For years I've been quite happy to keep my political opinions to myself. It meant I was able to have apolitical relationships at work and at home and on the trail. Politics is second only to religion on the list of things not to talk about and just above sex.
I figured my "activism" could take the form of encouraging people to get outside and experience the wonder of nature. Helping them see what's out there, even if just through pictures and stories, would convince them of the need for protection.
I figured if I demonstrated fairness and compassion for my kids and raised them to respect the rights of others that would be my contribution and it would be enough.
Clearly, sadly, it's not enough. The stakes are too high.
In the first four weeks of this new alternate reality we've seen unfathomable attempts to permanently alter our nation. The checks and balances that have held our country together for the last 240 years are being tested and stretched in ways no one could have imagined just a year ago.
Everyone, regardless of political persuasion, needs to be thinking long and hard about what we're doing. We need to be speaking out. We need to tell our friends and neighbors and anybody that will listen what we believe. More importantly, we need to listen to the "others" and come to understand what's important to them.
We need to tell the people that represent us what we believe and we need to engage in the process to ensure they hear us.
Here's what that means for me. 2017 is the year I'm getting to know my elected representatives. I'm watching what they do through their web sites, social media feeds, and their voting record. You can, too. It's easy.
Find your Representative in the House: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Find your Senator: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
Monitor votes and coming votes: https://www.govtrack.us
My elected representatives are coming to know me.
I write letters. This lets me get into issues in depth and explain what I believe and why I think it's important for my representatives to vote in certain ways.
I make a list of issues I care about. About once a week I call and let them know whether I do or don't support what's coming. Calling takes a few minutes. Here's my usual script: "Hello. I'm John Soltys and I live in your district. I want to express my support for ______ because ______. I urge you to vote for this measure."
I follow up on all the votes I care about and call. "Thank you for supporting ______. It's important we continue to support this." or "I'm disappointed with the way you voted on ______. I hope you'll change your position on future votes because ______."
Now I'm going to escalate.
I'm going to publicly talk with my representatives on social media. Sometimes this is just tagging them in photos on Instagram or tweets on Twitter. This helps them understand what's important to me. Sometimes I'll tweet directly at them to thank them for supporting a position or encourage them to change their position.
I'm going to support causes I believe in. My $20 doesn't do a lot by itself, but with 1,000 of my friends it can do a lot.
You need to do this, too. No more sitting on the sidelines. Voting isn't enough. Get to know the issues and your representatives. Make sure they know how you feel. Thank them when they support the way you want them to and help them see why they should change their position when it's counter.
Now's the time to be active politically, not just active in the great outdoors.