How to move a political system that seems incapable of change

Written by Allison Gordon and Nisha Behrman, Common Cause intern on June 21, 2016

“There is no use speaking truth to power” the President of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s Legacy Project told a group of activists and college students in Washington last week.

Courtland Cox explained that speaking truth to power may ignite protests, but it’s only the first step in creating change. He spoke as part of a panel discussion hosted by the AFL-CIO.

Leaders of civil action movements in Ferguson, MO and  Flint, MI along with Representative Keith Ellison, D-MN, joined Cox to advise young people on how best to move a political system that seems incapable of change. Their top three tips:

  1. Follow the money. Specifically, pay attention to budgets. As Nayyirah Sharif of the Flint Democracy Defense League put it, “The budget should reflect local values and interests.” In Flint, poor budget decisions made by those in power impacted the entire city, leading to the deaths of 10 people.

  1. Be proactive, not reactive. Our mindset needs to shift from just combatting recent events to asking ourselves, “What do we want to see changed in the next 10 years?” Rep. Ellison, discussing recent damage to the Voting Rights Act inflicted by the Supreme Court, said activists should think not only about what they want to change, but also what they want to preserve. Each victory should come with a plan to protect progress.

  1. Find new ways to use your voice. The best way to express your voice is to vote. But speech doesn’t stop at the ballot box. Talking about your passions makes them contagious, Sharif noted. Sharing opinions on issues, especially among friends or coworkers, starts to shift the national conversation.

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