As Gen Z comes into adulthood and we watch political history being made daily for better or worse, it is more important than ever to be politically active. However, politics can be overwhelming and in the age of the internet, being civically engaged is only that much more complicated. So, here are nine tips to help you approach political engagement.
1. Do your own research and show up to the polls as an informed voter
It’s easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of major news networks and campaign ads. But, it is essential when deciding who to vote for that you look to unbiased sources that provide information about candidates so you can make an informed decision. Ballotready.org is a great place to research the candidates who will be on the ballot in your area, identify when and where you can vote, and check your registration status all in one place. This is especially important when voting in smaller, local elections in which candidates may not get as much coverage.
2. Midterms and local elections are just as important as presidential elections!
Since we’re on the topic of local elections, don’t sleep on them! While national elections are usually more exciting and get the most news coverage, most of the work that will impact you the most happens at the local level. This means that it is important to keep up with election cycles in your area. Unlike presidential elections that happen the same time every four years, local elections occur every year at different times. You can visit USA.gov to find your state or local election office and keep up with upcoming elections in your state.
2. Know your state’s voting laws
In an era in which politicians are trying to suppress voters’ rights, it is imperative that you remain informed about when and how to vote. Reading your state’s voting policies is a great start. For example, in some states, 17-year-olds can vote in primaries if they are going be 18 by Election Day. Knowing information like this allows you to ensure that you are doing everything in your power to become involved in the political process as early as possible. Sites like Rockthevote.com are great for giving a quick, easy-to-understand rundown of how to vote in your state.
4. Politics doesn’t just happen in voting booths
While we spend a lot of time discussing politics from the lens of political processes like voting, there are many Gen Zers who are still ineligible to vote. Fortunately, there is so much more you can do to be involved in politics. Attend City Council meetings and town halls, call your representatives to hold them accountable, support public educational programs like museums, have a conversation with your friends and neighbors. All of these things, however small, can contribute to the political world around you and encourage democracy.
5. Social media is a double-edged sword
Social media is a great tool for finding information and keeping up with the latest in politics. But, it is important to remember that not all information on social media platforms is created equal. The truth is that not every piece of information online is factual. Rather than using social media as a place to receive information, instead, it is best to use it to find breaking political stories and do more research on these topics by using multiple outside sources. If you do consume political news online, make sure the information is coming from a verified account of a political/news source to ensure you are getting the best information possible. Social media can also be a great resource to spread awareness about the political issues you care about. Just make sure to be a responsible citizen of your platform and ensure that the messages you are sharing is accurate.
6. Worshipping political figures is dangerous
Supporting a politician isn’t the same as being a fan of a celebrity. In the age of social media, where it seems we have more connection to politicians than ever via platforms like Twitter and TikTok, it is easy to find yourself “stanning” a political figure, but this kind of attitude toward politics can degrade our democracy. At the end of the day, we place politicians into their government positions and it is their job to answer to their constituents. If a politician is not doing their job well — no matter how charismatic they may be on the internet — you have a responsibility to hold them to account.
7. Leave your thought bubble every once in a while
It is natural to live in an echo chamber. In most aspects of our lives, we are able to tailor the kinds of people and ideologies we interact with. Whether it’s the people you keep as friends or the accounts you choose to follow on social media, we tend to gravitate toward those who have similar values to us. But, when it comes to seeing real political change, it is important to step out of your comfort zone. Read a publication with a different political view than yours or start a conversation with someone who you know has different ideals as you. Understanding the other side will not only help to build empathy, but will also allow you to possibly change the hearts and minds of people who may not have agreed with you before.
8. Internet debates may only get you so far
So you ventured to a side of the internet where people don’t share your same political beliefs and now you’re in a heated debate with a faceless person in the comments. While it can be good to engage in healthy dialogue about politics, and social media can facilitate this, often times you are better off — for your own sanity — placing your energy elsewhere. Volunteer with a political campaign, attend a rally, get creative by creating and sharing your own infographics. As frustrating as ignorant comments on social media can be, there is so much more good to be done in the political sphere than to engage trolls.
9. Don’t let your age hold you back
Politics is clearly dominated by older people, but don’t think that you’re ever too young to be politically active. Just because you may not be old enough to vote or run for public office doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to work toward making a difference. This is your country too and you are just as impacted by the decisions made in government as adults. Be empowered to use your voice no matter how old you are.