Civic Engagement

Politics and government may seem distant and unimportant, but the reality is that the decisions made by your government affect every aspect of your life. This is why it is so important for every person to be engaged with the political process and to speak up for justice. The resources below on voting and activism will help you make your voice heard in our democracy.


Why vote if nothing ever really seems to change? This music video gives some background on why it’s important to vote in every single election and why we should pay just as much attention to our representatives as to our mayors, governors, and presidents.

Step 1: Register to vote

If you live in Pennsylvania, you can register to vote online.

Not sure if you’re registered? You can check your voter registration status and polling place here.

Rather not vote in person? In Pennsylvania, any eligible voter can request a mail-in ballot.

Unsure of whether you’re eligible to vote? Check this page from the ACLU on voting with a criminal conviction. To vote in Pennsylvania, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Age 18 or older
  • US citizen
  • Pennsylvania resident for at least 30 days before the election
  • NOT in prison/jail because of a felony conviction – or, if you are in jail for a felony, you will be released before the election
  • Have NOT been convicted of violating Pennsylvania election laws within the past four years

Step 2: Do your research

When you go into the voting booth, you want to be prepared. Use these resources so you know what to expect on election day:

  • Votes PA: The official Pennsylvania voting website has information about upcoming elections, election security, how to become a poll worker, and more. It includes resources in Spanish.
  • Philadelphia City Commissioners: Look up your Philadelphia polling place, find voting dates and deadlines, learn about your elected officials, read sample ballots, and more.
  • Committee of Seventy Voter Guide: The Committee of Seventy is an independent, non-partisan organization in Philadelphia. Their voter guide includes descriptions of the offices that are up for election and reports election results.
  • Vote Smart: On this website, you can look up any politician and find out how they have voted on different bills and what positions they take on a number of issues.
  • Federal Election Commission: This US government agency provides campaign finance data, including information about how much campaign money different politicians have spent and where that money comes from.


Activism goes hand in hand with voting, and unlike voting, it’s something everyone can do. Activists put pressure on local and national representatives to represent their interests. They do this in two main ways.


Contacting elected officials

Did you know that the people you elect to office are required to listen to you and take note of your opinions? You won’t always be able to talk directly to your representative, but the staff you speak with will pass on your concern to your elected official.

First, use the My Reps tool to look up your federal, state, county, and local elected officials. Searching by address, you’ll find the names and contact information for all your representatives.

Next, contact your officials in one these ways:

Here are some tips for contacting your representatives:

  • State your name and where you live. If you have professional expertise or investment in the issue you want to talk to them about, let them know.
  • Ask your representative for a concrete action — something you want them to do or a position you hope they’ll take on a specific vote.
  • Do your research beforehand. You don’t need to be an expert on the issue you’re contacting them about, but if they ask you questions, you should be prepared to answer.
  • Be brief and focused. If you are calling, keep your call to 5 minutes or less.
  • Don’t be nervous. It’s your representative’s job to listen to you, and your opinion is valid.


Protests are a good way to demonstrate to elected officials how many of their constituents care about an issue. They are also a good way to build community with others who are passionate about the issue.

Although the right to protest is protected by the First Amendment, there are rules around protesting that police sometimes invoke in an attempt to suppress protests. When attending a protest, you should come prepared with all of the knowledge and equipment you need to keep you safe.

In preparation, watch this video from Amnesty International on how to stay safe and be effective at protests:

Now, read this web comic on the do’s and don’ts of protesting. It includes helpful tips on what to wear and bring to a protest as well as how to maintain your rights as a protester.

This ACLU Demonstration Guide has some useful information on protesting in Washington DC, walking you through the steps of planning, interacting with police, and what to do if you’re arrested.

The ACLU also has a good guide to knowing your protester’s rights. Read up on what your rights are, whether you are organizing a protest, attending a protest, taking photos at a protest, or have been stopped by the police at a protest.

Finally, there are a couple of good apps to download to keep you safe at protests:


This text messaging app allows you to send private, encrypted messages so you can be sure that police or other government officials aren’t tracking your protesting activity.

Mobile Justice

When you download this ACLU app for your state, you can take video or photos of police injustice you’ve witnessed, and they will be sent directly to your ACLU chapter to review. This can help hold police accountable for brutality or violations of your first amendment right to protest.

Get involved with a local activist group!

There are many organizations in Philadelphia fighting for justice on a grassroots level. Check out one of these groups to get involved in the issues you’re most passionate about: