Maybe You Marched. Maybe You Didn’t. But What Do We Do Now?
Nearly 3 million people gathered nationwide yesterday for hundreds of protests. It was a peaceful, effective demonstration — no arrests were made in any of the major cities where hundreds of thousands of people assembled.
Some women have said that the march did not speak to them because it felt like another tone-deaf act of white women’s feminism. We must acknowledge the validity of those feelings. Others who marched said it was invigorating — the first moment of optimism since the election. But regardless of your participation in the Women’s Marches, it is behind us. Here we are, on the third day of Trump’s presidency and we must ask ourselves: What now?
It may feel dismissive to move so quickly past this massive demonstration to demand more, but our government is moving quickly to strip the rights of many Americans and to continue to oppress those who are already oppressed. Protests and demonstrations are important, but it’s the daily work of throwing sand in the gears that will effect change. Frances Fox Piven writes:
[W]hile the great movements of American history were the crucial determinant of our most important democratic reforms — from the basic electoral elements of representative democracy, to Emancipation, to labor rights, to women’s and LGBTQ rights — none of these movements achieved their successes simply through the gathering of people to show their commitment. People gathered, of course, but what makes movements a force — when they are a force — is the deployment of a distinctive power that arises from the ability of angry and indignant people to at times defy the rules that usually ensure their cooperation and quiescence. People in motion, in movements, can throw sand in the gears of the institutions that depend on their cooperation. It therefore follows that movements need numbers, but they also need a strategy that maps the impact of their defiance and the ensuing disruptions on the authority of decision-makers.
The repercussions of such mass refusals can be far-reaching, simply because social life depends on systems of intricate cooperation. So does our system of governance. Perhaps the US government, with its famous separation of powers on the national level and its decentralized federal structure, is especially vulnerable to collective defiance.
Remember: progress is slow, but halting or reversing progress can be instantaneous. We must not assume that dissembling our rights won’t happen overnight. It very well could.
I’ve compiled this list of actions not as a suggestion, but as an imperative for every American citizen who wants progress, equality, freedom, and fairness in this country. You will have to sacrifice something — maybe your time, maybe your money, almost certainly your mental energy. But this is part of being in the movement, and lives literally depend on it. To be an activist is not an act of selflessness, but one of selfishness to demand the life and opportunities we all deserve.
Engage with the Federal Government.
We must understand what is happening on a national level in our government. This means keeping track of what goes through the House and Senate, how your representatives vote, and what Trump and his Cabinet are doing.
Use your voice.
There are very few ways for us to engage with our government. One, of course, is to vote (more on that later.) But the other big one is to contact your representatives. Regularly.
Put their phone numbers in your phone. Hell, put them in your Favorites list so you always know where to find them. Calling your representatives is easy. It will take you between 45 seconds and 3 minutes. If you’re nervous, or “not really a phone person”, that’s okay. I wrote this tiny guide so you know exactly what’s going to happen:
You may be more inclined to send an email or even a letter in the mail, but calls are the most effective, and the most immediate. Emails are the least effective, and honestly probably take you longer to do. Suck it up and call. It’s worth it.
Keep in mind: Your representatives want to get reelected. We are the ones who decide if they get to have a job. They work for us. We have every right to tell them what we want them to do, and to let them know that their actions can lose them our votes.
Your federal representatives will, throughout the year, hold local events like town halls. You can also reach out to your representatives and request a town hall. You can do that weekly! When they set a date, attend. And invite people. Prepare questions! This is a sacred resource that we should make the most of.
Engage with State and Local Governments.
Of course the federal government has a significant impact, but you may not know how many of your rights lay in the hands of your state representatives.
Why do you need to get involved with your state and local governments?
- From education funding to unemployment compensation to abortion, state laws have a daily impact on our lives. You should know what decisions are being made.
- Many state and local politicians eventually rise up in government. Getting involved in your state and local government will directly shape who is running our country in 2–10 years.
- It is an easy way to get involved with your community and to advocate for yourself, and that’s the whole point of all this!
Find out who your state representatives are here. Call them, just as you would your federal representatives.
Your state government has a website. On the website, you’ll be able to see events where your legislators and governor can be found. Attend these events as often as you can.
If you don’t do it, no one will. Progressives are terrible at this.
We suck. Nationally, Republicans control most State governments, which means their future is secure. We have to do better. Take a look:
Compare that to Democrats:
Which brings us to…
Participate in elections.
Register to vote and then vote in every election.
Midterm elections, which happen halfway through a presidency, are very important elections that have historically terrible voter turnout for Democrats. These elections are how Republicans gained a congressional majority during Obama’s presidency.
For the 2018 midterm elections, 33 Senate seats are up for grabs, as are all 435 House seats. Locally, you will have state legislators up for reelection in 2018 as well.
You should work on campaigns.
That may mean phone-banking or going door-to-door or donating money or lending your skills. There is a ton at stake in 2018. Look at the Senate map, for example.
Only 8 GOP Senators are up for reelection, and 6 of them are all but guaranteed to win. Democrats, on the other hand, have 23 Senators up for reelection (25 if you count the Independents, who caucus with the Democrats) and only 12 are considered to be sure things. That leaves 13 seats that are a fight — and that’s just to maintain. Republicans will be fighting tooth and nail to get a 2/3 majority.
Here are some split state governments that we should be working to protect:
This is the challenge we have. This is what we need numbers for. Our demonstrations don’t mean anything if we can’t deliver at the polls.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Yes, 2018 elections are right around the corner, but what do we do in the meantime?
This is “throwing sand in the gears.” It is refusing to cooperate with the institutions that oppress us. This is part of the strategy that we must have.
It’s a vaguer form of action that may seem to be at odds with my strong recommendations to participate in the system. But we need to fire on all cylinders, getting representatives to represent our interests in government and resisting bad government practices in our daily lives. Here are some examples of ways we can undermine an oppressive administration:
- If a Muslim/immigrant registry is established, we all register regardless of religion/citizenship.
- We can advocate for our local governments to accept refugees, and we can even personally house them.
- We can push our local governments to not accept/follow the oppressive initiatives ordered by Trump, and we can push them hard.
Lack of cooperation — not doing what the Trump administration asks us to do in order to protect others — is the key here. It’s not violence. It’s peaceful organizational mayhem.
Hold the media accountable.
In the first couple days of Trump’s administration we have already seen an unprecedented treatment of the press corps and reporters. It’s terrifying. Yet we still see publications beating around the bush, burying the lede, writing headlines that don’t tell the right story.
Compare how the NYTimes handled yesterday’s press conference:
With this CNN headline:
We should call the media out when they mess this kind of stuff up.
Since it seems that Sean Spicer has no reservations lying about something so easily verifiable, it’s also worth requesting that news networks do not broadcast press conferences live, but instead monitor the conference and then report on it.
We can also ask our local publications to cover certain stories by writing the editors. Many cabinet nominees’ conflicts of interests were not reported on locally; you can write your local paper and say why they should be.
Continue to show up.
The repeated demonstration of our movement’s size is a crucial part of our fight. And showing up doesn’t just mean showing up for our personal causes and passions. We need to be part of an inclusive movement that champions the demands and voices of our most marginalized people. The Women’s March was incredible, but if you attended that but won’t be at the next Black Lives Matter rally, that’s a problem.
Donate money. Volunteer.
We have a broken political system that is driven by lobbyists and corporations that buy politicians. It’s something we need to demand our elected officials fight, but in the meantime, lending financial support to the causes and organizations you love, that will use that money to effect change, is a crucial part of citizenship. Just $5 or $10 a month makes an impact.
Volunteering is another way to give to causes that you care about. Look into local nonprofits and see how you can give back to the community and support your fellow Americans. As the government fails to provide for and protect millions of people, nonprofits are picking up the slack and they need help. You can do this. Start with setting aside one day a month, and build up from there.
Remember, this is a willing sacrifice of your time and money. It is for the greater good, and it is a necessity.
Read the damn emails you signed up for.
There are some incredible email services being created to aid you in your activism. Sign up for them — and then read the damn emails.
Read every email, whether it’s from the organizations you donate to or helpful activism to-do lists like:
wall-of-us: A weekly newsletter with four acts of resistance.
Swing Left: A site that finds your closest swing district where a victory was decided by a close margin, and gives you a weekly actionable opportunity to elect a progressive to that district.
Call Them In: Timely email reminders with tailored call scripts for you to contact your representatives about important legislation.
Sign up for services like this, but then do the damn thing they ask you to do. Don’t let yourself off the hook with empty gestures. You can do it — after all, you don’t have to do much, just follow the instructions. Easy!
Speak with your wallet.
We do send messages with our money. Yes, you can boycott Ivanka Trump’s fashion line or other companies that have come out in favor of Trump. But you can also actively support Black-, women-, and minority-owned businesses on corporate and local levels. Next time you’re planning a date night or a shopping trip, see what you can do to support their business endeavors. If everyone does this, the impact will be remarkable.
And lastly, and most importantly…
Don’t get tired. Don’t give up.
The Trump administration already is, and will continue to be, draining. They will attempt to exhaust us, to overwhelm us, to intimidate us with the sheer volume of shit they hurl in our direction.
Do not grow weary. Do not get discouraged. Do not let yourself off the hook.
Find those role models who make you want to get up ready to fight. Think of them when the going gets tough — and it’s going to get tough. It’s going to get terrible.
Our earth is dying. Our rights are being stripped from us. The government is declaring a war on women, on indigenous people, on immigrants, on Latinx people, on Black people, on poor people, on mentally ill people, on children.
The work is difficult and it is daily, and it is required.
Are you ready?