No matter your age, at some point you heard about a law or proposed legislation that you know is bad. It doesn’t matter what that law is, because the absolutely most common answer, in some form or version, that I have heard is “Too bad I can’t do anything about it.”
Balderdash (so hard to use that in a sentence). There is a lot that can be done. Whether or not anything is done is a very different question. Which in my experience has a lot to do with what people think or know can be done. I have seen this recently in the reaction to my article on gun control via social media – NY State wants to know your social media password, for your safety. So I will briefly go into this, and if there is enough interest I can go into this in more detail in the future.
Know the issue
The very first thing is know what is going on. Sounds obvious. But keep in mind that modern politics is generally devoid of information. Political commercials and news media reports are engineered to provide a 30-second emotional gut-punch. It’s why exact details, like the title and location of various legislative Bills are almost never given to the public. It’s why 2 campaigns can talk on the same subject with vastly different conclusions.
It’s why, as an example, every mass shooting will have a headline that reads ‘X number of children and/or people killed at XX location.’ That headline tells you almost nothing about what is/did happen, just an emotion about how you should feel about it. Emotional gut-punch. You need to get details, to understand if a law is bad/dangerous and why.
Do Something trap
The next thing to do is give up on the “Do something.” Seriously. Never say this, don’t even think it.
That statement says several troubling things all at once: 1) You don’t know enough about the law/situation to define a clear action. 2) You don’t want to be responsible for providing an answer/action that could be wrong. 3) You are willing to wait. indefinitely, for someone else to take the lead, and 4) tell you what to do.
Not a pretty picture but accurate if we are honest. To differing degrees, depending on the law/situation, we all do this. Modern politics, and news media, takes advantage of this.
Example: The headline is that an old woman was just mugged. Emotional punch. People are outraged. People demand something is done. Candidate X says they will increase taxes – to hire more teachers and police to stop this in the future. Candidate Y says they will outlaw all guns tomorrow.
The reality is that Candidate Y will raise more money, get more press, and if all things are otherwise equal win the election. The better plan, given this is massively oversimplified, is from Candidate X. But it’s not emotional, requires thought about causation and risk/reward evaluation, plus it will work at some unknown point in the future. Candidate Y is promising an emotional based answer tomorrow.
Mind you, the headline never said that a gun was used. Maybe the article says no weapon was used at all. But in a world of texts, social media posts, and instant news, many only read and react to the headlines. And whatever meme inevitably follows on social media.
The point is that people asked for something to be done. They didn’t mobilize a local patrol. They didn’t determine the cause of the mugging – lack of housing, drugs, low education, lack of jobs, ect. They didn’t ask the candidates to create a plan that would address those causes. They didn’t ask if just changing police patrol routes could have made the difference. There is a lot that could have been done in the example.
But typically if you want someone to ‘do something’ you will either get a long-term proposal that gets people off the back of the politician, whether it works or not. Or an emotional response that does nothing about the problem, and gets people of the back of the politician.
Instead, do a SPECIFIC thing. In the example above, call the police and ask if a community patrol or changing route will help. Write an article in the newspaper asking for volunteers, or supporting the police in a change of routes. Demand the Mayor and City Council reallocate funds to drug prevention or housing homeless or education. Write the Governor about supporting non-profits to address crime intervention and economic stimulus. Maybe put a poll on social media to see what the community thinks is the best of these ideas.
Maybe all of those are a good idea. Maybe something else all together. Doesn’t matter. They are actions. If the action is started and a better option comes along, it’s relatively easy to redirect that energy into the better option. Getting a specific thing started is hard, keeping it going is generally easier. Doing nothing, and getting nothing done in response, is easiest of all.
Returning to politics more directly, there are several things you can do about a bad/dangerous law. The longer that you wait to do anything, the less likely you are to have any impact. A real-world example is that some have said that the time to act on the gun control social media legislation I mentioned is in January. That’s exactly when the Bill is expected to be passed. It will require a ton of exposure, with a massive public response, as the Bill is being voted on to affect it. Given that there will be news events, and life, that will distract the public between now (November) and then (January).
Politicians regularly count on the fact that the public will be distracted, or more likely will forget, what they are doing until after the fact. Plus the intensity of an emotion fades over time. Of course the longer people have to get used to an idea, the less they are willing to address it. An emotional breakup or death is worst when it first happens and people adjust over time.
So you need to act immediately. With a specific intent. Then convince others of a like mind to do the same. Then reach out to those who don’t agree. Compromise, in politics, is always an option it must be said.
The power of writing a letter, to politician X AND your local newspaper makes a difference. Speaking about your opposition, referencing your letter, on social media adds pressure on the politician. A letter is powerful as no one does that any more.
Politicians regularly count the number of complaints they get, and how many other people see and/or respond to the complaint. Some estimates say that politicians get nervous and start taking action when they see 100 people with the same complaint, with 30 or more people supporting each complaint, via social media. It’s not huge numbers, and it may well take far fewer.
Write to the local TV and Cable news station. Demand they report on the issue. Demand they do an investigation. Knock them for any reporting that is 30-seconds or so. I recall calling to task a local news outlet for summarizing a visit of a high ranking politician – and the protest that came with that visit. The local news coverage, of a 3 hour event, was exactly 26 seconds. Absolutely no one in the public benefited from that reporting.
Start a club, organization, or join an existing one that shares your ideals. Everyone wants to feel included. People like to be around others that agree with them. Let the public, news media, and politician X know that your group will not support them financially, or with votes, if they vote for the Bill in question. Money matters in politics – almost as much as votes.
If viable, there is the option of lawsuit. Not just from you, or your group, but a coalition of like-minded groups. When I spoke with Col. Oliver North, president of the NRA, he confirmed that the NRA would fight proposed Red Flag legislation, pending in NY State and around the country, to the Supreme Court. Multiple other pro-Second Amendment groups support such a lawsuit if needed. Politicians are under pressure to consider this negative and how it may affect them if they vote for the Bill.
Start a social media page, or build a website. Let the public, news media, and politician X know that you will keep a record of their Bill(s) and how it negatively impacts constituents. Promise to keep it active, and update it as needed, so that there is a definitive mark on the character of that politician – so when it comes time to vote people won’t have to only rely on campaign promises, political ads, and a smile or handshake.
Go visit the politician in person. Bring like-minded friends. This doesn’t mean a protest. But a visit to your politician, with several dozen people who agree with you. Reminding that politician why you disagree and that you won’t forget – nor will you let the public forget – is powerful. This almost never happens, and it makes an impression.
I say don’t protest – unless it is extremely necessary and the issue is vital – because it is very easy for a protest to get the opposite reaction. Protest disrupt people’s lives, it hurts businesses. It can make a reasonable person shut down or double down. A protest is an attack, and therefore is responded to with defense, not open discussion to see the error. It does have its place – on intractable issues of great magnitude, and should be a last resort not the first.
Finally, and I do mean finally, vote. If you are lucky, the bad/dangerous law will not be voted on until after an election. Thus you get a chance to remove politicians that have ignored or actively countered you actions above.
Sadly, often controversial legislation is done immediately after an election. Both because that’s when the public is paying the least attention, and the public feels like they have the least power. Politicians use this to their advantage.
But politicians can’t hide their voting records. If news media is doing its job, then there are interviews and speeches that will give a good clue to what and how a politician will vote. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will surprise no one in voting to increase taxes to increase the power of Government – it’s what she ran her election campaign on.
Yet, as stated in my article, State Senator Kevin Parker is hiding from his publicly documented racist comments in the past. No one voted on Parker about his racial motivations, which may be a factor in the legislation he now is presenting.
These are a few ideas. There are many more, and more details of course. So I hope this helps some out there. This isn’t political, though some of the examples may be (I am a political pundit with an expressed viewpoint after all). The biggest thing to take away, you can do a lot. Politicians know it, even as they try to avoid it. Use the power you have, and you can change or prevent bad/dangerous legislation before it becomes law. The only sure way to lose, is to do nothing.
Michael “Vass” Vasquez
President – M V Consulting, Inc.