So you want to be an activist? Here are 5 things you need to start doing now

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The last few weeks have been exhausting, to say the least. As someone who never thought we would get to the point of an actual Muslim, refugee and immigrant ban, I’m both physically and mentally drained. At times, I feel energized and ready to do whatever I can as a citizen to fight the new and dangerous orders. Other times, I feel completely overwhelmed with just how much damage has already been done.

I’m sure others feel the same and at times like these, the only thing that keeps me from giving up and crawling into bed is seeing the sleeping giant that these orders have awakened in the American people. In the past few weeks alone, I’ve seen activism in ways I’ve never seen before.

From the millions of people that participated in the Women’s March in January, to the thousands who showed up in droves at airports all over the United States to protest the unconstitutional travel ban, I’m inspired and hopeful that not all is lost for America. If you are looking for ways to get politically involved and fight back against these policies, here is a list of the most useful and effective ways to express your dissent.

1. Educate yourself

I’ve always prided myself on being politically active and involved, but I’ve realized that while I’m pretty familiar with Congress and the Executive Office, I don’t really know much about State-level politics. I know even less about local politics. The most important thing anyone can do as an active political participant is to be informed.

Do some research and find out who your mayor is, who your state legislators are, who your governor is. Learn about what they actually do. If you don’t already know, also find out who your two Senators are and who your Representative is. Look up their voting record. Look up who their campaign donors are (this is very important because this is where you will be able to figure out where their interests are. Lobbyists=money for politicians= interests and agendas). We can’t fight back against if we don’t know how our political system is made up.

Additionally, educate yourself on what the issues are. A post your friend put up on Facebook and Twitter from a questionable media source is most likely not the most informed opinion. Look up breaking news stories from multiple outlets, look at the history and context of the issue, and form your own opinion. Social media is great, but can also be a blackhole of misinformation.

2. Get up close and personal with your representatives

Call them and urge them to vote for/against whatever issue you support. Many people write off calling senators and representatives because they don’t believe it will do anything or that one voice will matter (these are probably also the people who think voting doesn’t work.) But I can tell you from personal experience that it *does* work. I was an intern on Capitol Hill and a big part of my job was taking calls from constituents who were calling to let the congressman I worked for know their position on an issue he was about to vote on. I would take their name, number and address, and send it along to the staffers, who would inform the congressman about who called about what and how many. Now, with so many people calling, phone lines are actually being jammed, voicemail inboxes are full, and staffers can barely keep up with the amount of calls they’re receiving. In other words, it’s working. People’s concerns are being heard and members in Congress can no longer pretend they don’t know how they’re constituents are feeling. Boom.

Better yet, actually go to a town hall meeting or a local event that your representative will be at and confront your them in person. Educate yourself on whatever issue you want to discuss and look up what they’ve said about it and, more importantly, how they’ve voted on it. Get together an entire group because there is strength and numbers and demand accountability from them if they’ve gone against their word. Do this in a way that is not violent or aggressive, but be firm and let them know you’re keeping up with how they vote and will act accordingly.  

3) Campaign, volunteer, and campaign again

Do some research into what elections are being held this year. Most people don’t know that midterm and national elections are not the only ones that are held. Midterm election turnouts are very low, local elections are even lower. Figure out what elections your state is holding this year (New Jersey and Virginia are holding gubernatorial elections in November that’ll elect a new governor as well as many other state and local legislators, among them a lieutenant governor). Look up who is running, and reach out to them to figure out how you can volunteer for their campaign. You can canvas, email, set up voter registration drives, etc. There are so many different ways to work on a political campaign and each one of them is important to getting the word out about not only who is running, but there are actual seats open for election! Many people aren’t aware that gubernatorial and local elections are even held, so canvassing to get the word out is essential. Get together with a group of friends every couple of weeks and volunteer together. You will get to see your friends, get some exercise in, and be an active political participant. Win-win-win.

4) Protest, protest, protest. After that, protest some more.

“Protest is the new brunch.” Nowadays, there are protests practically every weekend, for and against everything imaginable. Go to these protests. Physically make your voice heard and show your representatives that you are angry, that you do not approve. People will say, “what is the point of protesting, it doesn’t do anything.” (Again, these people are probably the same ones who don’t believe in voting). Protesting is 100% useful. Besides the fact that it is a constitutional right to do so, it shows your representatives that you are paying attention, that you are watching what they’re doing, and that you are not content with what is happening. Have you realized that members of Congress who oppose these policies are actually doing something, that they’re actually showing up to these protests, speaking with the people there, as well as acting on the Hill? This isn’t a coincidence. They see that you are marching on the streets, they’re aware of the numbers of protests that are happening every single day in this country. They know that these are the people that have the power to either keep them in office or vote them out. They’re paying attention. Good.

I went to Dulles Airport a few times last week to participate in the protest as well as act as an Arabic interpreter for detainees who might potentially have been released. The solidarity and genuine love people, complete strangers, had for each other was amazing. As a Muslim immigrant, it was especially difficult having to hear the dangerous rhetoric and attempt of a justification of a travel ban. But seeing the amount of people who showed up to protest, who came up to me, telling me they supported Muslims and will do whatever they can to oppose this ban, was an incredible feeling. Finding solidarity at protests is a guarantee. And solidarity is the only thing that can keep us going.

I’ve put protesting near the bottom of this list not because it’s least important, but because it’s often the action that most people want to participate in, but then ignore the other ones. Protesting is great, but there are other ways to show dissent. Show up to every protest you can attend, but also campaign, call your representatives, and educate yourself not only on who those representatives are but on the issues and the actors involved in those issues. It’s easy to protest, but not so easy to campaign and help register to vote. So protest all you want, but if you don’t help with electing people who might actually help solve the issues you’re protesting about, the point of protesting is all but lost.

5) VOTE. For the love of God, actually go VOTE!

Self explanatory, you say? Almost half of all eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 general elections. (Don’t even get me started on the voter turnout, or lack thereof, for the primaries). Half. HALF. In a country where we are able to be politically active and say what we want, from our own opinions about our leaders, why, oh why, did almost half of those who could vote decide not to? 

Please vote. Vote in every election, general, midterm, local, whatever. Look up who is running, take your family and friends, and vote. Exercise this right that you have that so many people the world over do not and would do anything to be able to have a say in who their political leaders are. We are blessed to be able to have this right. Let’s actually exercise it.

(I’m still side-eyeing the hell out of people who didn’t vote in 2016. It’s been 3 months and I’m still giving them the metaphorical stink eye).

 If these past few weeks are an indicator of how the American people are feeling, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that what that they’re feeling is anger. And frustration. And hope. And love. And inspiration to get involved in the politics of their country and make it the best it can be. These new orders are energizing millions of people to get involved, many of whom might otherwise not have cared enough to do so. 

So, let’s be active, informed political participants and encourage others to do the same.

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Razan Azzarkani is currently a senior at George Mason University studying Global Affairs in the context of global governance and inequalities and responses. Her main areas of interest are international human rights, international law, international affairs and politics, female empowerment, and the Middle East. Razan is currently working at the ONE Campaign, an organization aimed at ending extreme global poverty and preventable diseases, as an intern in the Field and Campaigns department. She was previously an intern on Capitol Hill and prior to that, worked with the Muslim Public Affairs Council helping to shape public opinion about Muslim Americans. Self-proclaimed Harry Potter fanatic. Currently in a long term relationship with Netflix and Cookies ‘n’ Cream ice cream. Captain America is her sidekick.