Thursday, March 2, 2017

Let's Talk About...10 Ways to Stay Politically Engaged

Let's Talk About... is a chance for us to talk about anything and everything. It's a way for me to get some of what I am thinking and feeling out onto the page and to engage in real, honest discussion about it with you. I hope these posts can be fun, interesting, educational, and, more than anything, a chance to learn from each other. 

I want to talk about action steps. In this new era, it can feel like everything is out of our control or as if there is too much happening to begin to keep up with. Some days, it feels preferable to throw in the proverbial towel and check out. However, regardless of your political preferences, we need to stay engaged.

That word "engage" is really key for me right now. It's the word I choose for 2017. I'm trying to apply it in a variety of ways across my life, but certainly I chose it knowing this year it would be particularly important to create and reinforce habits of staying politically engaged. I have had several people ask me where I get my news and how I stay abreast of political happenings. I am by no means any sort of expert on this. I'm a normal person living a normal life. These are some of the basic things I am intentionally doing in my own life to stave off complacency and stay engaged.

I'm not the only one having these thoughts and feelings, either. Just yesterday, Rachel Held Evans, an author you know I love if you've been around the blog long enough, put up a similar post. Hers is awesome. In fact, you should go read it first. Do it now. Here's the link. Then, come back, read my post, and let me know how you're staying engaged these days. 

10 Ways to Stay Politically Engaged

Let me really up front here before we start. Some of what I'm going to share with you here is left-leaning. I'm left-leaning politically. I do try to balance my news intake (which I'll address), but I'm as susceptible to confirmation bias as anyone. Please don't see this as me trying to advance a particular agenda. I'm just trying to share the things that I do to stay informed and engaged. I want to hear what you do, too!
  1. Sign up for theSkimm. It's a weekday email digest of what's happening in the world. It covers mainly politics, but also a little bit of sports and pop culture occasionally. They include a range of foreign and domestic issues. It's tongue-in-cheek, but very informative. It also does a really good job of staying unbiased. They have a paragraph giving the basic info on a topic and then link you up to where you can get more detailed reporting. It takes five minutes to read. I can't recommend it strongly enough.
  2. Get your news from multiple places. Verify. Verify. Verify. It always helps to see the news from multiple perspectives, particularly since media is becoming increasingly bifurcated. I often listen to National Public Radio in the car on my commute. While at one point it may have been more left-leaning, it's one of the most unbiased sources left out there at this point. Plus, they cover a wide range of stories around the world. You should find your local station and save it to your car radio. Online, I usually go to BBC or CNN for basic news. BBC is definitely my preference. Getting the news from an international source is a great way to get outside the "bubble" of American media and get a fresh perspective. I also read a good amount of The New York Times and other print media.
  3. Cultivate your social media feeds. It's hard to avoid getting at least some news on social media. Since it's happening anyway, you might as well make sure you're seeing mostly good info. In the last year, I've made a very concerted effort to cultivate my Twitter feed (I see Facebook as a lost cause on this front) in order to get real, serious news and opinions. I follow journalists, pundits, and activists from across the spectrum. I specifically follow intelligent people with whom I disagree as well as the ones who share my viewpoint. It's a starting point. I read the in-depth articles they link to and use it as a way to know where to dig in more. I do my best to start from a place of skepticism and work out from there.
  4. Turn on your breaking news notifications. If you have a smart phone, you likely have a News app of some kind pre-loaded for you. Turn on the breaking news notifications for that and maybe also download some apps from various news outlets and do the same. Bonus points if you don't stop at reading the notifications, but also read the articles/news to which they link.
  5. Talk to people who are different than you. We all need to do this. We need to hear stories from people directly affected by the things happening around us. Listen to people explain why the issues they care about are the ones they care about. Share your story, but mostly listen. 
  6. Listen to podcasts. Kevin and I are huge podcast fans and right now there are some really top quality options out there - particularly if you're trying to get perspective from outside the mainstream media. Here are some I'm listening to these days:
    • Pod Save America and the whole Crooked Media lineup. This podcast, along with its foreign policy-focused little brother Pod Save the World, is done by former Obama staffers. They talk about current political issues, interview people from the political realm, and offer ideas about how to get involved. Obviously, they are coming from a very progressive stance, but a Republican friend recommended it to me in the first place, so there's appeal across the aisle for anyone disgusted by the current administration. Plus, they are irreverent and hilarious. This is easily my favorite podcast right now and I've taken to saving it for while I exercise in order to motivate myself to work out longer and more frequently. I listened to their newest podcast, With Friends Like These, for the first time this week and it was awesome. It's all about having conversations with people with whom we disagree. 
    • This American Life has done some great stories lately (and has been awesome for years). 
    • On the Media is a recent discovery for me; they focus on, well, the media. I particularly like how, despite being openly anti-Trump, they are not afraid to play devil's advocate on issues pertaining to the press. I've learned so much about journalism and other complex issues from this podcast. 
    • The Axe Files with David Axelrod. Axelrod served as a top strategist for Obama. He interviews all sorts of public figures, though most are from the political realm. It's very current and he's a wonderful interviewer. Kevin and I listened to his interview with Theo Epstein together and both learned so much.
    • The West Wing Weekly. Ok, this isn't directly political. It's about the tv show. But it's an awesome podcast and you should listen to it. Plus, they often have guests on to talk about how the real political issues on the show are being addressed in real life in our country. 
    • This is hardly a comprehensive list. I've also heard great things about some podcasts from The New York Times and The Washington Post and want to start listening to those as well. I'd love to hear your political podcast recommendations as well!
  7. Read! If you're here, you're probably a reader anyway. Don't let all this craziness stop you from doing that. Read nonfiction, but don't forget your novels. Reading fiction cultivates empathy. Read books by diverse authors who can help you see the world from a fresh perspective. A great place to start would be The Book of Unknown Americans
  8. Talk to your representatives. Put their office numbers in your phone and call them. They work for us. Let them know what you think. It takes less than 5 minutes to call all three of your representatives. Find out when they are having town halls and show up. Be respectful, but ask tough questions. No matter where you stand politically, we should all do a better job of holding our reps accountable. 
  9. Get up and start doing! At the end of the day, we can't just talk about what's happening. We have to take action. Whether that means protesting or volunteering or running for office or something else - it has to be something. Staying informed is great, but it should lead us to action. If we can learn anything from the current tendentious nature of our politics, I hope it's that we have a responsibility to be engaged in our country. We cannot be bystanders and expect the things we care about to be taken care of. We must engage.
  10. Make space to disengage. All this being said, I think it's also important to recognize the importance of unplugging and self-care. Don't miss this part. Be engaged, but stay aware of how much of the world you are placing on your own shoulders. Give yourself time and space to step away from it all - perhaps even days at a time - and invest in yourself and other areas of your life. This is a marathon, not a sprint. 
I hope these suggestions are helpful for you. Even if you've never been political at all, it's certainly hard to escape it right now. So, be informed, be wise, be engaged, be well. 

Since I know this is far from a comprehensive list, I'd love to hear your suggestions! What are you doing to stay engaged right now?  


  1. I love listening to the podcast Pantsuit Politics. It feels like there's a lack of women openly discussing politics, so it's great to listen to "Sarah from the left and Beth from the right" (as they bill themselves) talk about current events and hash out their different political beliefs in a calm, nuanced way.

    1. That sounds fantastic! I'm particularly looking right now for more conversations between the two sides or voices on the conservative side, since I know my intake is lacking in that. I also agree that there is a derth of female voices in the mix at the moment. That's why the With Friends Like These podcast got me excited, because it's hosted by Ana Marie Cox. I can't wait to check Pantsuit Politics out! Just downloaded the most recent episode now! Thanks!

    2. I just listened to the latest episode and it was SO. GOOD. Thank you!