Recently I sat in a room on Emory University’s campus and listened to a small but diverse panel of accomplished and politically active millennials talk about why policy and policy making matters. But when I left that symposium I walked away with a different message: people have to show up to enact political change, but so many have lost faith causing them to stay away.
This fired up group was quite enlightening as their insight into policy and policy making was informative. Policy is not something that affects only politicians, it affects everyone across America. That old School House Rock song, “I’m Just a Bill” comes to mind when thinking about policy but that little ol’ bill can have major ramifications on our everyday lives. How do we get to the “bill just sitting on Capitol Hill” or any other political committee’s doorstep, whether it’s at the local, state or federal level? In today’s politically fractured landscape there is a disconnect between the policies being written behind institutional walls and the people they effect.
Take, for example, a policy close to my own heart- the “pink tax”. At first this tax might seem small because a few extra cents on items does not seem like that much. However, as you begin to dig into it you realize that women (who statistically make less than men) are regularly charged more for items like clothing, razors, body wash, and feminine hygiene items. These items are regarded as luxury items and are thus taxed at a higher rate while in a state like Georgia, Viagra is seen as a medical item and is thus tax free. The pink tax, which affects half the population, makes many people angry and yet we see it still exists. How do we translate that anger into action, into more than angry tweets and media coverage? How do we change the policy behind the tax?
One of the first solutions that comes to mind and that was stated several times by the panelists, was show up and vote. This seems so simple but if you don’t show up to vote and try to put the right people in office, the ones who stand behind the policy you want to see enacted, then nothing will change. Also, with this being a census year and the census only taking place every decade, it is imperative that we take part in the census process. You need to be counted so that you and the community you live in can be accurately represented. People often tend to ignore policy when they don’t think it pertains to them, but they do not understand that a smaller policy can have bigger ripples that could eventually affect them. For example, the pink tax might be small but when coupled with the wage gap means women are making less but paying more. There is also a political fatigue plaguing the nation experienced by many Americans. This could be caused by being bombarded with information all day every day from multiple sources. Americans could also feel like their voices are not being heard or that their votes don’t really matter. This could lead the people who feel this way to be tempted to “sit this one out” when thinking about the next election. This is not the answer. In order to enact change we must be present and engaged. Some of the tactics suggested by speakers was to check sites like legis.ga.gov to see what bills have been submitted in Georgia but to also talk about the bills that are on the docket, speak to your coworkers, friends, family, and social media groups. They also suggested reaching out to your legislators, build a relationship with them so they know your name when your email address pops up.
Change does not happen overnight, and it is evident that reform is needed in the political system. One of the potential reform measures that stood out was pointed out by Joe Ossoff (and many democratic candidates along the campaign trail this year), who is currently running for a US Senate seat. He suggested that the campaign finance systems need to be changed. He pointed out that when groups and people contribute large amounts of money to campaigns, they are not doing so out of an altruistic nature. No, they want their agendas pushed to the forefront and they expect their interests to be taken care of. Even though this happens every day and we are faced with this challenge, this again is just a hurdle, not a wall.
We as Americans have the power of the vote which can help us succeed in changing policy. The vote that is never cast gets nothing done. We have to show up and take an active role in politics in order to make sure the policies we want to see in place will be written and passed into law. It is up to you and me to put our words into action.
*Photo by Element5 Digital “Voted Printed Papers on White Surface” (Unsplash), Creative Commons Zero license