Through my volunteer work with Common Cause, I have gotten involved with the New Haven Votes Coalition here in Connecticut. While the primary purpose of NHVC is to increase voter registration and turnout, the overarching theme of the organization's work is increasing overall civic engagement in the community. Working with the Civic Health Index formulated by the Secretary of State's Office, we are seeking to encourage greater citizen participation in local community and faith-based civic organizations, municipal and state advisory boards, issues forums and so forth. This type of civic involvement (as well as other factors) is statistically correlated to higher voter turnout.
In our meetings, a recurring theme has been the lack of participation among the young – specifically college students. While there are several factors accounting for this, the primary one is a sense that the individual is powerless against large, organized monied interests. This sentiment is not surprising, given that in six months we will all be choosing between Romney's billionaires and Obama's billionaires. Harshly negative attack ads funded by obfuscatory Super PAC's are indeed discouraging for those who care about our nation's future yet feel that a place at the table is reserved only for those with deep pockets. I completely understand the sense of futility.
However, I am also struck by the power and effectiveness of organizations like United Republic. If you've read recent news stories about major corporations withdrawing from the American Legislative Exchange Council, and are happy about that, you need to thank United Republic. The people there used their passion and their bully pulpit to call out these corporations for their support of a cabal seeking to suppress voting and impose other nefarious change on ordinary and financially-outmatched citizens. The people at United Republic are not part of “the elite”; they are concerned citizens who care and want things to change. When I was growing up, if a story didn't make the six o'clock evening news or the front page of the New York Times, nobody knew about it. The world is a very different place now. While there are certainly more major news outlets, specifically on cable television, there are also a plethora of internet-based media operations, many of which sprang from small, humble roots. The capital barrier to entry in this market has been virtually eliminated. Furthermore, the advent of social media networks such as Twitter has enabled individuals to disseminate information and organize like-minded people around a cause in a way that has never been possible until a few years ago. The barriers to organizing a political movement and effecting change have never been smaller.
As the smallest ripple can eventually create an enormous wave, so too can the voice of a lone individual create a massive political and social movement. To those who feel they are powerless to compete with large monied interests, I say this: All you need is passion and an internet connection. Si,se puede.