I get asked about politics a lot. It’s my own fault. I’m a self-confessed political geek. When I was a child I thought I’d know when I was a ‘proper’ grown up because I would understand finance and politics. I’d be able to watch the news and know what they were talking about. It’s the main reason I studied politics at University!
Well, I never did understand finance but I found it hugely empowering to learn about politics, to be able to discuss current affairs and to be capable of engaging in an informed way on those issues that I am most passionate about.
Now I have a vision of a world in which we all do more than simply turn up every few years and mark a cross on a ballot paper.
So, if you want to feel informed, engaged and empowered; if you want to be able to hold your elected representatives to account and to have your say then I want to help you.
Here are five ways to feel empowered about politics.
#1 Understand the system
Politics can often feel like a private members club that you are paying for but are excluded from. It is a club populated by cliques, speaking a language filled with confusing jargon and running processes and procedures that seem convoluted at best and downright diabolical at worst!
To wield influence, to hold politicians to account, to create opportunities to have your say, you need to clear away the confusion and develop a solid understanding of how the system functions.
One of the fastest routes to failure is to take action inside a system that you do not understand. So get informed: do a course, read a book, speak to experts – make sure you know enough about your political system to know where the entry points are and how you might be able to influence it.
#2 Learn the language
Visiting a country where you don’t speak the language can sap your confidence and make you feel vulnerable and excluded. But often, it’s just a question of learning a few key phrases: being able to say please and thank you and ‘do you speak English?’
You don’t necessarily need to be fluent but if you know enough to get by you will feel more comfortable and more confident when travelling.
The same applies to politics. The language of politics is full of jargon and I know many people who avoid talking to politicians or about politics because they don’t understand the ‘lingo’. My advice: just treat it like any other language and spend some time learning a few key phrases.
But also, don’t be afraid to ask people to explain what they mean ‘in plain English’. If you are talking to a politician or official and you don’t understand what they are saying, there is a responsibility on them to explain more clearly. Remember, they work for you.
#3 Understand how policy is made
All political systems have – sometimes arcane – procedures for initiating, discussing and deciding on policy and legislation and it helps to have at least a superficial understanding of how this works.
Here’s a rule of thumb: by the time a draft law is being voted on in the legislature, the Government has already put a huge amount of time and effort into it and is unlikely to want to change it a great deal. So, if there’s a policy you are passionate about, you need to get involved way before it gets to that point. And that means understanding the processes used to develop policy BEFORE it becomes legislation.
#4 Stay informed
If you want to engage and influence the policies that interest you or you want to hold your representatives to account for the decisions that are making, it stands to reason that you need to stay informed.
Every country and every institution has its own way of sharing news and updates and so it’s not possible to provide an exhaustive list here but here are 3 pointers:
Watch or listen to the news or read a quality daily newspaper
I know the news can be depressing but if you want to know what is going on in the world then the news is a much better and more reliable source than Facebook.
Subscribe to a podcast
There are some brilliant podcasts that will keep you up to date with what’s going on in the world of politics generally. In the UK, the BBC has several:
a. The Week in Westminster
b. Today in Parliament
c. Pienaar’s Politics
d. Westminster Hour
e. Political Thinking with Nick Robinson
Follow your representative
If you want to hold your representative to account then you need to know what they are up to. Follow them on Twitter. Sign up for their newsletter (most of them now issue one)
#5 Take regular small steps
Don’t try and do it all at once. When you first decide to get informed and to engage more in politics it can seem overwhelming. Don’t try to eat the elephant in one sitting. Take small, regular bites. Focus on understanding first; ask questions; find people who are prepared to teach you.
You don’t have to go from vaguely interested to being a prospective candidate overnight. You don’t ever have to be a candidate at all!
But wouldn’t it be empowering just to have a deeper understanding of what the people you have elected are actually up to? Wouldn’t it feel energising to know how to get hold of your representative and how to enlist their help or hold them accountable?
You can do it – it just takes that first commitment to action.
The Knitting, Baby-whispering Karaoke queen!
Sara is the Founder of Actually which she set up to empower those who want to make a difference in the world to grow their businesses and their impact by developing great communication skills; overcoming mindset blocks and getting the right support. Sara’s specialises in communications, campaigning and PR – and her flagship training programme, How to Actually Spread the Word, helps purpose-led entrepreneurs, coaches and consultants to step up, speak up and make a difference. She is also a One of many coach and trainer; a mentor with the social enterprise support group Unltd and the co-Founder of one of London’s leading independent communications agencies.