A Millennial's Guide to Civic Engagement

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A Millenial’s Guide to


So what is civic engagement? Civic engagement is one of the most powerful ways we can exercise our agency and influence. For most, “civic engagement” means voting. But we believe that policy change can start in a lot of different ways. For us, civic engagement is simply the process of understanding the shitty things happening in the world and working against them. Civic engagement isn’t just going to the polls. It’s also calling your reps, making donations, sharing information, and many other acts of daily resistance. In this guide, we talk about five ways to get engaged.


VOTING Do it for your community. But also do it for the people that can’t.


Screw Uncle Sam. Here are some other reasons to vote: The margin of victory matters. Your vote makes a difference, even if the candidate you voted for loses. Narrow margins of victory can pressure legislators to make more moderate policy decisions that won’t piss off too many of their constituents. Why? Because they care about re-election.1

The voting gap matters. Voting not only requires the privilege of citizenship but also the privilege of time. That means public policy can work against marginalized populations because they aren’t being adequately represented. Use your vote to advocate for these communities too.


>60% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 election.2 However...

<45% of eligible voters in the lowest income bracket voted.2

41% of non-voters don’t bother to vote because they think it “doesn’t make a difference anyway.”3

Stats show that mostly old people show up to local elections.4 4

Where? When? How? Before you vote...

1. Make sure you’re properly registered! Recently moved?

Havent voted in the past 4 years?

Living overseas?

The DMV tells you what you need to change your address.

Your registration doesn’t last forever! Check vote.org to see if you need to re-register.

Get specific info on Overseas Vote! Remember that overseas ballots have earlier deadlines.

2. Know your shit!

Register now!

Vote411.org gives you a breakdown of the candidates and issues on your ballot. Break it down even more with Ballotpedia. The Internet is your friend. vote.org


3. Find a way to get there! Public transit, carpooling, and now, discounted Lyft rides are possible options.5 If you can’t make it in person, make sure to apply for an absentee ballot in advance.

4. Bring any necessary documents! Around 2/3 of states require some form of ID at the polls. Make sure to check your state’s requirements before you go! In fact, voter ID laws continue to prevent marginalized groups from voting.6 And we call ourselves a democracy...

Use this nifty U.S. U.S.Vote VoteFoundation Foundationtool tool to see your upcoming elections dates, deadlines, and requirements! 6

An Election Timeline Senators




year terms

Vote in 2020.


year terms

Senators are staggered so 1/3 of seats are up for grabs every election.




x = general election


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ALL 435 district seats are up for grabs every election.




Local Officials


year terms

Terms vary by position and elections can happen any time in the year.



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CONTACTING YOUR REPS It’s okay to double text.


Do they really care? Yes and no. The real ones actually care and need to hear from you, the fake ones simply want government power because there’s something in it for them (corporate $$$). But the fake ones care about reelection, so they have to listen to you sometimes.

Does it really make a difference? Research shows that feedback from constituents actually can change the way representatives legislate. When a massive wave of calls come in, it can shake up the daily routines of these reps enough to where they have to address the issue.7

However… Some say that reps won’t budge on highly partisan issues8 and that the congressional phone system is seriously ineffective.9


A 4 Step Guide to Calling Your Reps Calling is the most effective way to contact your reps because it takes the most time to process (and thereby attracts the most attention).10

1. Pick an issue. Research it. 5 Calls has overviews of active national bills, tells you who to call, and even has example scripts.

2. Get the digits. Common Cause shows you a list of all your representatives (federal, state, and local) along with their contact information.

3. Prepare a script. No need for anything fancy! All you need is this basic info: • Name • Zip code • Stance on issue

4. Hit them up. A staffer will usually pick up, but if there are too many calls coming in (which is a good thing!) you’ll get sent to voicemail. Either way, proceed with your script. 11

“Hello, my name is Jane Lee. I’m a constituent from New York, zip code 10001. I am opposed to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and I strongly encourage Senator Smith to please oppose any type of repeal.”11


Republicans call way more than Democrats, outnumbering them 4-1. 12 13

Tips & Tricks Contact your local reps when possible. This leads to more immediate action and responses than calling national reps.

Talk about less widely known issues too. If a congressperson doesn’t have much expertise in an issue, a call made about that issue will influence them much more (this is how the opioid crisis was addressed).13

For the seasoned caller... Save your reps’ digits and set regular reminders to contact them!


Is Calling Not an Option? Email. Although not as effective as calling, emailing is a possible alternative. If your rep doesn’t have an email listed, they might have a form on their site.

Text. Resistbot sends your text messages to congress by converting them to faxes. It also sends you reminders and ideas about what issues to write about!


PROTEST Respect existence or expect resistance.


Is anyone listening? Technically, yes. But not the people you think. You would think protests are meant to sway policymakers. But research suggests that the main reason why protests are effective is because they actually motivate more people to vote.14

The bigger the protest the better. Sounds obvious enough. Economists studied the 2009 Tea Party Tax Day protests and found that for every additional attendee, there were between 7 to 14 additional votes for the Republican candidate.15 So yes, protests matter! Check out this timelapse of American protests, protests created by students at Boston University!


But… what about _______? “But they are just full of hot-headed, angry people!” -White suburban mom And to that we say - can you think of any successful movement in the history of the U.S. that was the result of a some mellow, low-key parade? Here’s a New York Times article on why there’s no such thing as a “perfect protest.”

Protests are just feel-good.16 Critics argue that protests ignore the structural root of issues and while they are great at grabbing attention, they are useless when it comes to negotiations and the decision-making process. The Civil Rights Movement was successful because it was meticulous and resilient. Nowadays, protests are too fleeting.


They’re inaccessible af. Not only do you need the luxury of having an entire afternoon to attend protests nowadays, you need the stamina and physical ability to be standing or walking that whole time, in what is likely to be hot, crowded spaces.

Protesters are just in it for the gram. Protests don’t exist as the backdrops for your next pic. But social media is still a valid way of getting the word out; what’s important is to follow up with other forms of action.


How do I keep up? Follow both national and local activist groups. Community orgs do the leg work of curating, planning, and promoting protests.

Use Twitter and Facebook (but mostly Twitter). Twitter is the preferred platform for activists and is often the breeding ground for spontaneous, unplanned protests.17 Facebook is also useful for finding upcoming and nearby events. Here are some Twitter folks to follow!




@MsPackyetti 20

Incorporate protest into work or school. As consumers and employees of larger corporations, we have the power to influence their decisions. A group of tech employees actually successfully protested their company’s partnerships with ICE and U.S. military communications.18 Groups like Tech Workers Coalition and Science for the People (aforementioned above) help to organize employees and rally against issues in their respective industries. To organize within your company, see if there are employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups that may be willing to help.

Show up! And be safe! Before you go, check the event details and news for anything you should be wary of (e.g. police presence, planned anti-protests). Note that protests can be crowded, and can pose a public safety threat if not well-executed. Bring a friend and make sure someone else knows you are attending.


SOCIAL MEDIA #therevolutionwillnotbetelevised #butmaybetweeted


Millennials it. But so do activists. Here’s why: It allows marginalized folks to tell their own stories. Mainstream media doesn’t serve our communities. Social media allows people to report what’s happening to them and their communities directly to the public. It also becomes an accessible alternative for those who are unable to participate in physical protest.

It facilitates conversations and solidarity. As activist and organizer DeRay Mckesson says, “There’s a democracy of feedback.”19 This helps up learn and grow together.

It gets people involved in other forms of participation. Yep, a 2011 Georgetown study20 found that people who support online movements are more likely to engage in activism IRL. 23

RT @ “______” ?! # #

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of black social media users see social media as an important “venue for expressing their political views” and getting involved with issues they care about.21

...? # # “__” !!

For white social media users, this falls to

1/3 24

Post it, tweet it, gram it! Ways to get involved: Read and share news stories. Use hashtags to amplify issues being addressed.

Share community alerts. The instant nature of social media lends itself well for this. For example, sharing alerts on local ICE raids can protect people in your community from unjust deportation.

Sign and share online petitions. Even when they don’t directly lead to policy changes, they can aid in putting pressure on organizations, mobilizing supporters, and spreading information.22 25



of millennials (aged 18-33) reported receiving news about politics and government from Facebook.�23

of Americans say that they were more likely to support social and environmental issues after they liked a post or followed a non-profit online.24 26

Are we just hiding behind our screens? Some say social media promotes “slacktivism”. 77% of people surveyed said that social media distracts people from issues that are “truly important”, and 71% agreed with the assertion that “social media makes people believe they’re making a difference when they really aren’t.”25

Others say we’re living in our own filter bubbles. An MIT study showed that during the 2016 election campaigns, many journalists’ Twitter information bubbles rarely included Trump supporters.26


The WSJ has a tool called Blue Feed, Red Feed that shows news from “liberal” vs. “conservative” Facebook feeds.


MONETARY DONATIONS Put your money where your mouth is.


How can my donations make an impact? “Have you heard of effective altruism?” -White suburban dad

Effective altruism is essentially the idea that you can maximize the positive impact of your actions. Saving the most lives with the least amount of money, if you will. By these terms, some say that the “most efficient way” is donating, rather than say, working on the ground because inevitably, someone else will do a better job of that.27

You sound skeptical about this effective altruism thing. We are. We don’t discourage donations, but we do discourage thinking about social impact “optimization”. Charity reinforces power dynamics between the giver and receiver. We like this quote: “the irony of effective altruism is that it implores individuals to use their money to procure necessities for those who desperately need them, but says nothing about the system that determines how those necessities are produced and distributed in the first place.”28 30

Turns out, giving money directly to folks in need is not a bad way to help folks in need. There’s a common misconception that giving people money instead of material goods will enable them to abuse it by spending it on drugs or alcohol. Well that’s been largely debunked.29,30 People know their own needs best.


Okay, where should I donate to? GiveWell If you’re sold on effective altruism, GiveWell has a curated list of charities that have been researched and vetted for impact.

Timely fundraisers. Depending on what this administration throws at us, chances are a relevant Facebook fundraiser will pop up. In the past, RAICES was fundraising to reunite immigrant families who were separated, and IWOC was fundraising to support the nationwide prison strike against prison slavery. With the midterms coming up, there are key swing districts that could benefit from campaign donations.


References 1. Daniel Marans and Kim Bellware, “7 Reasons You Should Vote In This Year’s Elections,” Huffington Post 2. U.S. Census Bureau, “Voting and Registration in the Election of 2016” 3. Susan Page, “Why 90 Million Americans Won’t Vote in November,” USA Today 4. Who Votes For Mayor? Portland State University 5. Jonathan Shieber, “Lyft is offering reduced and free rides on election day,” TechCrunch 6. “Fighting Voter ID Requirements,” ACLU 7. Kathryn Schulz, “What Calling Congress Achieves,” The New Yorker 8. Kathryn Schulz, “What Calling Congress Achieves,” The New Yorker 9. Klint Finley, “Apps Make Pestering Congress So Easy That Politicians Can’t Keep Up,” Wired 10. Kathryn Schulz, “What Calling Congress Achieves,” The New Yorker 11. How to Call Your Senator, Monday Bazaar 12. How to Contact Your Elected Representatives, My Civic Workout 13. Kathryn Schulz, “What Calling Congress Achieves,” The New Yorker 14. Dan Kopf, “A Harvard study identified the precise reason protests are an effective way to cause political change,” Quartz 15. Catherine Caruso, “Counting Protests,” Boston University 16. Nathan Heller, “Is There Any Point to Protesting?” The New Yorker 17. Ariel Bogle, “Protesters gather at airports across America after Trump’s Muslim Ban,” Mashable 18. Hiawatha Bray, “Tech community wrestles over working with government,” Boston Globe 19. Noah Berlatsky, “Hashtag Activism Isn’t a Cop-Out,” The Atlantic 20. “Slacktivists Doing More Than Clicking in Support of Causes,” Georgetown University Center for Social Impact Communication 21. Monica Anderson, Skye Toor, Lee Rainie, and Aaron Smith, “Activism in the Social Media Age,” Pew Research Center 22. Daniel Carpenter, “Yes, signing those petitions makes a difference -- even if they don’t change Trump’s mind,” The Washington Post 23. Amy Mitchell, Jeffrey Gottfried, and Katerina Eva Matsa, “Millenials and Political News,” Pew Research Center 24. 2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study 25. Monica Anderson, Skye Toor, Lee Rainie, and Aaron Smith, “Activism in the Social Media Age,” Pew Research Center 26. Alex Thompson, “Parallel narratives: Clinton and Trump supporters don’t really listen to each other on Twitter,” Vice 27. Derek Thompson, “The Greatest Good,” The Atlantic 28. Matthew Snow, “Against Charity,” Jacobin 29. Dylan Matthews, “More evidence that giving poor people money is a great cure for poverty,” Vox 30. Heather Knight, “The city’s panhandlers tell their own story,” SF Gate Photos from Unsplash


This is the first in a set of guides made by two millenials who want to incorporate social activism into their daily lives. Questions? Comments? Critiques? Hit us up! civicmillenials@gmail.com @CivicMillenials


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