I have been involved in politics as a progressive grassroots political activist for over forty years. I started in politics when I was in junior high school, volunteering for NY Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in New York City. There is one observation that I have made in the past four decades that hasn’t changed to this day: People in this country are not well-informed about politics and current events. I don’t know why this is, but I do think we can all help out by making ourselves aware of the situations and issues that affect all of our lives, and passing along the information. People are voting for candidates based on style over substance, looks and perceptions rather than substantive policy issues. Or, worse yet — they are not bothering to vote at all and are apathetic. The last presidential election in 2012 was one of the most important elections of our time, as was the 2008 contest. The 2014 midterm elections will also be major, with the Democrats trying to retake the House while trying to hold onto their slim majority in the Senate. 2014 will be the perfect year for Americans everywhere to educate themselves and others as to what’s going on in this country right now and what the critical issues are. “Voter Education” is not a priority in schools and local communities, so whatever we know about politics, we must dig up for ourselves. I would like to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. This is my small contribution, and it is a work-in-progress that I will update from time to time. As a longtime political activist, this to me is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of information, but if you are not a political junkie, or if you are only slightly or just moderately informed, this is a start:
Following politics and the current political campaigns can be a bit daunting to the uninitiated, given the heated rhetoric and the toxic partisanship, but you have to start somewhere. The most important aspect of politics to remember is: There will always be a political bias in what you read, hear or watch. Educate yourself by accessing all types of material from all viewpoints and learn to discern where the political angle is coming from. As you become better informed, you will be able to see past the biases and reach your own conclusions about the issues and make better choices as a voter.
So, to begin with — The TV broadcast giants ABC, NBC (note that NBC Politics shoots you over the MSNBC website) and CBS all offer many political shows from all angles for all political stripes. On cable, MSNBC (same as NBC Politics which I mentioned earlier), CNN, and FOX are the heavyweights for political programming. Sample all of these news sources, on TV and on their websites and learn how they differ in their approaches to the issues. That’s the best way to teach yourself — contrast and compare.
Nothing beats the internet for purely political news. Campaign coverage tends to vary according to the political persuasions of the news site in question. One of the best ways to get a broad overview of what political reporters are saying is to follow various individual reporters on Twitter, and pick and choose who you prefer. At the very least, follow @POLITICO, @TPM, and @TheHill for breaking news plus Twitter updates from reporters on the ground as they cover the presidential campaigns. Keep an eye open for individual reporters who work for those news outlets but tweet under their own accounts. The news websites are: POLITICO, Talking Points Memo, and The Hill. POLITICO is right-of-center, while Talking Points Memo is on the left, and The Hill is on the right. Read all the news from all angles and make your own judgments about the issues based on the full facts.
There are many resources available for voters — too many for me to attempt to list here. But here are just a few of the sites that are useful: Congress.org, CQ Roll Call, and GovTrack.us. These sites deal with the nuts and bolts of how our government works, and they offer many tools for finding and contacting your elected officials, keeping track of legislation and the issues, and so on. For specific voter education guides and for general information about how voting and elections work, the League of Women Voters is a good site. Additionally, please visit the websites of your elected officials and find out what the issues are that affect your area. You will be able to subscribe to newsletters and email updates through your representatives’ websites. If you or someone you know needs to receive hard copy news updates, you can request news to be sent to your mailbox rather than through the internet. Call them and ask them. Also, be sure to visit your city’s and state’s Board of Elections websites for information about the elections and the candidates in your area.
I have no idea how many political parties there are in the U.S., but for now, there are only a few that really matter. The two major parties have websites which you should look at. Read their platforms and understand what they are advocating: The Democratic Party, and the Republican Party (also known by its nickname, the GOP, for “Grand Old Party”). There are a few smaller parties that are worth mentioning: The Libertarian Party on the right wing, and the Green Party and in New York the Working Families Party, both on the left wing. All the candidates who are running in various elections should also have their own campaign websites and offices. Visit the individual websites and call the candidates to ask about the issues. They should be happy to let you know where they stand on any topic you have in mind.
With references to news sources, for pointedly partisan news plus politics: On the left you have Think Progress and Daily Kos for starters, and on the right, try Drudge Report and The Daily Caller. Rather than avoiding one point of view because it is not your own, read all viewpoints and understand where they are coming from. This is the best way to grasp difficult political issues and make informed choices about the candidates’ positions.
Really, in order to be a better-informed voter, pay attention! There is no such thing as “too much information” when it comes to politics. Watch, read, listen and learn from whatever material you can get a hold of. Ask people who know about politics and government for advice and further information. If you don’t know anyone personally, go online and read blog posts and articles. Read what the commenters are saying about the issues. Sure, a lot of their comments will be garbage, but you will get better at recognizing the nonsense when you see it, and you will also discover a great deal of insight from people who are very aware and on top of the issues. If you need help or an explanation, don’t hesitate to ask a commenter to clarify their statement, or ask the blog administrator or the author of the article to give you more info about the topic at hand. Most people who write about politics are only too happy to give their readers more info about the subject of their article or post. So, get involved virtually through the internet if you are not able to physically join a campaign or to volunteer in your local community. And never be afraid to reach out and ask questions about topics you don’t know about. Voter education takes time, so start now! Do it! And be sure to pass along what you are learning to someone else who is less informed than you.
I’ll be adding to this page as I come across more info that I think might be useful, but for sure this is enough to start with!