Forget “Why?”, it’s time to get to work.
There are going to be endless think-pieces and armchair analyses about why America elected Donald Trump as its next President. But you already know why.
Don’t waste a single moment listening to the hand-wringing of the pundit class about Why This Happened, or people on TV talking about What This Means. The most important thing is that we focus on the work that needs to be done now. While so many have been doing what it takes to protect the marginalized and to make society more just, we must increase our urgency on those efforts, even while we grieve over this formidable defeat.
It is completely understandable, and completely human, to be depressed, demoralized or overwhelmed by the enormity of this broad embrace of hateful rhetoric and divisive policy. These are battles that have always taken decades to fight, and progress has never been smooth and steady — we’ve always faced devastating setbacks. If you need to take time to mourn, then do. But it’s imperative that we use our anger, our despair, our disbelief to fuel an intense, focused and effective campaign to protect and support the marginalized.
And it has to start now.
There are concrete steps we can take immediately, which can set up habits that we can sustain for the years of struggle to come.
1. Show up, in your community.
Whether it’s issues like marriage equality, fighting climate change, or welcoming refugees and other immigrants, much of the progress we see starts at the local level, in our neighborhoods and cities and states. We’ll need to support and grow the organizations doing the work, and commit our time and energy to helping them accomplish their goals — simply donating our money will not be enough. There are a few key things to remember:
- Organizations fighting for civil rights and social justice already exist in your community. Take the time, now, to research who is providing for essentials like food and water security, education, shelter, legal representation, and policy advocacy on behalf of people at risk.
- Commit to showing up to help. We all have an overwhelming number of obligations to our lives, our families, our friends and to our work and careers. It’s hard to give up the one night a week we might spend hanging out, watching Netflix, but if that’s the night of the City Council meeting, or when your local elected official has a public hearing, it’s time to show up. Building real, sustainable infrastructure to protect those in need is a job that can’t only be done virtually, or remotely. We’ve got to show up.
- Start fundraising, now. Once you’ve found the organizations doing the work in your community, commit what resources you can to supporting them, and begin helping them come up with ways to be sustainable over the long term. Local businesses are going to be key to providing necessary resources (whether that’s in-kind offerings or simply funding) and the time to capture their good intentions is right now while they’re still feeling the full weight of Trump’s win. If companies in your community say they want to do the right thing, give them the chance to.
2. Make stopping Trump a regular habit.
There are a few key steps we’ll all need to follow to prevent the gradual acceptance of Trump’s extreme and dangerous rhetoric.
- Fight normalization in media. We’ll start to see the morning shows doing fluffy profiles of Melania and Ivanka almost immediately, along with “humanizing” articles and profiles of Trump following closely behind. These will be part of a concerted effort to make it seem as if Trump fits into a normal pattern of political practice in this country. We need to steadfastly, aggressively call out this threat by reminding media of his outrageous behavior and holding them accountable.
- Build time into the schedule to undo Trump’s effects. We cannot stop the dangers of Trump’s presidency if we are reactive, only responding after he does something outrageous. We need to be proactive in preventing harm before it happens, and that requires a rhythm of civic participation, where we regularly do basic community-building acts like connecting with others around direct action or advocacy campaigns. Put it on your calendar, and pick 2 days a week where you set aside your lunch or forgo watching TV in the evening to contact elected officials, support candidates who will run for office, work with community organizations to support those in need, or simply talk to your friends and neighbors about the work that needs to be done.
- If you can’t lead, then support those who do. Once President Obama’s term in office has ended, we’ll be blessed with getting back one of the most effective and respected community organizers who’s ever lived. But his work alone won’t be enough — we’ll need a thousand more leaders like him. Find the people in your community who are leading the charge, and ask them what they need. Nobody can do it alone, and not everybody has the time or interest to be the face in front of the crowd, but we can support those who do choose to stand up.
- Pursue a strategy of containment as we make progress. There are a few narrow areas where Trump’s stated policies aren’t inherently destructive, such as his promise to rebuild American infrastructure. While we have to be hypervigilant for traditional inequities like redlining and destructive “urban renewal”, we can work to direct his efforts in such areas towards productive ends, so that the momentum and attention of Trump and his supporters is channeled toward the least dangerous goals possible. This strategy will also benefit from Trump’s illiteracy or incompetence in other areas of policy, which might draw him to focus on initiatives related to construction and infrastructure, where he is least weak. This doesn’t diminish his danger overall, but offers a possible productive outlet for what he’ll clearly see as a mandate to act.
3. Take care of yourself and others.
This is going to take years of work, and there will be other demoralizing moments along the way. We’ll get tired and afraid and exhausted, and when we’re not, we’ll have to help those around us who are.
But the work to be done in fighting Donald Trump is not unprecedented. All of us who are targets of his rhetorical attacks and his proposed policies can look back at history and see times when we’ve faced down similar threats—and won. It is only because progress has been made that we feel so gutted by this loss. And this is not, as some would say, the last gasp of old oppressions, it is simply another dark milestone in a fight against injustice that will never end.
Today, though, I’m ready to get to work, and I’m committed to this fight for as long as it takes. I owe it to my child, and to my family, and to yours. I hope you’ll join me. We’ve got work to do.