In the business world, it can feel risky to talk politics. And given the hyper-polarized atmosphere we’re in, I know many executives, entrepreneurs, and investors who have deep concerns and strong opinions which they want to share but feel they cannot.
Many would like to be “involved” but don’t know how, and they’re busy. Social media helps, as it’s a way to get opinions out there and to be “heard,” in the relatively safe environment of one’s own social network.
The Women’s Marches on January 21st saw millions taking to the streets, and since then we’ve seen protests in airports and town halls across the country. This shows us just how many millions of Americans have concerns and want to be active (and for me, having returned from many years in China, it’s so refreshing to see citizens exercizing their legal rights to peacefully assemble).
Adding to the discourse and joining peaceful protests and marches are privileges of our First Amendment, and are important components of our duties as citizens in a democracy. But how do we sustain that spirit and bring activism into our daily routines?
I’ve asked these questions of myself often over the last few months. I’ve been very vocal, both online and offline, and will continue to be. Social media allows me to share my thoughts and to share articles which I feel may be helpful and informative to my network. Does that move the needle? Not really. But it doesn’t mean it’s not useful. As Mark Suster points out, being vocal “gives air-cover for more and more people to speak out”.
I agree with Jen Psaki, former White House Communications Director, that this is all a starting point. Real involvement requires an ongoing commitment, large or small.
It shouldn’t be daunting. Volunteerism and getting involved in things you’re passionate about should not be politicized or criticized. These are our rights. Here are a few things you can do to get active now:
1. Arrange a meeting with your Congressman or Congresswoman
Take the initiative to meet them in person, 1:1, and understand the politics of your congressional district and how you’re being represented in Washington. Feel free to do this regularly, whenever your representative is back in your district — it’s their job to spend time with constituents like you.
2. Attend town hall meetings
Understand what’s happening in your neighborhood constituency. Get to know your local council member and find out what efforts they’re making, and how you might help.
3. Contribute financially
Donate to the ACLU, to the UNHCR, or countless other good causes (if you’re interested in others, ask me in the comment section and I’ll send you a list of my favorites). Or if you’re really motivated, bring together a couple friends and create a PAC. The process is simple and may frequently bring you to Washington to support a cause.
4. Use your social network
Your network is huge. Tap into the social capital around you. Who in your network has donated to a political organization before? Who might have their own PAC? Which of your colleagues might feel activated? See who’s donating where. And put together an agenda and travel to DC to meet with stakeholders.
5. Join a City Hall Commission
Your City Hall likely has an economic development commission. Investigate the appointment process and see how you can affect the local economy. Google your local city hall — it will have meeting schedules and events that you can easily add to your calendar.
6. Be a consistent constituent caller
Aside from making a donation, this is the easiest and least time-consuming thing you can do — and it’s highly effective. Daily Action is excellent. Go there and you’ll be prompted to enter your ZIP code — and that’s it — you’re signed up. You will receive one text message every workday about an issue that they have determined to be urgent, based on where you live. Tap on the phone number in your message, listen to a short recording about that day’s issue, and from there you’ll be automatically routed to your Senator, member of Congress, or other relevant elected official. In 90 seconds, you can conscientiously object, or give praise (your reps need and appreciate your support), and be done with it.
You can make these calls when you’re in the car, or waiting for your morning coffee.
Take a moment to realize the influence you have as a business leader. Corporations and CEOs alike have the influence that some politicians strive for during their entire career. It is now incumbent upon business leaders and CEOs to think beyond their companies and shareholders, and be active in our democratic process.
As Howard Schultz puts it, “‘Are you a bystander?’ Or are you a leader?”
A previous version of this article was originally published on Inc.com