As my colleague, Antero Garcia, explained in a DML Central post last month, we are working together to produce a web series that provides educators with tools and tips to support civically-engaged pedagogy in their classrooms and beyond. Sponsored by the Studies of Literacy and Multimedia (SLAM) Assembly within the National Council of Teachers of English, SLAM School aims to offer demonstrations of useful strategies in 30 minutes or less.
A few weeks ago, I led a class on how (and why) to interact with your elected representatives. I want to share some of what I discussed there, along with some additional resources, not only to highlight the content but also to stress the ease with which we can use the resources at our disposal to mobilize ourselves and the folks within our sphere of influence — something we should all be pushing ourselves to do as democratic citizens.
I’ll start with the why. Why encourage folks to engage with their representatives in their roles as educators and not just private citizens? Two reasons stand out to me. First, we educators are always looking for authentic literacy experiences in which to engage our students. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, many of our students are keenly interested in political issues. They have questions. They have concerns. They are citizens, even they if they are not yet of voting age. They are yearning to be taken seriously in civic life. Contacting representatives can serve as a perfect springboard for authentic persuasive essay writing assignments. Students can learn who their representatives are, how to contact them, and how to craft persuasive arguments to the people who represent their families in order to advocate for what they care about.
Second, we should remember that as teachers, we are also civic agents. We are citizens. That means that when we are outside of our classrooms, we can continue to advocate for our students, our schools, and our communities. We can press for action on the issues that affect public education.
So, here are some ways to get started:
- Find your representatives — You may be thinking to yourself, “Nicole, I am embarrassed to admit this, but I don’t even know who my elected representatives are.” Do not be embarrassed. It took me a long time to know who represented me beyond my senators. Sometimes we know the big names that dominate the nightly news, but we forget about some of the folks who are further down the line. This site is a good place to get started with basic information and links to the contact information of folks from the president all the way down to your city, county, and town officials.
- Town Hall Project — As I discuss in the video, there are many ways to interact with your representatives, each with pros and cons. Oftentimes, the most effective (and immediately satisfying) way to get your concerns heard is to talk to your representative in person. If you’re not sure whether or not your representatives are coming back to your district and doing a town hall, you can obviously go to their individual websites to look for that information. Another cool site that’s just popped up after the election is called Town Hall Project. This is where members of the public can submit events. You can type in your zip code and learn about official events sponsored by your representatives or locally organized actions. You can also add events yourself.
- Swing Left — Even though the presidential election always gets the lion’s share of electoral attention (and is obviously extremely significant), midterm congressional elections are extremely important to controlling the national legislative agenda — and are often decided by tiny proportions of voters in a handful of contested districts. Swing Left is aiming to influence this process in 2018. Type in your zip code and the site will let you know the closest swing district where your concerted efforts could “swing” the outcome of the next mid-term election. The idea here is to foster engagement even if you live in a district that solidly votes for one party or another by directing your attention to a focal district nearby.
- Resistance Calendar — Filmmaker and activist Michael Moore launched this site in the wake of the presidential election as a clearinghouse for communicating organizing efforts in opposition to the presidential agenda. This site goes far beyond electoral politics — when you type in your zip code, you can find rallies, protests, and educational events that will connect you to political engagement writ large in your area.
I’d also like to note that getting engaged should go hand in hand with getting informed. As multiple studies have noted, many of us are trapped in ideological echo chambers in which our news sources and social media feeds reflect our existing political views back to us rather than challenging us with new information. A recent New York Times article offers information about a variety of digital tools aimed at helping you recognize the political slants of the information sources you consume and to branch out into new venues and perspectives.
My overall message here: civic engagement is more necessary than ever and (luckily for us) can be facilitated by easy-to-use online tools. So get going!
Banner image: screenshot of usa.gov website