Making Philadelphia Better: How to Get Involved in the Age of Trump

Our nonpartisan guide to getting active in local politics and fighting for the issues you care about.

American democracy is on life support. Half the country didn’t show up to vote in 2016. Around 30 percent of millennials say it’s “essential” to live in a democracy. Our Republican president-elect praises Vladimir Putin, and our Democratic leaders praise Fidel Castro. It’s mad. But here’s the good news: You — yes, you — can make a difference. And Philadelphia, the birthplace of the great American experiment, is the perfect place to do it.

Hate our political parties? Be the change you want to see by running for office.

You can start small: Campaign for election-board worker in 2017 or committeeperson in 2018. These races are often decided by a few dozen votes. And try testifying at public meetings of the City Council, School Reform Commission and Philadelphia Parking Authority. You know you have an opinion on how they should run things.

Try to build a relationship with an elected official.

Lots of lawmakers are Twitter fiends, are accessible at public meetings, and pay attention to community leaders. Start by calling an official’s office to weigh in on legislation, party politics, potholes or what have you. And be sure to call: Emails and letters can be ignored; people flooding the phone lines can’t.

Join your local civic organization.

Here’s a secret that political insiders keep close to their chests: The civic group in your neighborhood has enormous power over decisions that impact everything from gentrification to the economy to the opioid epidemic. How? Zoning, my friend. Such orgs regularly convince lawmakers to block or allow the development of businesses, beer gardens and methadone clinics. Have your say.

Subscribe to a local media organization — or start your own.

The newspaper industry has lost 20,000 jobs in the past 20 years. Donald Trump calls journalists “the enemies” and “the lowest form of humanity.” Strengthen the freedom of the press by supporting the Inquirer, the Tribune, WHYY, WURD, or perhaps even this magazine. And if you feel disillusioned by local reporting outlets, start your own: The liberal Media Mobilizing Project and conservative are solid models.

Donate to local groups working on national issues you care about.

Depending on your political bent, this could include anyone from the ACLU of Pennsylvania to the Commonwealth Foundation to Planned Parenthood to the Fraternal Order of Police to the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project to Community Legal Services to Juntos.

Patronize the local arts.

Desperate times call for impassioned art.

Volunteer for the city’s do-gooders.

Mighty Writers, Project HOME, Ready, Willing & Able, MANNA, Women Against Abuse, Covenant House and the Preservation Alliance are good places to start.

Get religious.

Faith institutions throughout the country have long, inspiring histories of political activism. Plus, if all else fails, there’s always prayer.

Follow @hollyotterbein on Twitter.