Across the country, a strange phenomenon is taking hold. Ordinary citizens are rising up and demanding more from their appointed and elected representatives. In the past, much of the critique of public policy and individual performance has been relegated to journalists and editors. This lack of control and understanding of public operations by the average person has contributed to the apathetic, disengaged voters we see today. The spiral has continued downward as school districts and other government bodies, sensing very little oversight, ran amok with self-serving decisions and irresponsible spending.
Fortunately, with the emergence of online networking such as forums, blogs and Facebook, that trend is reversing. The average citizen is more informed, engaged and demanding than ever before. The entrenched, often-mediocre status quo is predictably resisting the threat to their long-held power, but it is a losing battle. Given the new online venues for the debate and vetting of ideas, the only survivors will be those who are truly competent and deserving of the public trust. Bad ideas and inept administrations will now wither and die in this new age of public participation.
So how can you, an individual, contribute to public policy? The answer is simple—with a laptop and an internet connection. No longer must one sit on the sidelines and helplessly witness a corrupted process. Options are available like never before for citizens to find their voice and reclaim a bright future. By following the guidelines for online advocacy outlined below, you too can leave your footprint on the world in no time.
- Define and know your cause. Be fully informed of the facts and multiple points of view. Don’t just expose the faults; fully research potential solutions.
- Enlist the support of your family, friends and employer. Bring them on board by explaining that the goal is to seek improvements for all. Remind them, if necessary, of your First Amendment rights.
- If possible, write under your real name. If you must use a pseudonym, at least several key members of your sphere of influence should know your true identity. A completely anonymous person will have difficulty creating any notable impact because of an unrelenting suspicion that they are blogging out of self-interest.
- Be driven by something greater than yourself. Whether your motivation is your spirituality, a memory or a passion, you must feel a deep conviction for your cause in order to effectively advocate for it. That is because you should…
- Expect backlash. The more your efforts produce change, the more the entrenched underperforming powers-that-be will resist. Your motives, character, job and family can all be called into question. This is why the prior point is so important. Public advocacy is not for the faint of heart. Nothing worth achieving comes without a price, however. Remain focused on your mission. If necessary, take a break, regroup and come back swinging.
- Never betray confidences. Word travels fast. If you publicly “out” private conversations, you will be virtually guaranteed no one will ever talk to you again. To successfully advocate a point of view, people must feel they can talk to you without risk. If in doubt, prior to disclosure, seek permission.
- Embrace debate. The greatest ideas result from a merging of multiple points of view. Try your best to keep your comments at the highest common denominator of dissent—comments that you will be proud to read later. Humor can be very effective. Avoid loosely moderated sites that do not protect their commenters from maliciousness. Never, ever feed a troll (a commenter who deliberately inflames and disrupts the conversation for pleasure).
- Accept your limitations. If, despite your best efforts, you are not achieving the desired results, realize that your only other option may be to seek public office. If that happens, the skills you acquired from your efforts in online networking will be very helpful. That article will be saved for another day.
Diane Vespa is a real estate broker with RE/MAX Unlimited in Peoria.
She blogs about school issues, taxation issues, real estate and politics at peoriarocks.blogspot.com and bloggingwhilerepublican.com.