What can I do? Here is a simple 1-2-3 guide for local political action that you can print out and distribute to other local activists:

1. Act Personally

It is your right to express your opinions. It is your right to participate in your local government.

Write to the mayor, city commissioners, and county officials. Tell them how you feel about the issues. Most public officials and agencies can be emailed.

Letters to the editor of local papers are a good way to influence local lawmakers and also to rally citizens.

Hold the media accountable for biased reporting. Do not hesitate to call your local media outlet if you see evidence of unfair or slanted reporting.

Insist on maintaining and protecting the right of citizens to speak out at commission meetings and in other forums about issues affecting the city, county, or region.

People who disagree with your position also have the right to state their opinion. Treat them with respect and courtesy. Avoid personal attacks. The weakest side will resort to these tactics. Remember this rule: He who throws mud loses ground.

Consider joining a local political committee or forming your own group. Grass roots organizations have done a good job in presenting the views of citizens and organizing people for political action.

If you're not a joiner or don't like meetings, remember that individuals working alone or in small informal working groups can achieve great things.

Work for the cause, not for the glory. If attention is what you want, watch what you wish for.

Register to vote. If you are a citizen of the United States and are 18 years old, you have the right to vote. Exercise your right at the ballot box.

Consider running for public office or volunteering to work for a campaign. There are many ways to help without giving money.

Apply for a seat on a city or county board. Most of these posts are appointed by the commission.

2. Attend Public Events

Attend commission and board meetings and see for yourself what goes at in these meetings.

Insist that the city inform and involve the public in discussion of issues under consideration. The public has the right to speak on any proposition on the agenda.

Demand honesty from all public officials, the city manager, and city workers.

Insist that city officials register lobbyists and that they maintain and make public records of meetings with all outside parties about city business.

3. Inform Yourself and Others

We live in the information age. Newspapers and websites contain tons of information about public policy issues at all levels of government. Major newspapers maintain archives in a searchable database online.

Many public records can be accessed online or provided digitally.

Public meeting agendas and minutes of past meetings are usually posted on city websites. Many cities also maintain video archives of past meetings.

Request public records and information from the city or county clerk. In most cases, they are required to provide and copy written documents in their custody, including emails, without any hassle. The request does not have to be in writing or in any particular format. The clerk cannot ask you why you want the requested record. Tip: Request the public record from the legal custodian of the record.

Ask city employees for information. Be respectful. Never ask anyone to violate policy or law regarding the release of information or records. Many management-level and elected officials are more than willing to sit down and talk.

Start a newsletter, website, blog, email list, online bulletin board, or chat room. Use social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Learn all you can about computers. They are the most effective instruments for political activism in the modern world.

Tell other people how they can help too. Reproduce this guide and give a copy to other local activists.

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