6 ways to stay civically and politically engaged during a pandemic
We’ve all found ourselves with more time on our hands and how we use that time matters.
COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of young people’s lives from attending school and socializing, to financial stability and more. While the future appears unclear, we should not become complacent in advocating for the issues that matter to us as the novel coronavirus continues to illuminate failures in our political systems in regards to health care, family leave, economic and food justice, just to name a few.
Even if you are not the most civically engaged, we’ve all found ourselves with more time on our hands and how we use that time matters. And getting involved with advocacy is a much more meaningful alternative to binge-watching every new show on Netflix.
Let’s face it: many methods of traditional activism, such as protesting, in-person mass mobilization and community-empowerment models are no longer a viable option. Yet, even while practicing social distancing and taking proper COVID-19 precautions, civic organizing is still available to people through digital strategies. Here are some everyday ways you can be civically engaged and organize from the comfort of your couch:
One of the easiest ways you can be involved is by staying informed. Knowledge is power when it comes to organizing. Follow reputable sources and learn how to self-check the news to combat misinformation and educate yourself on any biases. Now is also a great time to support your local newspaper with an online subscription. In addition to staying updated on current events and how COVID-19 will continue to impact your community and our world, take time out of your day to research an issue that matters to you, from climate change to criminal justice reform, and build up your knowledge on that topic so you can be an effective advocate for that issue.
Incorporate digital organizing into activism
Digital organizing should not replace the powerful work that organizers do on the ground. Digital organizing can, however, supplement these mobilization efforts and increase support, especially during statewide coronavirus lockdowns. By creating Facebook events and Instagram stories and using other interactive social media features, you can meet new people online who can support and join your organizing efforts. You can also raise money through online fundraising, with websites like GoFundMe and ActBlue, and promote your fundraising campaign by making posts and utilizing digital ads on social media.
Another example of a good digital organizing practice is to incorporate communications platforms like GroupMe, Whatsapp and Slack in order to reach large groups of people at once and help keep team members in contact with each other.
Build your online community and find digital mentorship
While navigating social media as a political tool may seem daunting, there is a community of digital organizers out there you can tap into with just a single Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook message. Even by looking up a political term on Facebook (such as “progressive”) you will find hundreds of pages and groups, all filled with people who could be partners, mentors, remote volunteers, donors or possibly voters for your campaign (and this can also be a good way to make friends with similar interests!). If any social media page is making posts or content that you want to learn how to make, reach out to the account owners. Online organizers don’t bite, and may be willing to show you a couple of tricks to help you develop your own online organizing style, as well as be potential partners for your cause.
Learn best practices for organizing on social media
Social media is a hub for online political organizing, but as with physical political organizing skills, some digital political organizing skills are not innate. Harvard University offers a Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook to teach the basics of securing social media accounts, which should always be your first step.
Social media organizing skills are crucial in teaching young people how to be engaged citizens capable of making change. Harnessing the power of youth, The Institute for Civic Organizing (TICO) seeks to provide a foundation on civics and activism that encourages and empowers mobilization, while sowing the seeds of grassroots movements and social change in the next generation. TICO is currently developing a modern, standardized curriculum called “Organizing Civics,” to equip young people with the tools needed to be successful in political organizing and activism. You can take a digital lesson from organizing civics here, and the full curriculum will be released later this month to keep you busy during social distancing.
Stay engaged with elections and vote
With the growing uncertainty of COVID-19, some states have delayed their primaries and have urged caution about canvassing. However, this should not stop political involvement. Voting early and requesting an absentee ballot now are two options to exercise your civic duty at a safe distance. Go to your local Board of Election website and inform yourself on the process or start the application for an absentee ballot. Since every state’s voting laws are different, make sure to do some research so that you understand your state’s procedures. For a comprehensive list of state-based primary voting instructions and deadlines check out the US Vote Foundation. Additionally, you can reach out to your legislators and encourage them to implement universal vote by mail. This is not only the safest option, but has been seen as a measure to increase turnout. States such as Oregon and Washington that vote exclusively by mail have an average of ten percent higher voter turnout than elsewhere. Additionally, voting by mail has been seen to improve voter access and can help alleviate potential class bias.
Many national and local campaigns are also implementing digital town halls and virtual campaign rallies to engage and keep voters informed during this unprecedented time. Following candidates on their social media will help you stay informed and in-touch with their policies.
Practice digital self-care
As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Currently, most newsfeeds feature an endless stream of coronavirus worries and pessimistic political stories. While it is absolutely important to be informed (as we mentioned earlier!), knowing when to turn off your devices (and maybe mute the words “coronavirus” and “COVID-19”) is crucial to get through this pandemic and good practice for the next major world event. Setting time limits and reminders on your social media apps, changing your notification settings and monitoring your screen time are three easy steps you can take. Try and set time out of your day where you don’t have your phone next to you and try to not use your phone before bed as much as possible. With more of a reliance on technology during social isolation, it’s never been more important to set boundaries for yourself. Check in with yourself, go outside and take a deep breath!
In times of social distancing and isolation, digital organizing may be the only way to reach people. This is why it is important to learn and practice digital civic engagement. While we all continue to navigate this together, take time to figure out what issues matter to you and let’s start organizing.
Hannah Zimmerman is a political organizer and international policy researcher. She co-founded The Institute for Civic Organizing (TICO) and is New York’s Youngest Elected Official . Follow her on Twitter . Stay tuned for the release of The Institute for Civic Organizing’s full digital organizing Curriculum with the Stanford Project on Democracy and the Internet later this spring. Sign up to join the Institute for Civic Organizing Volunteer Team here !