While watching The Today Show this past week after an especially intense early elliptical workout, I was shocked at one of their breaking stories. No, it wasn’t about Madonna rejecting flowers or Ashton taking over on Two and a Half Men. Rather, they reported that in the most recent Gallup Political Survey only 12 percent of Americans are supportive of Congress. Surprise, surprise. With hyper-polarization amongst its members, a failing economy and sobering unemployment numbers, Americans have every reason to be upset with their representation.
However, the important thing becomes what we should do about it.
You could respond like many do: shout, complain, vilify the opposing party and its ideals, vent on your blog or Facebook status and put bumper stickers on your car. But in the long term, what does this really accomplish, other than, of course, providing an effective emotional catharsis?
I would hope that instead of sitting on your hands and passive-aggressively dealing with your frustration that you actually do something about it. Echoing a sentiment from Mr. McCann, I urge you to grow cynical of your cynicism and take action.
By all means there are many ways of accomplishing this. Many are quite obvious. Write your senator, sign an online petition, call their office. With the current negative opinion of Congress, it’s probably easy to say, “What difference would I make there?” Don’t let this feeling stop you. I suggest you turn to an often overlooked but significantly powerful resource: your state-level officials!
Why? What power do they have? A lot, and that power immediately affects you.
Not to discredit our national Congress, but the key word there is “national.” They are policymakers with a very different political agenda than their state-level counterparts. Your state senator or representative was elected to serve the immediate needs of their state, and more specifically their much smaller, more focused voting district.
The summer after my sophomore year, I interned for the Nebraska Attorney General’s office. It was a perfect example of a local office in action, and I can attest to the hard work and dedication everyone put into their jobs. They met with people from all walks of life: concerned parents, angry farmers, even college students like me. Sometimes, the concerns of the individuals didn’t fall under our office’s jurisdiction. Rather than just waving them off, our constituent representative would put them in contact with the specific individual who could solve their problems, offer to call on their behalf, or if they had walked into the office, have one of the interns (like me) offer to take them to the appropriate department.
State senators and representatives are no different. On one of my lunch breaks, I looked up the office of my senator and found myself knocking on his door. Senator Pirsch wasn’t there that day, but his secretary gave me his business card and cell phone number. Later I dialed it, and was taken totally off guard when he picked up. We had a short, but productive conversation where I voiced my concerns about sustainability and the Nebraska economy. Although our viewpoints were different, Senator Pirsch listened to everything I said. I was floored by the respect he gave me. Me! Nothing but a lowly college student. He told me that he would look into it, and you know what… I honestly believe that he did. I know it’s cheesy, but I felt so empowered, and felt that my faith in our government was restored.
Next time you get a chance, I encourage you to call your local representative. Call your state senator or representative when something is done that upsets you. Ask to speak to them and address your concerns. You’re they’re boss. Use your voice. If you can, over Fall Break I encourage you to head to your state capitol building. Take in the beautiful artwork, see the legislative chambers, and feel the history. Above all, knock on some doors. You’d be surprised how much power you have in your hands.
A senior majoring in Political Science and Communication, James hails from Omaha, Nebraska. He focuses primarily on the unique things that define our everyday lives.