other canvassers to gain confidence and master the message. Finally, hit the streets with a contact list, a fellow canvasser and your contagious passion, the most valuable trait in an activist.

 6. Help the Community Directly such as befriending refugees, feeding the hungry, or volunteering with the YWCA

There are many ways to make an impact on someone's life

today. The greater Harrisburg area offers opportunities to

befriend newly-arrived refugees, help feed the hungry and

mentor disadvantaged youth. Donate blood, join the YWCA

or help out at your local library. Volunteering in your local

community helps you stay connected to the people who matter.

  7. Grow from Experience and Expand Your Network

Congratulations. You've already made a direct impact on your community by acting politically and helping others. Now's the time to reaffirm your commitment to political activism by sharpening your leadership skills for future campaigns and expanding your network as a community organizer. Take the next step by organizing public demonstrations, starting a local chapter of a national group, lobbying the government and pursuing formal leadership positions in your community. Attending leadership-training workshops and studying effective advocacy strategies will prepare you for the next step. A good place to start is the Community Toolbox, an excellent resource for people who want to bring about social change.

  8. Run for Office: yes, you!

It's now more important than ever for everyday citizens to run for elected office. Like getting involved with activism for the first time, it's easier than you think and you already have the prerequisites. A natural first step is to get elected to your party's county committee, which means that you represent your local precinct on the executive committee. These are unpaid, thankless positions, but they connect you with the resources, people and opportunities to take on larger responsibilities. Committee persons help operate local campaigns, nominate candidates and organize local events. Thousands of precincts are not represented at all, so contact your county committee to get on the ballot.

Women who run for office are as successful as men at getting elected, but they remain underrepresented across Pennsylvania. That's why we need support efforts to recruit women to run for political positions. Following this guide is handy, but contact the folks at Emerge to join their candidate training program, which has already helped prepare 2,000 Democratic women for their first campaigns. Also check out this New York Times feature about NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's experience as a woman running for office.

We are currently developing additional content for this page. Contact us if you or your organization would like to contribute to this section.

Action Agenda

© 2017 by Michael Fisher.

Created by David Wenger and Michael Fisher for informational purposes only. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee. Event photographs and video by  David C. Wenger and Michael S. Fisher, unless otherwise noted.

info@actionagenda.org

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