Help Us Help You
One positive of a President as odious as Donald Trump is that he inspires a lot more negative energy than a more milquetoast conservative might. It’s hard to imagine hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to protest the inauguration of President Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan, even though either of these people would be both more committed to and more efficient at enacting large-scale cuts to the social safety net and rolling back legislative protections for workers, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community. But Trump, who is far-and-away the dumbest, meanest, laziest asshole to hold our nation’s highest office and is insanely proud of this fact, generates an incredible amount of energy from people who would otherwise resign themselves to grimacing at the TV. This is good! People want to get involved!
A natural side-effect of this groundswell of #resistance, however, is that many of the political newcomers (myself included) are generally more excited to jump in than we are knowledgeable about what to do. This causes headaches for more seasoned left-wing organizers who see this positive energy siphoned into largely fruitless endeavors like subscribing to the New York Times, stockpiling socialist meme stashes, or retweeting the umpteenth social media grifter growing their brand around frowning loudly at the commander-in-chief. This is frustrating!
But I will say, if I can extrapolate from my own ignorance, people are gravitating toward these #resistance tactics for want of a better avenue. When I got a subscription to the New York Times, it was not because it was easy or because I thought it was the most effective way to combat the Trump presidency (shoehorning Bret Stephens’ worn-out takes into the op-ed section really diminishes the whole idea that news media is meant to combat ignorance). I did it because I knew how to do it. When an antifa protestor cold-cocked Richard Spencer, it felt good not because I enjoy violence or believe that the left can outmuscle the right on a large scale, but because this was the only strategy I had seen enacted to successfully combat Naziism in America. Legislation is unlikely and has slippery consequences. The marketplace of ideas is what allowed Naziism to flourish in the first place. Asking Nazis to stop is funny to them. But here the effect was simple: at first Spencer was getting many large platforms to discuss his plan for a “nonviolent” ethnic cleansing; then he got clocked in the jaw; then he stopped talking about that stuff to national media.
Here are things I know how to do. I know how to read Lauren Duca’s column. I know how to go to a march when it is posted on Facebook. I know how to tweet at Mitch McConnell that he looks like if a turkey fucked a turtle and the turtle was racist somehow. These are ways I know how to help, even if they do not help very much.
Here are things I do not know. I do not how how to “get organized”. I do not know how to win local and state elections. I do not know what it means to start at the grassroots level. I do not know how to #resist.
During the election season, Clinton’s campaign tweeted out a vacuous, tautological plan to defeat ISIS, which they hoped to accomplish by “taking out ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq and Syria,” “dismantle the global terror network,” and “harden our defenses at home and prevent attacks.” While it was still leagues more detailed than her opponent’s “plan,” critics rightly pointed out that these bullet points raised more questions than they answered. This is sometimes how it feels to be told that my activism is useless, and instead I should be focussed on, uh, better activism.
If there are more effective ways to advance a progressive agenda, I want to do those things. But nebulous terms and big-picture goals are daunting and confusing. If there are concrete actions I can take, listing them out and pointing me in their direction is vastly more effective than chastising my current methods. The simpler and more straightforward, the better. The grocery store checkout prompting me to donate a dollar to a food bank gets much more money out of me than the canvasser wanting to discuss world hunger. We want to help. Show us how!