Democracy 101: Senator Agard’s Guide to Engaging in Our Government
Due to the outpouring of concern and interest, especially after the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) overruling Americans constitutional right to abortion and severely threatening the progress we’ve made as a nation over the past half-century, I have created this resource guide for all who are looking to help shape our collective future. Below you will find a menu of options for folks who are looking to unite, engage, and get to work defending reproductive freedom. Please share this with your networks as you see fit and know that this list is by no means exhaustive, and there is plenty more work to be done, but I am hopeful this list can serve as a good place to start.
|Every few generations, Americans are called upon to renew and redefine the tenets of our nation, the course of our culture, and restore faith in our democracy. We know the enormity of the challenges ahead. The road to progress is long and arduous, but we do not travel alone and we do not travel without hope. We find resilience in our enduring values, our unyielding spirit, and our strength together. I hope that you’ll heed the calling and join me in this work. – Senator Melissa Agard
|Keeping up With Your Local Officials
|The first step to being actively engaged is to know who represents you at every level of government, from county board supervisors, to local judges and district attorneys, to state senators. Here in Wisconsin, it’s easy to learn who your elected officials are by visiting myvote.wi.gov. Once you’ve determined who represents you, you can keep up with your elected officials by following their work online and on social media, subscribing to their email updates, subscribing to government notifications systems, or even creating news alerts for when your elected officials are in the local news.
Even better than just keeping up with your elected officials, engage and establish rapport with them by attending their listening sessions, sending them an email, mailing them a letter, or by calling their office. It is an elected official’s job to listen and consider constituents’ thoughts and concerns, so remember: you’re the boss. Your elected official is in office because you voted to put them there and you let them stay there each election—your elected officials are on contract to be your voice, care about your interests, and bring your values with them to work each day, so make sure your voice is heard.
Action Item: Contact your local, state, and federal representatives and vocalize your support for reproductive freedom. Share a personal story if you’re comfortable and then make sure you know where your elected official stands. If you disagree with your representative’s stance, explain politely how their position on the issue will directly affect your life and reiterate your rationale for your position.
|Vote in Every Election
|Vote. Every few years, you have the option to renew and extend your contract with your elected official or to choose to contract with someone new. Your vote is powerful and can be wielded to remind your elected officials to represent your interests, commend them on a job well done, or express your disagreement or dissatisfaction. Many people only vote in presidential elections every four years, and skip local and non-presidential elections despite local government being far more likely to have a direct impact on your everyday life. Whether you’re voting for a U.S. senator, state representative, or local school board, each election matters, and whether you’re 102 years young or newly 18, your vote matters. The best part about voting in Wisconsin? It’s easy. Once you’re registered, all you need is a photo ID.
Action Item: Register to vote and assist two other friends or family members with their registration. Encourage them to vote in the upcoming elections. We have several significant elections upcoming– an August primary, a November general election, and a spring State Supreme Court election. You can view your upcoming ballot here: myvote.wi.gov/en-us/Whats-On-My-Ballot
|Volunteer Your Time
|The very fabric of democracy is the social contract: the common bond shared between community members and core belief that everyone is in this together. The social contract and democratic values and ideals call upon making time for goodwill and service, investing in each other, and spreading social welfare. So, volunteer in your community to raise awareness or support a specific cause. Your time can make a big difference in the community you live in.
Action Item: Sign up to volunteer with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin or other organizations that support reproductive freedom. You may also consider volunteering as a poll worker in our upcoming elections.
|Share Your Skills
|Whether you’re an attorney, an artist, a dentist, a graphic designer, or an electrician, you have important skills others might not have. We know when we all do better, we all do better. If you have specialized skills, training, and education, share your skills by doing pro bono work for individuals in need or organizations with limited budgets. Sharing your skills can have a significant impact on this movement, and will invariably have a positive ripple effect on our community.
Action Item: Should your skill set allow, consider providing translation services, helping clients file legal paperwork, and completing grant applications for local non-profit organizations.
|Give Your Money
|If you are not able to give any of your time or skills (or even if you are but want to do more!), give your money to causes, non-profits, or people you feel passionately about. It is a powerful statement to give some of your hard-earned dollars to support things you believe in. Organizations and people at every level are working around the clock to organize, strategize, and fight against initiatives that are harmful to people across our country, and many face the prospect of losing funding because of committing to these values and initiatives. If you’re able, give your money to the causes, non-profits, and people with whom you share your values to strengthen your voice and values.
Action Item: Considering donating to abortion rights organizations with distinguished reputations in our state including: Women’s Medical Fund Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, and Options Fund.
|Invest Where Your Values Are
|Make a concerted effort to think about where you’re spending your hard-earned money, not just where you’re grocery shopping, but where you’re getting coffee, eating dinner, or spending time with friends. It is important to reinvest money in the local economy with businesses who are women and minority-owned, treat employees fairly, and who are good neighbors to the surrounding community. By investing in local businesses, you can see firsthand a return on your investment in the community. So, invest where your values are and where you know your money can support friends and neighbors right here at home.
Action Item: Utilize the power of your purse! Many businesses in the area are vocal proponents of current social justice movements and an individual’s freedom to choose–support those businesses as you are able and let them know you are proud to shop with them.
|Hate, divisiveness, and false information does not happen in a vacuum–there are often spectators and bystanders who witness acts of discrimination, exclusion, or microaggressions against persons of color, LGBTQ-identified persons, women, persons who are differently abled, among many other minorities. It is extremely important that if you witness these instances and are a person of privilege in the space that you take the opportunity to speak out to correct the incidents and provide support for the person experiencing the acts. Even in the event there is no triggering act to speak up about, it is likewise important to intentionally and consistently make space and elevate voices of minority persons–especially as a person of privilege–in spaces where those voices might otherwise not be heard.
Action Item: If you see something, please say something! In addition, attend a demonstration, read books that encompass diverse and authentic voices, and lift up the voices of those around you.
|Support fair and Balanced Media Sources
|Having a free press at every level has never been more important. Access to fair, unbiased press and news is a defining feature of democracy, which thrives on transparency, public awareness, and opportunity for accountability. The best way to ensure the press endures is to subscribe to and read fair, balanced media sources. Support local, state, and national newspapers that have quality, investigative journalism, and get an online or paper subscription.
Action Item: Subscribe to a local or state newspaper and commit to reading from quality news sources on a regular basis.
|Say, “Yes In My Backyard”
|Local initiatives or programs which would promote diversity, inclusion, or benefit a greater good often draw serious contention and opposition at the local level. Residents who would otherwise support the proposal ultimately oppose the proposition because of its close geographical proximity in the neighborhood, earning the “NIMBY” characterization or “not in my backyard.” So, when you learn about a proposal that could better the community at large, provide support or stability to people in need, or would increase diversity and inclusion in your neighborhood, say “Yes, in my backyard!” Or if you find yourself suggesting the initiative should be placed elsewhere in your community rather than on your street or in your neighborhood, say “Yes, in my backyard!” and welcome the community program to your neighborhood.
Action Item: Register your support of inclusive policies and initiatives with the appropriate governing body, consider speaking in favor of such changes at public hearings and during public input periods, and place yard signs in your lawn raising awareness for and sharing your support of various initiatives or causes.
|Get Involoved in Government
|One of the easiest ways to get involved in government is to actually engage in the governing process. You can be more involved by attending city council meetings, testifying at legislative committee hearings about bills or issues you feel passionate about, or speaking at a local school board meeting. You can also take your engagement in government one step further by serving on a committee, commission, or council. This is a powerful way to be more engaged and involved while also learning and giving back to your community. By serving on a committee, commission, or council, you will have a seat at the table where you can share your expertise and passions while making a direct impact on the local community or our state.
Finally, the best way to be involved and engaged in government is to run for office. Deciding to run for office can be difficult, but ultimately if you want to see change and have an interest in serving your community, put your name on the ballot and become a public servant.
Action Item: Canvas for organizations or causes that share your sentiment. You may also consider applying to serve on a local committee, commission, or council. The City of Madison and Dane County post vacancies for these positions on their websites. The Governor also has several issue-related boards and you can apply for an appointment on his website.