On January 21, 2017, somewhere between 120,000 and 175,000 people marched from Judkins Park to Seattle Center. The Seattle Women’s March was part of the United States’ largest ever single-day protest, with over five million participants across the country. The success of the Women’s March led to a proliferation of other planned demonstrations. Regardless of how one feels about the results of the 2016 presidential election, what’s clear is that the American population is experiencing a political awakening not seen in a generation.
But something has shifted. Has the momentum been lost? Is it a regrouping? A rechanneling? Are millions of protesters nursing the carpal tunnel induced from knitting all those hats and dialing their elected officials’ offices and writing all those postcards? Or are folks simply trying to figure out the next step? What do you do when you want to create change after the streets have cleared?
The list of Jewish Americans who have brought about change through activism and political engagement is a long one spanning the ideological spectrum from Harvey Milk and Rose Finkelstein Norwood to William Kristol and Henry Kissinger. As a generation of Jews is discovering (and their parents and grandparents are perhaps rediscovering), an individual’s Jewish values may even encourage engagement in politics. “Jewish values are absolutely encouraging political engagement, as we cannot pass our values to our children without actively demonstrating that we are part of a larger world, and that world is political,” says Adrienne Query-Fiss, an activist who lives in Seward Park.
Many courses of action exist for the concerned citizen, from donating money to politicians and causes to running for office. However, making the move from sharing opinions on Facebook and marching around a city to participating in traditional political activity can be daunting to the average citizen. Even if one is relatively informed on key issues, the intricate landscape of political actors and tapestry of relationships can seem foreign, and while change can appear to happen overnight it is usually the result of months, if not years, of work. It’s tempting to stay behind the laptop and stick to Facebook posts.
So, is there a way to become engaged in the real world political process that won’t require having to transform into the West Wing’s Josh Lyman or Toby Ziegler, but has more of an impact than liking a Facebook post? The answer is yes, and it is closer than you may think: Becoming involved in local government and political issues can be a great way to contribute to change, because there are multiple easy access points, and the return on investment can be surprisingly high. “While federal and municipal government are important,” John Schochet, chief of staff to Washington State Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib, says, “state government, often overlooked, is responsible for everything from K–12 education funding to higher education to maintaining our state highways to worker safety regulation to environmental protection to statewide economic development to numerous other areas.” People may be surprised to find how accessible their state-level elected leaders are once they take the time to seek them out, he adds.
It is also worth considering that many galvanizing issues from the 2016 presidential election, such as the environment, paid family leave, and the status of undocumented immigrants, are also the purview of state and municipal governments. If something does not go your way at the federal level, there may be something to be done about it at a more local level.
An investment of time to enact change is still necessary, but the appeal of having coffee with leaders makes involvement in local governance a good option — and one that won’t end in carpal tunnel, sore feet, or a Facebook fight.
4 Ways to Get Involved
This is not limited to money: For instance, Jewish Family Service collects household and personal care items to assist refugees settling in the Seattle area.
Introduce yourself to your elected officials. Find out who they are here:
Washington state representatives and senators: app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder
Seattle City Council: seattle.gov/council
Attend town halls with elected officials and tell them what is important to you.
Get involved with the Jewish community, too.
Washington State Jewish Democratic Caucus: wsjdc.org
Republican Jewish Coalition: rjchq.org
Volunteering is a great way to learn more about an issue or organization and make a difference.