Well, that’s over.
Did we all survive the midterms? Was it a blue wave? An ooze? Or something more in the shade of crimson?
Did we do our duty? Did we save the country? Can we move on with our lives until 2020?
Well, not yet.
The elections may be over, the confetti swept away, the tears shed, the ceaseless cacophony of attack ads stilled. But for folks like Sandra Duckert – and, she hopes, you – the work has just begun.
“Many of us think that our only duty as citizens is to vote,” said Duckert, a Corrales resident and a tireless advocate for advocating. “We’ve been trained to believe we have no influence after our votes. But if we learn how to be effective we find we actually have a lot of influence. It’s fun and easy when you know how.”
Duckert is a former longtime educator who hasn’t stopped educating. Over the past two years, she estimates she has trained close to 300 people on both sides of the political spectrum across New Mexico on how to be effective advocates. She learned how to be effective herself through Results, a national advocacy organization that helps train, support and inspire citizens to become advocates for ending poverty globally and nationally.
Her work helped earn her the organization’s prestigious Bob Dickerson Grassroots Leadership Award this year, named after a longtime member. She’s the second New Mexican to be so honored since the award’s inception four years ago.
“I teach people how to give a two-minute speech in front of lawmakers, how to write a letter to the editor, how to speak with our congressional leaders,” she said. “It helps people feel some power again, some sense of being able to do something other than feel hopeless, to feel they can make an impact.”
Duckert herself was a quick study, her training helping her get up the courage to chat up Sen. Tom Udall as he walked in a Fourth of July parade in Corrales.
“I jumped off my folding chair along the side of the road and just started lobbying him on foreign policy,” she said. “You know I could not have done that if I had not known what to say.”
Although Results focuses on anti-poverty advocacy, learning how to connect and communicate effectively is a useful skill with any issue and every level, from school boards to the U.S. Senate.
Which brings us back to life after midterms.
Now that we’ve voted them in, it’s time to teach them how to do the job.
“Think of it like hiring new employees,” she said. “These people work for us and if we can do something to help them do that job better, then let’s do that. No office or business would last long if people hired were put in their jobs and then not bothered with for two years or six years.”
A recent study published in the American Political Science Review and conducted by researchers Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Matto Mildenberger and Leah Stokes found that senior congressional staffers – the people who help their bosses decide what bills to pursue and support – have wildly inaccurate concepts of what their constituents want or think, a cluelessness exacerbated by the Washington, D.C.-centric echo chamber and the ubiquitous and well-financed lobbyists.
Yet a separate survey by the Congressional Management Foundation found that 46 percent of staffers say an in-person visit from a constituent wields a lot of influence, compared with just 8 percent of staffers who find a visit from a paid lobbyist equally as influential.
Constituent letters, emails, phone calls and town hall comments also rank higher in influence than a chat with a lobbyist, the survey found.
“This leads me to believe that our advocacy as citizens is critical,” Duckert said. “I have found that the staff members in congressional offices appreciate getting background information and solutions. Our job is to help our leaders understand what we want.”
Which is to say that the job of being a good citizen is not over once a vote is cast.
So let’s get to work.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.