If there is one thing that most Americans share in common, it’s this: we are all busy. We have jobs, kids, family, school, church and an endless number of other day-to-day activities. I know I am usually busy non-stop, and it takes a lot to keep up with my day to day schedule, not to mention keep up current events in the political realm.
This is why I’ve compiled a little help guide for those of you who still want to stay informed and educated about current events/politics/your representatives without having to spend hours that you don’t have to do so.
Tip 1: Know the Basics
The key to being an educated citizen is this: know the basics of American politics (Did you know that statistics show that 1 in 3 American can’t even name one branch of the U.S. government?! )! If you don’t know anything about your government and how it is supposed to work, there is no way you can form an educated opinion about how the government is working.
I know this might sound daunting, but it really isn’t (come back to read my upcoming blog post The 11 Most Important Facts to Know about the American Government). Honestly, all of the following tips that I give below rely on this tip.
Simply knowing the basics, the fundamentals, of the government acts as a foundation for everything else you learn about government. Think of your knowledge of government this way: if you don’t know what the government is supposed to do, how are you going to keep the government accountable for they actually do? How is any information you learn about modern day politics going to help you if you don’t know if the policy you are looking at is actually Constitutional? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, only educated citizens can be free citizens.
Tip 2: Pay Attention to Headlines
This doesn’t mean believe all headlines. No, quite the opposite. Let headlines act as a guide for you to know what you can look into at a different time when you have a moment. Never believe the headlines, but at least keep yourself aware of the news that the rest of the nation is responding to. This way, when time allows, you know what current political events (current political events=any government action, law, court ruling, response to another event) have happened in order to later form an educated opinion on them. This is a simple but useful technique. You likely don’t have a chance to form an educated opinion on everything happening at all times, but at least be aware of what is happening at all times.
Tip 2: Pick 3 Topics to Further Research a Week
Once you establish a standard of being aware of current events in politics, why not be an expert on a select few of those events? You’ve seen the headlines. Now, ask yourself these simple questions to narrow down which three topics to dig into further:
1. Which current political events most affect me and my daily life?
2. Which current political events are of most interest to me and my ideals?
3. Which current political events have national ramifications?
4. Which current political events have local ramifications?
Events that have the potential to directly affect you are the events that should be of most interest to you. If government is potentially going to pass a law that increases taxes on everyone within your income range, you should pay attention. The key is, notice the headline (you may not immediately know if it is relevant to you, so you must first find out and decide if it is a topic to look into further).
On top of this, pay attention to events that relate to issues you feel strongly about. For instance, if you are anti-abortion, spot headlines that mention abortion and research the articles attached to the headlines.
Finally, observe whether or not the political events are national or local because national political events have national ramifications, which are important to pay attention to. Local events are also important as long as they relate to your locality.
Your job is to use these criteria and select three topics a week on which to educate yourself. I know this is a very nerdy way to handle how well you know about current events, but if you employ this simple technique, you will no doubt be the most educated individual on current events in your social circle. And believe me, everyone will know it!
Tip 3: Know Who Your National Representatives Are
This may not seem to be a big deal, but simply knowing who your national representatives are in the House and in the Senate, will go a long way for you come election day. If you know who they are, you can notice press releases about them or recognize their names if or when they do grace the headlines. I’ve attached a link that allows you to search for your house representative as well as a link to find out who your senators are. Take a look, find your representatives and senators and try to commit them to memory!
Tip 5: Look at What Your Representatives/Senators Have Done
Ok, this does not need to be something you do frequently, but it is good to know what your representatives and senators are doing. You can’t keep them accountable if you don’t know what they’re doing or not doing for you!
The website commoncauses.org is especially useful right before an election—or simply on occasion—to stay informed about what your specific representatives and senators are doing for you (remember, they work for you). Check out the website and look up your representatives.
What kinds of bills do they propose or support? Do their actions align with your positions on major issues? (It will be important for you to figure out your opinion on major and minor issues if you are going to be able to keep your representatives accountable. If you are interested in doing this, subscribe to my blog to read my upcoming post called, 7 Questions to Figure Out Your Political Positions on Major Issues)
I will update this post in time with some good websites and podcasts to help you stay informed, but for now, run with these simple yet revolutionary techniques. James Madison says that an educated citizenry is the only citizenry that can truly be free. It is very difficult for any government to abuse their power when the people know exactly when they are abusing their power and punish them for it.
So, be that educated citizen. Blow your friends and co-worker’s minds! Keep your government accountable! You never know, your very life, existence, and liberty might depend on it.
The Liberty Belle
 Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, “Americans Know Surprisingly Little about Their Government, Survey Finds [press release],” September 17, 2014.