5 easy ways to Engage in Politics (Even if you don’t vote)

I lost trust in the media a long time ago. I believe we have a massive problem facing us in politics and society as a whole — an epidemic of misinformation and bias from the media. This isn't “fake news” but instead the toxic day to day headlines from our press. Lies, bias, agendas. Front page smears for some, a free pass for others.

Elections aren’t about the person, or the next 4 years, but the mould that the country will start to take the form of. It is about incremental moves in the right direction.

It’s a game — give us the vote, but influence us just enough that we rely on the establishment to tell us who to vote for. It’s subtle and they are playing it well. Its a game of exposure. Expose us to something enough and we will accept it.

Where our attention lies, so do our beliefs.

Feel you can’t make a difference? That all politicians are the same? They don’t represent you? You’re probably right. However we can make a difference. The last few years I have been doing these 5 steps and they have changed how I engage in politics, spot bias, and discover my values.

Let’s get this out of the way: I am not going to try to persuade you to vote for any party — or even vote at all.

It is almost impossible to change someone’s mind. I am only writing this in the hope it might be of use to just 1 other person. This is to make up for the endless Facebook posts and tweets that do nothing but annoy my friends. (Apologies).

Political engagement is easy — I will show you some super simple ways to start. I hope that these 5 steps to becoming more engaged are useful and can make a difference, however small.

1. Control Your Media Sources

The news is no longer impartial in any sense. It is predominantly owned by the right wing, our MP’s are editing papers, the BBC is biased, and this is all before we discuss the issue of “fake news” and social media (I won’t). The sources we have been conditioned to trust simply aren’t trustworthy.

There is a battle in the new “attention economy” that we live in and it is being won by the sensationalists and the provocateurs. Headlines that make you click are more valuable than investigative journalism. Our national newspapers are guilty of faking news, spreading propaganda and lying — see this example in The Sun one of the most read newspapers in the UK. People are seeing this and they are trusting it (and there are no consequences to the lies).

The Sun published cropped / doctored photo’s to smear Corbyn (left) — the actual photo tells a different story, walking with a veteran (right). But they didn’t print this.

There is no easy answer to this. The media is biased, but fed to us as trustworthy. The “impartial” influence you by what they won’t tell you and by reporting the bias of others.

My only suggestion is we take a step back, disassociate from what we normally read or watch. Question it. Ignore the headlines and get our information from a whole range of sources. These are some that I personally look at almost daily:

The Guardian | The Canary | RT | Al Jazeera | Democracy Now | Quartz | r/worldnews | r/UKpolitics | Telegraph | Independant | Global Research |BBC | Reuters

For when I’m feeling risky.. Daily Mail | The Sun | r/conspiracy

Are they all trustworthy? Hell no. Are any? I’m not sure.

Create a bookmark folder containing as many sources as you can, and when you find yourself wanting to catch up with the news, browse ALL of them.

I look at these not to see where the bias lies. What do they want us to think? I’m not sure where the real facts lie.

Don’t assume we are being told the truth or that they are looking out for our interests. We are being manipulated, to buy, to pay attention, to vote, to think. On their terms. For their reasons. It’s not a nice feeling. Maybe I’m just a big sceptic.

Don’t support unethical sources with your clicks or your money.

2. Set up alerts and notifications

It’s hard keeping up with what is going on and almost impossible to know what MP’s are really saying. This is my favourite hack to keep up to date with all the latest news and find out exactly what MP’s are talking about (which you wont find in the papers).

Here are 2 super easy ways to set up a personalised email digests for news articles and what MP’s say in parliament.

a) Google Alerts: Google alerts are great. Go to https://www.google.co.uk/alerts search a word and then set up how often you want to receive a digest of all relevant articles. Super easy and useful to see the headlines at a glance.

b) TheyWorkForYou: This is one of my favourite websites. You can get information about any MP’s voting record, register of interests and transcripts of their speeches in parliament. Skip all the media and read exactly what MP’s are saying and how they are voting.

You can also set up an email notification whenever an MP talks, or a subject is mentioned. Go to https://www.theyworkforyou.com/ — sign up, search for any term you are interested in. Click subscribe on the right and you receive an email whenever it is mentioned.

Search for a term and subscribe to get alerts when it’s mentioned in parliament

3. Email or Tweet Your MP

This one is so simple and so easy. Find out who your local MP is, get their twitter handle or email and ask them questions! Query them on something you are concerned about. Get their opinion, assess whether they represent you. A good MP will reply to their constituents.

I have questioned my local MP Lyn Brown many times, she always replies to my concerns. I don’t agree with her on everything but she does show concern for my issues.

Hold them accountable. If you sign a petition — tell them and ask them to raise it in parliament.

4. Sign Online Petitions

Online petitions really do make a difference. Find issues that you care about and sign petitions asking the government and corporations to be held accountable. I have seen petitions stop unethical corporate practices and reverse nasty government policies.

A great example is 15 year old Lucy Gavaghan who wanted to end the sale of eggs from caged hens in Tesco. She got over 250,000 supporters, delivered her campaign to the CEO of Tesco, committing to “end the sales of eggs from caged hens by 2025!” — we can all make change happen.

No matter how big or small the cause, I often see petitions succeed. Put your name to what you believe in. They keep you up to date with how the petition is going and what action is being taken. (Then email your MP and ask them to support it!).

200,000 people emailing and tweeting really gets their attention. Try these organisations:

The UK government even has its own petitions site. “After 100,000 signatures, petitions are considered for debate in Parliament.”

Also, support these organisations with small donations — the cost of lawyers and campaigns can be expensive against multinational corporations. Sacrifice a coffee at your choice of unethical-coffee-shop and support your values instead. Be intentional with your money.

5. Join a Party and canvas (if they represent you)

Unfortunately, people engage in an election every 4 years and then forget about politics. That’s exactly how the establishment like it. Hold a government to account during their whole term! Continue petitioning and messaging.

Read all the party manifesto’s, check the MP’s, check out their voting record. If one aligns with your values, support them. Politics is as much about the members as it is about the MP’s. Some let the members vote for their leader and smaller parties rely on the membership to fund their campaigns.

Then start going to meetings, talks, canvasses when an election is coming up. I went to my first canvas recently. I was slightly terrified. I shouldn't have been, it was super easy and friendly and an eye opening experience to hear people’s issues. It really makes it personal.

6. Bonus — Vote!

I lied, there are 6 steps- I feel it is really important that everybody votes. In the last election, the biggest majority was the “non-voters” party. If we all sign up we could make a real difference to the direction that the country and policies will be taken. An election isnt about the person, or the next 4 years, but the mould that the country will start to take the form of for decades to come. Some things will be almost impossible to reverse.

Our real ability to make a change is to nudge each election in the direction of a fairer society. Vote with our ethics and values and then hold MP’s to account to carry them out. It is about incremental moves, small changes in direction, no Prime Minister will transform the country but vote and you have the ability to adjust it’s course.

Thanks for getting this far… I hope it had some useful ideas. I just felt compelled to write something. To summarise the waffle:

We need to pay attention to the media we take in. Find out what our MP’s are really saying. Talk to them and discuss our concerns. Support causes and petitions that we believe in and continue to hold the government to account

I don’t have the right to dictate to anyone what to do or think or read. But we all have the right to have a say in a democracy. We have to exercise that right and stop letting the establishment dictate it to us. We need to engage.

I have hidden behind Facebook long enough, complaining on social media, sharing, tweeting — as though it made a difference. It gets thrown into the void and there the engagement stops. It should be where it starts.

It is time to stand up for our values — question our media, hold the government to account. Support local campaigns. Be intentional with where you put your money and attention. Are you supporting a multinational corporation that exploits workers and spreads lies? Or are you supporting the campaign to give those workers better pay or conditions? Are you pressing “like” or pressing your MP?

Building an informed society is surely a start to changing how the system works, keeping it accountable and what we need to see in the new “attention economy” — Where facts are disposable. The subconscious does not differentiate between true or false. Lets be more conscious and intentional.

All i hope is that 1 person might read this and try to make a difference.