There are several forms of political participation that do not directly involve the electoral process. While voting is perceived as the normal means of political participation, citizens are said to participate in politics long before the elections are held (Lowi, Ginsberg & Weir, 2013). Rioting is one way through which citizens present their grievances to the authorities. Where an issue of concern seems to be neglected, people walk down the streets with posters or placards with messages of persuasion to their leaders. For instance, the Seattle riots of 1999, by labor unions and opponents of trade liberalization, disabled a meeting planned by the World Trade Organization in a bid to discuss trade liberalization rules.
Citizens may also contact politicians; attend and engage in public meetings, rally or protest; sign petitions; obtain organizational membership; donate money to a politician or political party; engage in voluntary campaign; write editorial letters or articles with regard to an issue(s) of concern. These engagements may involve an individual, group, or organization. They are more influential to the politicians as they entail a direct presentation of citizenry concerns and the views of those involved or affected (p.271). Though Americans will rarely engage in riots (p.271), peaceful protests are allowed and even protected under First Amendment (273). For instance, the conservative Tea Party Movement engaged in several protests in 2009 in opposition of the economic stimulus plan (p.273).
Lobbying, public relations, and litigation are other means of political participation that do not directly involve the electoral process. Lobbying involves individuals or groups who present an issue(s) of concern to an official(s) elected in a specific position. It is one way of telling a political leader(s) what to do to ensure that people’s will is acted upon (p.272). In America, interest groups use lobbying to influence Congress to pass or refute various policies on behalf of the citizens. For instance, the Sierra Club is one group that writes to the Congress every year whenever an issue of concern arises.
Public relations is mostly focused on public opinion with regard to a specific issue of concern. The aim is to sway people to move to a specific direction in order to ensure the accomplishment of a specific goal. For instance, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was a public relations’ strategy that was initiated by two women. One of them was a mother to a daughter who was killed by a drunk driver. The two women sought to create awareness that drunk driving is unwarranted and it could be fatal. They had no money but they managed to gain public attention through talking to the local community. Eventually, they succeeded in winning politicians’ attention after creating awareness among the people. At times, public relations may fail. This happened with MoveOn.org, whose advertisement in New York Times was condemned by Congress. The MoveOn hoped to succeed in halting the engagement of the American Military in Iraq war.
Litigation entails use of the legal process to attain a specific goal. It may be used by an individual, groups, or organizations. Generally, litigation will occur where certain rights are violated. For instance, citizens may sue the government, a politician, or an organization for violating specific human, animal or environmental rights.
Political debates also provide a means through which citizens can participate in the political process.
Eventually, all these forms of political participation are effective as they help in addressing issues of concern that cannot be addressed by just voting to the right candidate.
Lowi, T.J., Ginsberg, B.,& Weir, M. (2013). We the People: An Introduction to American Politics. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.