When They Go Low, We Go Local
My text messages and phone conversations have had a certain theme over the last twelve hours: “I’m scared.” “I feel helpless.” “What do we do now?” “ I don’t know how to live. Or fight.” After 520 days when phone banking, donating, arguing with friends, attending benefit rock shows, and going door to door were the easy, viable options for many on the left to comfortably express their values, progressives across the spectrum are now left looking into a chasm. We need to protect communities of color, people living with disabilities, the LGBT community, women, and all of those whose lives have become even more precarious overnight. It seems an insurmountable task.*
The answer, I believe, has been on bumper stickers for years: Think Global, Act Local. Now, more than ever, is the time for community activism.
When I work with teenagers and talk to them about activism, I often bring them to my old block in Brooklyn. “Look,” I tell them. “We got that tree planted. We got that crosswalk put in. We got that garden built. The homeless shelter down the street needed a xerox machine for grant applications, we helped get them one.” When they see that movement works, they light up. They realize that they are capable of creating change, no matter who is in the White House.
Acting local has two important outcomes. It has an immediate impact on your environment. You’ve done something. It reminds you that you are not helpless. And it instantly connects you to others who share your values. From smaller coalitions come bigger ones. Without erasing difference, we must work to remove what the great Flo Kennedy called “horizontal hostility.” Our movement must come from the ground up, not imposed from above or identified through data sets.
I believe local action is our best way to national change. Define local any way you want to. Maybe it’s your industry, where you work to reform institutional racism down to the most granular level. Maybe it’s your online community. Maybe it’s gathering in your home with others who are also afraid — and others who are also angry. I believe in soapboxes, but I also believe in creating spaces.
Many, many people have been working for change for years, of course. They have led the way. But if you haven’t — or if you have, and you are seeking renewal — take direct action in your community, however you define it. Go to a precinct meeting and talk about better relations with the police. (Demand them!) Find your local abortion access fund and put on a fundraiser with them. Ask the LGBT teen center how you can support them. Go to your church and work with the soup kitchen. Talk to your state representatives about how they can bring about change — or at least help with harm reduction.
Those spaces may lead to gentle change or to radical acts. They’ll probably lead to both. But if you are feeling helpless or hopeless, I bet there are people nearby who either need your help or who can help you, and, to answer your text messages, that’s what you can do today.
*There is now an action page with ideas and opportunities!
Writer, author of It’s Your World: If You Don’t Like It, Change It