The surprising power of citizen engagement

It’s so easy to feel like we’re not being heard. As citizens who vote every two years, or every four, it’s easy to feel powerless, voiceless, incapable of effecting real change between elections. It’s also easy to say a phone call or an email to your elected officials doesn’t matter or make a difference.

But it’s really not true.

Our legislators were elected into office by their constituents – by us – and that’s a powerful fact when we remember it. And when we take that fact and convert it into action, we can get some surprising results.

As former chief of staff to Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), I can attest to the power of the constituent voice. Letters, emails and phone calls are read or heard, counted and tabulated, and all make a difference in the life of a U.S. representative or senator, directing the voting habits and informing our legislators of the issues we find to be the most vital. Citizen engagement matters.

Take, for example, a citizen of Connecticut, Clyde White. White received an email from No Labels, a nonprofit movement dedicated to promoting bipartisanship in Congress, encouraging him to reach out to his District 4 representative, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), and ask him to co-sponsor House Resolution 207 to establish a framework for a National Strategic Agenda.

By way of Himes’ chief of staff, White’s message was received. Not only that, but Himes personally reached out to White to thank him for informing him about this legislation which he had not been aware had not been filed in Congress.

The point of this is two-fold. First, we cannot underestimate the power we have as voters, as constituents, to make our voices heard. Second, we cannot assume that our representatives are aware of all legislation, all organizations, all the initiatives we’d like them to support. Our legislators’ jobs are to represent us. It’s our job to make certain they know about legislation and problems we care about and want solved.

Himes sets a solid example for Congress – he was introduced to the National Strategic Agenda by a constituent, he read through the resolution, he agreed it was something worth supporting, and he became a cosponsor. No tricks. No gimmicks. And the cherry on top for the constituent? He called to personally thank Clyde White for bringing it to his attention.

This is the kind of governing we all want to see in Congress – responsive, unbiased, fair. And this is what the National Strategic Agenda is all about. The National Strategic Agenda seeks to bypass the constraints of partisan politics and address the knotty and long-standing issues facing our nation. In order to agree on solutions to these problems, our senators and representatives must first understand the urgency with which we, as constituents, request their support. And they must also understand, as does Rep. Himes, these problems are bigger than Democrats and Republicans, and they will not be solved by one party alone. Solutions to these issues will only come from creative problem solving with all parties involved at the table.

Riddle is a No Labels co-founder and former chief of staff to former Sen. Joe Lieberman.


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