Modern forms of activism often begin online. They range from smaller grassroots organizations requesting that you “like” their page to larger non-profits urging you sign a virtual petition. This type of online activism is often directed at the government with the intention of changing legislation they feel is unjust. But is enlisting people online through virtual petitions and viral hashtags really making a difference?
To find out we asked New York State Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal if these methods of online activism actually have an impact on her role as a decision maker. As an elected official she was able to shed some valuable insight on the matter and give us tips on how to best make our voices heard.
Tip #1: State Where You are From
“I’ve presented some fairly controversial pieces of legislation, like the current bill to require labeling of genetically modified food, so I will hear from some very large and vocal groups of people” Rosenthal explains. “With some forms of communication, I have no idea who those people are, or if they’re part of the community I’ve been elected to represent.”
For instance, when 100,000 people like a cause on Facebook, Rosenthal may certainly notice – but there is no way for her to know if those people are from her community. While decision-makers do care about people outside their electorate, their job is to speak for the people that elected them.
If the petition doesn’t ask for at least a zip code and email address, chances are it is not going to do much good. The same goes for sending an email to your representative; be sure to either state that you are a member of their district or provide your zip code when signing off.
Tip #2: Personalize Your Message
Rosenthal stated that “It’s pretty obvious when a major organization tells it’s members to email, because we’ll get the same exact email from everyone all of a sudden, within a few days… The group writes the text and everyone just cuts, pastes and sends.”
While it’s certainly better to email something un-original than to not email at all, Rosenthal admits “the personal email really does make a difference.”
Although the volume of identical emails relays the message that a constituency wants to see change, a personal email is more likely to have a lasting impact on a decision-maker. Instead of the angry mob associated with hundreds of identical emails, a personalized message puts a face to a cause.
So don’t be afraid to delete that email template and write something more compelling!
Tip #3: Get the Proper Contact Information
The handiest aspect of online petitions is that they’re set up to be sent to the proper legislator. However, if you wish to independently contact your representative then check out the House of Representatives website. It has all the information you need to contact your state’s congressperson. The instructions are clear and simple to follow because they want to hear from you. They are there to represent what’s important to you.
While you may be angry about a certain issue it is important to maintain a tone of respect when writing to an elected official. A rude or threatening email will be disregarded and the voicing of your valid concerns will have been for naught.
If you’re truly passionate about an issue, take these few extra steps when participating in online activism.
Rosenthal was also sure to add that she wants to hear from all of her constituents including those who can not yet vote as the government is “making decisions that will have an effect on girls’ lives now, and their lives in the future.”
Keep in mind that if you want to be a veritable change-maker the cliché stands: actions speak louder than words.