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What’s next?

What’s next?

This immortal question is the catchphrase of Jed Bartlet, fictional U.S. president and Notre Dame graduate in “The West Wing.” After every celebration of a bill passed, nominee confirmed or negotiation reached, Jed would ask the same question.

What’s next?

One month out from the 2022 midterm elections, you might find yourself asking the same thing. The rush to get your absentee ballot mailed on time is over. The blue and red yard signs have dissipated. Instagram story reposts of election coverage have quieted. 

What’s next after an election?

Benjamin Franklin famously described our government as, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The recent elections make us a republic. But what’s next is to keep it. This is done through civic engagement.

Civic engagement is defined by the New York Times as “promoting the quality of life in a community through both political and non-political processes.” This broad definition might seem intimidating, but there are countless ways to make it actionable. Below I will outline four ways you can keep our republic outside of the election cycle.

1. Volunteer

Although most youth don’t typically associate volunteering with civic engagement, it is one of the most direct ways to impact the causes you care about.

If you’re a student on campus, consider joining Mercy Works, a joint initiative between the  Center for Social Concerns and Campus Ministry that connects students with local service providers. I’ve had the privilege of being a Mercy Works volunteer at DePaul Academy for over a year now, and it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done at Notre Dame. Every Friday, a few other students and I go to the St. Joseph Juvenile Detention Center to tutor and mentor youth in the DePaul Academy program. I am not only learning about, but actually making a difference in the incarceration situation in our country. And that is pretty cool. 

If you’re not on campus, check out VolunteerMatch.com, which matches individuals and trusted nonprofits across the country for everything from virtual, in-person or one-time service opportunities.

2. Show your local government some love

There’s a good chance you have a new board of education, town council, or mayor. Whether or not you voted for them, they’re the people on your ballot who are not only the easiest for you to connect with, but the most likely to listen! Attend town halls to voice your concerns. Submit editorials to your local newspaper about current legislation. Send letters to officials to hold them accountable for their campaign promises. Local government has a great impact on you, but you can also have a great impact on local government.

3. Stay informed

The time to learn about the issues for the next election cycle is now. However, it is important to be intentional about how you stay informed so that you avoid becoming consumed by the 24-hour news cycle. NPR has some fantastic podcasts that, in exchange for a few minutes of your walk to class, introduce you to the most pressing issues of our time. A personal favorite of mine is Up First, NPR’s daily podcast that gives you the day’s top three stories in 10 minutes.

4. Talk about it

About one in five U.S. voters shared that discussing politics has strained their relationships. However, as social media exacerbates echo chambers and our confirmation bias, staying silent about politics can also be problematic. Although many good-intentioned people advise against discussing politics, they are missing the crucial difference between talking politics and arguing politics. 

Arguing politics is when we discuss politics to prove ourselves right and the other person wrong. However, since political beliefs tend to be very entrenched, an impasse is often reached. No one learns anything new and relationships might even be damaged.

Talking politics, on the other hand, doesn’t have a specific end goal. It’s about sharing experiences, perspectives and opinions in a non-heated, respectful manner. Empathy is gained as both individuals come to an appreciation of how the other reached their beliefs, even if they hold to their initial views.

For Notre Dame students, BridgeND connects students of opposing political orientations to chat about the experiences that led them to their political standings. Off-campus, consider using Living Room Conversations as a guide on how to discuss politics respectfully with loved ones.

In the coming month, many of you will be considering your 2023 New Year’s resolutions. I challenge you to include civic engagement on your list. Sign up for Mercy Works and commit to serving the South Bend community weekly. Read your local newspaper when you’re home over break and write to your elected official about something you learn. Make a daily podcast part of your routine. Be the type of person who facilitates respectful political discourse. 

This is how we keep the republic. 

This is what’s next.

Audrey Feldman (‘24) is majoring in Economics and Global Affairs and minoring in PPE. She is a member of ND’s Write to Vote chapter.

W2V is the Notre Dame chapter of the national Write to Vote Project, a non-partisan, pro-democracy initiative. Its goal is to support democracy, encourage civic engagement and advance voting rights in the U.S. and around the world. You can contact NDW2V at ndw2v@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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