A civics teacher once simplified the idea of politics for me to the action of deciding whom gets what and how much. This fundamental idea of dividing resources should be a concern to everyone but politics has become a subject many people avoid. The average citizen could probably provide a dozen reasons why they are not interested or involved in the political process.
However, legislators need to hear our voices to make the right choices. I occasionally have the opportunity to bring new people to the statehouse for legislative visits. It always makes me happy to see the look of surprise and a bit of panic on their faces when a legislator asks their opinion about an important issue. The surprise usually turns to respect when they realize that the lawmaker genuinely values their input.
Politicians have an obligation to represent their constituents, and it is difficult to do well if citizens do not share their thoughts and opinions. The saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” reflects a fundamental truth of the ability of every member of our society to engage in the political process. Your contribution can be as simple and powerful as making elected officials aware of important issues so they can take action.
So why don’t people speak up more? The power politicians possess can be intimidating, and people often feel insignificant on their own. Remembering politicians are citizens just like you and finding strength in a group or organization can help to make engaging in the political process more comfortable.
Growing up, my friend’s mom was a state representative who balanced her career with all kinds of mom duties like being a 4-H leader and attending local basketball games. At the time, I had no comprehension of the prestige or power of her job. My first-hand experience, that elected officials are real people with families, personal lives and everyday concerns, is a source connection and confidence during my interactions with legislators.
The other source of my political confidence has grown out of involvement in Kansas Farm Bureau. When I moved here a decade ago, I was starting from scratch without a network of contacts or political connections. Joining Farm Bureau gave me expert resources to explain the process, gain background knowledge and sharpen my communication skills. Farm Bureau also provided contacts to build my network and the ability to stand together with others who cared about the same issues. Joining an organization that shares your values and concerns is a great way to start engaging in advocacy.
The Kansas Legislature is in session now, and it is a great time to visit with your representatives. If you can’t make the trip to Topeka, plan to attend a town hall in your area or send a note about an issue that matters to you. You might be surprised by how quickly a legislator learns your name if you get involved or reach out to share your opinions.
Politicians control the resources of our state and nation. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your opinion doesn’t matter. Legislatures are real people who want to represent you well. Help them by letting them know what issue matter to you and your community.
Your voice matters, use it.