Off The Deep End: How can one person influence politics?

In the last section, I talked about how artists and writers can help create a common vision of a better future that seems within reach. When this succeeds, and that vision takes hold, there are a number of reactions, and one of the more common ones is a desire to look at how to make that future a reality. Sure, we have the technology and know-how to create a better society, but do we have the collective will to do so?

Politics, in America, are daunting, to say the least. We live in an increasingly plutocratic society, in which the majority of legislators are far wealthier than the average American, and the cost of running for office seems to get higher with every election. So how can one person, or even a handful of people, make a difference in this arena?

There are a lot of possible answers to that question, so I’m going to start (as is my wont) with my own experience.

The thing that is most easily within your grasp is to become educated about the issue, and then talk about it. A lot. I’ll probably go into this in greater depth in a later post, but I’ll cover it a bit now. Public opinion often relies on familiarity with ideas. There are many examples, but what it comes down to is this – if people hear one message more than others, the one we hear more is the one we’ll generally believe, because it’ll stick in our heads. That just seems to be how it works. This means that for people who don’t care much about accuracy, it’s possible to come up with a simple and simplistic lie, and have it sound more convincing than the truth, because you can repeat it many times, and people can absorb the whole short lie quicker than whole long truth.

That said, repeating the truth, and talking about it a lot makes a difference. We’re in this situation because lies have won out over the last few decades, and a lot of that has to do with the number of people spreading misleading messages compared to those talking about the reality. More people talking about what’s real will make a difference over time, so if you take the time to really educate yourself, and find a good set of references to look up if you find yourself in a position where you don’t have an answer, and you get out there on the internet, or with friends and family, or in any other forum, really, and TALK, you will make a difference.

But now I want to move on to more direct political involvement. First, start local. By all means be involved in national politics, but remember – we’re not just talking about changing our energy infrastructure, we’re ALSO talking about adapting to and preparing for the changes brought about by the energy buildup our planet is currently experiencing. What that means will be different in different areas. For some, it’s dealing with sea level rise. For others it could be drought preparedness. When it comes down to it, not only will local government be responsible for local adaptation, they will likely be the best placed to do it right. On top of all of that, local politics are much, much easier to get involved in, and provide a much better opportunity for influencing the discussion.

So we start local. The easiest thing to do is to get involved in a campaign for state or local office – state senate elections, mayoral elections, and so on – anything at the state level and below, really. If you can get involved in a small campaign, you’re more likely to be able to influence what the candidate talks about, and if you can provide help in crafting a convincing and upbeat message, so much the better. My first involvement in a campaign was accidental – I was asked to be a climate change and environmental science adviser because I happened to know the candidate’s fiancee. We talked a lot about global climate change, and while it (a) wasn’t his primary platform (he was focused more on campaign finance reform) and (b) we didn’t win, we DID ensure that all the candidates had to talk about climate change, at least a little, in an election year where national races gave the subject short shrift. For me, that’s a victory – winning would have been good, but for  everybody who was paying attention, they saw a race in which all of the candidates agreed that the climate was changing, and while the Republican hedged on causes and what to be done, the prevailing message was that something SHOULD be done. It’s not enough to change the world, all by itself, but it’s progress in the right direction.

The next thing you can do is run for office.  This is more effective, in many ways, because if a candidate’s primary platform is dealing with global climate change, it becomes much harder for other candidates to focus on other things. In this case, having a clear idea of what can be done at the local level, and some evidence that it’s not only feasible, but that it’ll improve life (which generally seems to be the case for places that HAVE taken action), then it forms a compelling message that will stick with people.

I’m going to stop on this one for now, as I’d like to keep each section below 1,000 words, but this provides a good starting place for political involvement. Get yourself involved, either leading or aiding a campaign, and do everything you can to sway the conversation.

One final thing, as it says in the sticky – before doing this I HIGHLY recommend reading Joe Romm’s book on rhetoric and persuasion: Language Intelligence: Lessons in persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga. It’s an easy read, a quick read, and gives you an idea about how to focus your efforts when it comes to persuading people, and learning HOW to persuade people.

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