This past weekend millions of people in the United States and around the world joined rallies and protests to support women’s rights. For some people, it was the first time participating in a protest, and for others, it was a new chapter in a longer history of activism. Whether or not you participated in one of the marches, there are many ways you can keep the momentum going and help influence the shape of our politics.
Because we’re seeing so much fresh interest and passion in the United States, we’ve drafted this post to help you express yourself in a way that influences decision makers. It’s written by our team in Washington D.C. and applies directly to our U.S. audience, but we hope these concepts will be useful no matter where you are.
1.) Get involved at the grassroots. All politics is local.
The rallies over the weekend began as a protest of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, but sister rallies popped up on every continent, including Antarctica. (Did you see the Penguins for Peace? Adorbs.) Political events like this can reverberate around the world, and the internet can even enable the growth of global movements. However, politicians are elected by local communities, and they are accountable to them. So if you’re hoping to continue to make a difference, the best place to start is often at “home” — in your city and state.
Sometimes, thousands of people from across the U.S. will call a member of Congress, and it will be treated like background noise. But when our representatives get even a single call from a constituent of their state, they tend to pay more attention. This power is expanded exponentially when you participate consistently, show up in person (whether in an office in Washington or the home district), and conduct yourself respectfully.
And while federal politics can have a big impact on our lives, local and state issues can be just as important, and have an even bigger impact, including federally. In many communities, city council meetings (or their equivalents) are open, but relatively few people attend, and those few can have considerable influence. State legislators will often host public events to encourage citizens to get involved and speak up. These politicians will respond to you when you speak up. Participating at this level of government can even have a global impact on human rights. The City Council in Mountain View, California, recently passed a resolution to become the newest Human Rights City, pledging to put human rights at the center of future laws and policies.
This means that perhaps the single most important thing you can do to influence politics is to find out who represents you — in Congress and at local and state level. Sign up for their newsletters so you can learn about their public events. Interact with them on Facebook and Twitter. These are tools they maintain to communicate with you and they’re easy to tap into. If you can, follow their committees and pay attention to the public hearings and events.
Then, if you want to go further, take it up a notch. Lawmakers accept phone calls from their constituents, and as we note above, it can be a powerful way to communicate on specific issues. Their phone numbers are available on their websites: Call them. (This website by citizens dedicated to pushing back against the Trump administration is just one effort to make such calls easier, offering sample scripts on specific issues.) Organize with your friends and attend their events, and then ask questions. You can also ask for meetings with staff members. Representative democracy starts with you. If you are thoughtful and respectful, they will listen.
2.) Already engaging with your representatives? Give your input on government rules.
Not every decision that impacts our lives is made by the Congress. Many of the rules we live by are created by federal agencies. In many cases, they’re required to incorporate public — read, your — input.
The Administrative Procedure Act sets forth the process by which federal agencies promulgate new rules. Rules are essentially substantive changes in agency policy that can impact your rights. Both proposed and finalized rules are published in the Federal Register. You can easily subscribe to the Federal Register to receive notifications when new rules are proposed at specific agencies or on specific topics. For example, if you’re interested what the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is doing with regard to encryption and cryptography, like we are, you can set up an alert so you get an email whenever NIST publishes something that includes those terms.
Once you have alerts set up, you can take a look at what’s being published and provide your input. The easiest way to submit comments is through Regulations.gov. On the website, you can either search by agency or put in a citation to the Federal Register to see a specific proposal, as well as any previous comments that have been submitted. Anyone can comment on these proposals, and the agency must take into account all comments that are submitted before finalizing proposed rules.
Comments can be long and detailed with many citations, or short and based on personal opinions. On Twitter, Wendy Knox Everette, a technologist who used to read these comments as a government intern, offers tips to ensure your comment makes an impact:
- Explain tech issues clearly, including citations to background material
- Clearly respond to any specific questions included in the request for comment
- Use headers and organize your thoughts
- Avoid sweeping generalizations in favor of explanations of specific impacts
You can also sign up to be notified via email when anything is added to dockets that you’re interested in.
3.) Sign up for alerts from Access Now! We’re striving to fend off attacks on your privacy and free expression
We know this sounds like self-interest, but we’re in Washington D.C. working on your behalf every single day. By signing up for the Access Now Express and our action alerts you can find out what’s happening in Washington and how it impacts your digital rights. And if you show your support for the work we do by taking action, you also increase Access Now’s influence on Capitol Hill. That makes your voice even louder.
Of course, taking these steps is not a fail-safe way to stop bad legislation or harmful regulations (or to pass good ones), but they are solid first steps to getting involved in what’s happening right now. They will also go a long way toward ensuring that the people representing you in our government are doing just that. Together, we’ll learn from each other to ensure we’re defending human rights.