Fired Up, Ready to Go. Now What?
My Fellow Anxious Americans —
I’m writing you as the clock strikes noon, marking the one-week anniversary of the presidency of Donald Trump. In just seven days, the administration has issued executive orders and policy statements on issues such as immigration, abortion, trade, the environment, and healthcare. Regardless of your political affiliation, these are issues that profoundly affect every single one of us.
Many of you have expressed frustration, fear, and anxiety about the future, and have found that your thoughts are consumed with the same question: what can I do?
After talking to friends across the spectrum of politics, race, religion, ethnicity, class, and educational levels, and reading every bit of analysis and advice I can get my hands on (including the wisdom of those who forged the path before us through the civil rights and women’s liberation movements), here are some actions to consider:
Live your life in a way that highlights your convictions without having to say a word.
You have the greatest impact on the people (friends and strangers) that you interact with on a daily basis. When we extend kindness and compassion to someone else — especially someone who is marginalized due to their race, ethnicity, or economic status — it shows the recipient and anyone observing that they are worthy of value, dignity, and respect.
Have uncomfortable conversations with family and friends.
You have “inside access” to a community that people who don’t share your geography, race, religion, and ethnicity will never have. When family and friends share opinions that reflect racism, homophobia, xenophobia, or scapegoating in general, remain a steadfast advocate for those who will never have that audience to advocate for themselves. Keep your points as reasonable and respectful as possible. Build bridges, not walls (no pun intended).
Seek to understand those whose opinions do not align with yours.
I believe most individuals who support seemingly extreme policies are doing so out of fear, not out of hate. Many vote based on concerns about their economic wellbeing or the safety of their communities and country; seek to truly understand their fears and perspectives.
Understanding the other side will help you sharpen your advocacy, as the only way you can appeal to, or hope to enlighten, someone is to understand their motivations, convictions, and fears. To dismiss all [insert candidate here] supporters as [insert negative adjective here] is not accurate, nor does it advance the conversation.
Cast your ballot in every single election, not just during presidential elections.
Less than 60% of eligible Americans voted in the November 2016 election. Individuals are quick to point to the electoral system as proof that their vote doesn’t matter; unfortunately, they forget about the other items on those ballots: the election of local and state representatives and the opportunity to support (or fight) proposed local and state issues on the ballot.
Expand your civic engagement beyond elections.
Members of Congress and the Senate often host “town hall” meetings in their home districts. Show up for your district town halls and make your voice heard. Not only do you have your elected official as a captive audience, you’re also able to advocate to everyone else in the room.
Hold your Congressman and Senators accountable for their actions in Washington, but also hold your city council members and state legislatures accountable for their actions in your state. Their actions (or inaction) will have just as great an impact on your daily life as anything happening at the federal/national level (e.g., mayoral policies regarding sanctuary cities despite federal actions).
Volunteer your time and talents for issues you care about most.
Your convictions are most evident in your actions. In addition to directly impacting whichever cause you choose to focus on, you will serve as a powerful example to your friends, family, and the community you serve. Join local chapters of national organizations, participate in community service projects, work on campaigns, and use whatever skills you have to improve the world around you.
Take care of yourself or else you will be unable to advocate for anyone else.
Remember to breathe and practice self-care. Each day, we’ve been barraged with a new tweets by the President (and analysis from both his supporters and detractors), the signing of new executive orders, and the introduction of new bills, which could each individually consume all of our time, energy, and emotion.
Most importantly, have faith that the good people in the world far outnumber the bad. As divided as we may seem, most of us begin and end our days with the same desires: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.