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If I am a regular citizen in a democratic country, I exercise my political power by voting (somehow) for regional leaders and the national leader. If I agree with all the positions of a particular party, my choice is easy, every time I get the opportunity, I vote for the candidate from that party.

Let's imagine there's a party I generally support, definitely more than the others, but there's a specific issue I disagree with. I could:

  • Vote for the party anyway.
  • Vote for a party I mostly disagree with, but agrees on that issue.
  • Not vote.

None of these are satisfying. Do I have any other options?

7
  • 12
    I don't have the time for a full answer, but the short version is that in the US you need money. That money will be used to "help" politicians organize and buy advertisements for their own campaigns which you will fund if they promise to support your goal; you can also directly push the topic via advertisement.
    – Ram
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 15:58
  • 7
    This is part of why "democracies" tend not to be all that democratic, and it's especially true in 2-party systems, like the US. Although you can often vote directly on individual issues too.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 2:52
  • 3
    It would help if you can narrow down the country / jurisdiction. Every demcoracy is different, and so are the means of influencing their respective system. For instance, in some countries it is easier for new parties to win power, while other countries it is almost impossible for insurgent party to compete so you have to change from within the parties. Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 6:19
  • 4
    You could just write a letter to a representative of your choice. Sometimes they listen. They're not mind-readers, in any case, they won't know what you want unless you let them know somehow.
    – towr
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 12:54
  • What do you want to happen? Do you want the party to change its mind, or do you want a law passed, or to influence public opinion? As mentioned, it depends on the type of issue - if you want to completely end fossil fuel use or ban meat consumption, the tactics will be different to pursuing modest tax cuts or modestly changing planning regulations.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 23:37

8 Answers 8

36

You would form or join a special interest NGO together with other citizens which have the same opinion on the same issue. Then your NGO can engage in political lobbying:

  • Use campaigns to make other people aware of the issue:
    • Using social media
    • Using advertising
    • Using public protests
  • Petition individual politicians. Ask for their opinions on the issue, organize letter campaigns or ask for meetings so you can discuss your ideas with them face-to-face.
  • Endorse candidates for election who share your views on the issue
17

In a country with reasonably coherent political parties, join the party you mostly agree with, and work on the local and regional level both as a volunteer campaign worker and organizer, and as the "self-appointed expert" on the issue you care about.

  • Genuine support for most of the party platform, and campaign work, should earn the respect of the local party chapter.
  • From that position, if you speak on your specific issue, the local party members will at least listen and think. And the opinion of an entire local chapter does matter on the regional scales, etc.

Of course this depends both on the political traditions of your country, and also on how much your specific position is at odds with the party mainstream. The Tories in the UK have something like 170k members, and about 1-in-500 is a MP. The Danish Social Democrats have about 32k members, and about 1-in-600 is a MP. Getting elected yourself would probably require unrealistic effort and luck. But standing together in the rain, handing out campaign leaflets, might be a way to get their ear ...

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  • Even getting elected is unlikely to guarantee success, assuming it's not a minor issue of little importance. Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 18:02
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    @JonathanReez, my main point is that too many people think of government as 'them,' far separated from the ordinary people. But if you look at the numbers, just deciding to get involved with party politics gives people quite a lot of say. Remember when UK conservative members were polled about the next conservative leader? Some commenters wondered how so few people could effectively select the next PM. Well, it were so few because so few bothered to join the party they vote for.
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 8:03
  • “so few bothered to join the party they vote for.” — If you have ‘a party you vote for’, then presumably you don't care about individual issues (or at least, not enough to consider voting for anyone else).  What about people who consider manifestos and election promises (and past performance) and decide who to vote for upon those things, each time?  (Leaving no time to then join and get involved with the preferred party.)  Are such people taking a careful, critical interest to be dismissed as ‘not bothered’?
    – gidds
    Commented Jan 14 at 9:11
  • @gidds, some systems are constructed with weak parties, like the US. Some are constructed with strong parties. See my note in the first paragraph.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jan 14 at 11:47
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In the U.S. political system, at least, the big two parties are considered "Big Tent" and more emphasis is placed on individual candidate than Party Policy. There are a lot of political organizations that are issues based that will rank politicians based solely on their record on a given issue (For example, the National Rifle Association (NRA) grades all politicians on their gun politics, regardless of party affiliation. If you generally support the Democrat's policies but disagree on their gun policies, then the NRA can show which Democrat candidates best support your personal politics (And yes, pro-Gun Democrats do exists). Conversely the "Log Cabin Republicans" are an organization that largely supports Republican policies but differ with the party on LGBT issues and similarly issue endorsements of Republican candidates that are more sympathetic to pro-LGBT issues.

It's also possible to contact your congressional representation and talk to their office about matters concerning your positions. While you might get the call of a staffer, the staffers do take notes and will discuss issues with the politician when they have the time, though it is not impossible to arrange a sit down with your representatives for a little direct conversation. It's their job, after all, to represent everyone in their constituency. Your house Representative will be easier to schedule than your Senators since the former has less of a constituency than the latter, but you only have one of the former and two of the latter. If you are planning a visit to Washington D.C. it's very easy to get into the Capitol building and go meet them in their offices (it's best to call ahead and schedule the meeting.).

3
  • Ideally, this is how it works. Unfortunately, it's been shown all too many times that politicians often don't listen to constituents, but rather lobbyists, their party leader, their personal version of their religion, or (rarely recently) massive public outcry against something the politician did. These are just some of the reasons why the US is not considered a "backsliding democracy". usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2021-11-24/… and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 22:49
  • Your second paragraph is the answer, at least for Americans. Not sure how effective that is in other polities. Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 1:45
  • In states with one representative, there are twice as many senators as representatives, so it might be worth mentioning that. Otherwise, great answer! +1
    – Someone
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 4:59
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It's great that you realise democracy isn't just about voting. It also doesn't mean politics is only for politicians. There are broadly two ways for a citizen to do something political - through active politics or through passive politics.

You do active politics by working within the system - either by joining a party and becoming a volunteer worker for them, or by starting your own political party. The former is ofcourse the easiest way to learn and experience politics. Political parties are one of the lifebloods of democracy. Whether you join a party or start your own, you will quickly learn that one man can only do so much. And that you need the support and help of others to actually bring about any political change. (This is true for even powerful elected politician too, in any democracy. A true democracy ensures that elected officials are not allowed to act unilaterally, and thus have to work with others to reach some form of consensus before a political change is allowed to happen through the system).

Passive politics is done by ordinary citizens when they take up social causes and become social activists themselves. These individuals engage in politics passively - by advertising their cause (e.g. writing letter, putting up posters etc.) or working for a cause directly without involving the system (e.g. cleaning a beach by themselves, volunteering in an orphanage etc.) or even forming non-profit organisations by involving others and seeking community support.

In your particular case, you should start with passive politics.

  1. First, be knowledgeable about the social cause or change you seek.

  2. After reading up on the subject (preferably from experts), speak about it with people you know (your friends and family). And by that I don't mean give them a long lecture on what you think and have learnt about the subject. Instead, ask them what they think about the subject - do they know about the subject? Do they care about it? Do they have an opinion about it? Is the opinion (for or against) strong? When you share a little of what you have learned about it, does it make them think about it? Just talk less, and listen more. Don't judge them for whatever opinions they have. You have to be emotionally neutral to really understand what people are saying, even if you feel passionately about it and some people react negatively to it.

  3. Next, talk with acquaintances and strangers you meet in your everyday life and ask them what they think about the issue. It is very important that you do not do this exercise with strangers on the internet. You have to speak with people in your community.

  4. Talking with people this way will give you an idea of how people you like (people with whom you share some similar values), and strangers (who may have different values from you), think and feel about your social cause. This will give you a small idea of whether people are ignorant about your cause or they already have an opinion about it. Perhaps even your opinion may change when you learn what others think about it.

  5. If you still feel strongly about your cause, be more political. Identify the important local party leaders (both elected and unelected) of your party in your electoral constituency (state and national). Write a brief (single page) letter to all of them. Explain that you are a supporter of the party. Tell them you feel strongly about your cause and provide a brief explanation of it (what it is and why it is important). And then add that you feel that the party should take up this cause (or change their policy on it) so that the party becomes stronger. And then post it to them (yes, use your country's postal system and snail mail it to them). Wait for them to reply.

This is the bare minimum you can do. And it needn't be time consuming and stressful at all. Keep in mind that democracy is also designed to slow down changes - we humans become uncomfortable with sudden changes in our life, and the slow, consensus driven process of democracy thus makes political changes (especially new ones) more bearable, and thus more acceptable and long lasting, for everyone in our society. That is why you need to have patience. And you don't need to slog, but work smart - just dedicate 1-4 hours a week when you can, and work at your own pace.

Depending on your passion, and the actual cause, the next step involves talking with supporters of political parties that you do not like, but who also support your cause, and learn how they think about it. You can also draw up a petition that asks the leaders of your party to support your cause, and canvass your neighbourhood to collect signatures for it. And then ofcourse, again snail mail it to them highlighting to them how many voters support it. Next you can put up posters in your neighbourhood, especially where your party offices are. You can also identify groups that are already advocating for this case and work for them. You can also stage a protest in front of the party offices asking them to make clear their stand n the cause you espouse. But ofcourse, if you've reached this stage, you are ready to be a politician and enter active politics ... :).

Gandhian politics is great to learn more about how a citizen can engage more with their democracy - Be the change you want to see in the world.

(There could be more you can do politically, but it all depends on your actual cause. If you share it, you can get more specific ideas on what political actions you can take.)

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There are two basic ways to influence the political process — which is finding a viable balance between conflicting particular interests — by promoting your particular interests:

  • The traditional, even canonical way in a Western democracy is to support a political party, ideally become a member, and participate in the work the party members do. There is a dire need for the work typically done by ordinary members: Voting for your local delegates and functionaries, manning the information booths before elections, "canvassing" the neighborhoods. Perhaps raise your arm when it is time to find the treasurer for your local chapter, the job nobody wants. Just by being there you'll have local influence and can raise issues, vote on the party program topics and so on.

    You'll be better informed than the average person and therefore influence people around you or recruit them for your party, and for your goals specifically. You also donate money to campaigns and encourage others to do the same. I'm not talking about millions of dollars here but millions of people. That is not bribing but an expression of a collective will. Generally spoken, you do all the work and create the public momentum without which your party could not succeed. Your work will be a decisive factor in elections. Your work will also influence the party's agenda. I'm not sure how much you follow the American politics but it seems that both major parties are undergoing a transformation that is partly driven by activist grass root movements (Tea Party, "millenial socialists").

    Note that this "party approach" is valid and effective even if you don't try to be a leader. Being a leader is too time consuming unless you want to make it your profession, too stressful for many people, and it needs a mindset that's not everybody's cup of tea — being a psychopath may help.

    A regular party member won't single-handedly change the world — but they may be part of a party that does, because it is shaped by its members. The party is its members.

  • The less traditional way is outside the established institutions. This route is often pursued by people who feel that their goals are not represented well by the existing parties, or that they are even actively suppressed. But it is also common that activists support particular goals that are at the same time represented by a party in government: Public support is always a good argument to push a measure forward.

    Examples for such outside-the-institutions engagement range from classical activities like taking part in protest marches, taking part in discussions, sit-ins, anti-government graffiti or flyers to fighting wale fishing boats1, riots or sabotage, in short: The entire toolbox of the civil rights and new social movement that started in the 1960s almost everywhere in the world. In the Western democracies the more benign forms of such political participation have become an important, regular part of the political process. The constitutions and general laws in democracies often protect such activities: The right to free speech, the right to assemble, the right to publicly promote your political opinions and goals: These activities are considered so vital for a democracy that less important laws concerning traffic, noise and other public nuisances, libel and slander and even espionage may have to stand back in a political context. It is felt that the possibility to freely express and advertise one's political convictions is essential for the democratic process. Note the word process here: Democracy is not an assortment of institutions and rules, something static, something that is. Democracy is a living process that must be permanently recreated and perpetuated by its constituents: Us.

None of this has to do with becoming a leader, or with bribery. It has everything to do with doing your part where you can. It is easy to say we have the wrong leaders but it is cheap if one does nothing to change that.


1 Maybe you would consider Greenpeace activists leaders, even if they would not see themselves that way. But you can always simply donate to Greenpeace or become a member and do less spectacular work for them. Greenpeace would be nothing without their members and supporters.

1

It is interesting how many answers suggest getting fairly heavily involved in politics and becoming an activist or even a politician if all you want is to for your voice to be heard.

Indeed, you can not influence the political agenda on a granular level without somewhat going out of your way. Depending on the severity of the issue, it might range from a small annoyance to a big problem, making standing against it your civic duty.

With that said, you are already shaping "your" political party's agenda in a more subtle way. Parties poll the public opinion and try to estimate what would be popular among voters and what would not be. Politicians also keep communication channels open, town hall meetings exist in many places, so you can raise your concerns there. There is a caveat, however: say, you already agree with the 90% of their agenda and strongly disagree with 80% of the opposing party's agenda, in a two-party system there is not much pressure to changing their stance on that single issue. But if your neighbor Joe is more in the middle, they have to fight for him. This is somewhat problematic (see answers to e.g. this question): parties do not care much whether you agree with them 99% or 51% as long as you vote for them and not the other guys.

Now, regarding passive politics... sfxedit suggests a methodical cause of action. By contrast, I would like to note that just debating the issue in your local community is an expression of political power. Maybe your community will convince you it is not too bad. Maybe you will convince them it is really bad, and now you have more than just your voice opposing the stance. Some of these voters, statistically, would be voters parties actually care about when shaping their agendas, and the feedback loop makes it possible for you to influence decisions without earning a PhD or two or becoming a politician.

Still, a more direct way to go about that is supporting people who would do all that lobbying work for you. Obviously, that requires time and/or money, but you get what you pay for. A part of the social contract in a democratic society is keeping your head down and adopting policies you disagree with if people have spoken that way (of course, that does not mean you should stop vocally disagreeing with them still).

0
1

Besides the other excellent answers, I'd like to advocate for the fourth estate - media. I'm sure you've noticed politicians responding when media picks up a hot topic. That's obvious for things that really break through so that everybody's talking about them. It's less obvious, but still somewhat effective for any increase of the number of people talking about or aware of a topic.

You can engage the media by

  • writing a letter to the editor
  • staging an eye-catching demonstration
  • creating content that can be shared on social media
  • getting a celebrity involved
  • etc
-5

Edit: You have two ethical ways

  1. Be a leader yourself. You don't have to come to or try to come to power for that. You only have to lead people in thought.

Influence them enough and you can have them protest. This is very effective because it don't require a large percentage of voters, it also give results in shorter than come-in-power time.

With enough influence you can use people's donations to party funds as a tool too.

Ofcourse you can start your own party as well. This ofcourse means you have to become a leader to-come-in-power, not just an influencer.

  1. Go to court.

Its always in your power to go to court. Its not in your power to have a court decision in your favour. Heck, court can even refuse to give you a hearing. May be court is biased or there genuinely is no law in your favour to base your case on.

Still you can try knocking that door. Nobody can blame you later when you take extreme step (see below) if you did use this option.

  1. Start a revolution.

Ofcourse the assumption here is that your motive - Influence A Single Issue - is ethical, as in other options given above.

The Single Issue has to be serious enough, obviously, to warrant an entire revolution.

For completion I will also list three non-ethical options too.

  1. "Lobby" (bribe) [Non-Ethical]

Its non-ethical because it goes behind the backs of populace and make deal with a politician directly without consent of populace.

You ofcourse have to be rich to go on that path, and non-ethical.

  1. "Lobby" Through Media [Non-ethical]

Have some editorials and other articles written in your favour; newspapers, tv, websites ads etc; minor news emphasized; that show larger than reality picture of the issue.

Ofcourse you have to be rich for this and unethical.

  1. Spread Rumours [Non-ethical]

Takes money, and population that don't confirm before spreading.

Note: There can be ethical lobbying. For example if you can influence / control votes of a minority you can use that as a bargaining chip in an expected tight race between two candidates. Some lobbying is bad, I put it in quotes because its not how lobbying shall be.

Old Answer:

1.In short of becoming a leader yourself, no, you do not have an ethical way.

You can use money, if you are rich, for "lobbying" (really just bribing). And that's it.

If you decide to go down the leadership path, you can start convincing other people. Once convinced, they can donate money. You can use that for "lobbying". You can also use them as a pressure group by protesting, using them as a bargaining chip in "lobbying", etc.

  1. You can always go to court.
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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. (also removed the lock, please don't edit meta commentary back in though)
    – JJJ
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 22:47

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