Goodbye Echo Chamber, Hello State Capitol

February 17, 2017

My friends might have noticed social posts from me regarding politics drop off in the new year, but it’s not what they think. I’m not simply “moving on” — I’m just no longer talking to them.

After the election, a lot of attention was focused on Facebook’s role as an echo chamber. Thanks to algorithms, the site silos us into like-minded users, showing us only what we want to see. Only what we like. By some estimates, 60 percent of millennials receive their news primarily from Facebook, which means this is a huge problem. Instead of creating a well-connected world where you can easily be exposed to diverse news and opinions, we’re seeing more of the same.

I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t notice this before, or think about it. But now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it. And I’m acutely aware that anything I post is unlikely to reach anyone who doesn’t already agree, which isn’t really going to move the needle. As a result, I’m preparing to go outside my comfort zone, and finding new ways to get involved.

Minnesota State Capitol Building

Yesterday, I called the offices of my state representative and state senator, and made appointments with each of them. Later this month, I’ll be swinging by their offices for 15-minute face-to-face meetings. As a constituent, I’ll be able to share what’s important to me and why, ask where they stand on the issue(s), and ask for their support.

I’m quite anxious about these meetings, and had a bunch of questions before I had the guts to pick up the phone. I’m on the Board of Directors for The Arc Greater Twin Cities, and was lucky to have a public policy expert guide me through the process.

For those who might be interested in doing the same, here’s some tips I picked up.

  • Who you’re meeting with – Figure out if you want to meet with your state or U.S. legislators, as both are important. State legislators can be easier to get face time with.
  • Making the appointment – It’s as easy as picking up the phone and calling their office. Let them know you’re a constituent and would like to meet, and be prepared to share your name, phone number, and if you’ll be at the Capitol for a specific day/with a specific organization. If you have a flexible schedule, you have a better chance of securing a meeting.
  • Preparing for your meeting – Do your homework. You only have around 15 minutes, so focus on a few key issues and study up on them – including all the arguments on the other side, the status of any relevant legislation and your legislator’s voting record. Don’t be argumentative, and make sure you personalize and localize your comments. Also bring fact sheets, or other prepared materials – print off several in advance as leave-behinds for your legislator and their staff.

I’ll be at the Capitol on Tuesday, February 28 for Disability Matters Day. Maybe I’ll see you around!