How To Act and Keep Acting
Four steps I wrote for myself to be politically active, and stay that way.
Step 1: Prioritize
If week 1 is any indication, the next two years will be filled with more bad news and demands for action than you can possibly deal with. Don’t let yourself bounce ineffectively from one gesture to another, at the end of the day accomplishing nothing. But equally don’t let yourself despair and give up entirely. Instead, set yourself some priorities. Make a list of what you care about, and each week do what you have the ability to do in the time you have to do it, starting at the top of the list. You won’t make it to the bottom, but that’s OK because you’ll know that you’re doing what you can on that which matters most to you.
Step 2: Assess Resources
Figure out what you’re capable of doing, and make a plan for how you’ll apply your resources to your priorities.
You’ve got a job and a family, you need to sleep and eat, and sometimes you just need to escape. Figure out how much time you’ve got leftover, and make a conservative promise to yourself that you know you can keep. Put it on the calendar, and stick with it. Make it a habit.
What are you particularly good at? How can you apply it to your priorities? What do the organizations you believe in need? Make a list, and whenever possible exercise your talents.
Time and talent only go so far, you’ve got to have motivation and energy to get anything done. Pay attention to how you’re feeling, and be conscious about sustaining it. Find other people you can work with so that you can help each other stay motivated. Look for small wins and celebrate them. A lot of the problems you’ll be working on will be long-term and abstract, so mix in some projects that you can do in an afternoon, where the results will be concrete and obvious.
Exercise, eat well and get enough sleep.
Attention is a limited resource, and there’s a lot of people competing for it. You need to conserve your attention by being deliberate about how you spend it. Recognize that social media is designed to keep you hooked on an unending, emotional surface skim directed by the cultural zeitgeist. Indulge in it when you have to, but try to put a time limit on your indulgence. Spend the time you save on research you direct, guided by your priorities.
Don’t watch television news. Subscribe to papers doing real journalism.
Be conscious of the attention you command. On social media, remember that when you post, retweet, comment, like or favorite you’re demanding a little bit of attention from the people in your network. Make sure that you’ve done your best to conserve other’s attention, and when you ask for it that you’re providing a valuable return.
Make a budget, and include a line item for giving to the organizations and candidates that match your priorities. Plan your giving at least a year ahead of time, and where possible set up recurring donations so that you don’t have to remember to do it.
For the next couple of years, redirect your giving to political causes. Nonprofits you’ve supported in the past may be hurt, but when the reins of power are in the hands of a government as inimical as this one, the existential threat must be addressed first.
Use your company’s donation matching plan when it’s applicable to multiply the power of your giving. Look for other matching programs, or set up your own to encourage your friends and family to donate.
Step 3: Act Strategically
Not every action is equally effective. Any action you take should be informed by the hard truth that your side has very little political power, and that the ways our electoral system has changed over the last 10 years means the other side probably doesn’t need your support to get re-elected.
First and always you should work to mitigate the damage this government can cause. The courts, at least for now, are likely to be the most efficacious avenue for doing this, so plan to support organizations like the NAACP, the SPLC, the ACLU, the EFF and the NRDC who use the legal system to protect civil rights and the environment.
Know what your representatives in Congress are doing. Sign up to get alerts on your representatives from GovTrack.us, and keep track of how representatives vote compared to Trump’s expressed agenda on 538.com. Contact representatives directly to let them know how you want them to vote, and what you’d like to see them do. The strategies described in The Indivisible Guide are useful here. See, too, 5 Calls.
Also help out organizations that directly assist people who are harmed by the policies and actions of this government. For example, contribute to the IRC and Doctors Without Borders to help the refugees that the Trump administration turns away, or support charities that help out those likely to be economically harmed by economic policies.
Finally, learn how to safely engage in direct action when such action is the only way to prevent egregious damage.
The elections in 2018 will be our first real opportunity to return candidates sympathetic to liberal ideals to office. Living in a deep blue state your vote won’t make much of a difference, but you can apply your resources to districts where there is a chance to tilt the election in favor of Democrats.
There are a bunch of organizations that have popped up since the election that can make this easier. SwingLeft, SisterDistrict, and others are all focused on getting Democrats elected. So is the Democratic party. Evaluate them and find the right one to support.
This government didn’t come out of right field: it was enabled by a long list of inadequacies in our electoral, economic, governmental, cultural, journalistic and educational structures. Few of these are going to be addressable until we’ve regained the power we lost, but since fixing those inadequacies is a potentially generational project, start researching and contributing now.
Specifically, start with electoral change, because a fair electoral system is an enabler of many of the other systems. A good organization to start with is Fair Vote.
Step 4: Repeat
Remember that there are no quick and easy solutions here. Despite how it may seem, we didn’t get here overnight — the 2016 election made manifest forces that have been operating for most of your lifetime, if not longer. You’re going to have to adjust your approaches and strategies in response to changes in your life and world events, so don’t get discouraged by reversals, and don’t ever stop trying to make the change you believe in.
Addendum: More Links
Other Articles Like This One
“How To Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind” by Mirah Curzer. Common sense rules for being an activist, if you’re new to the game.
“Productivity In Terrible Times” by Eileen Webb. Advice for staying politically active without quitting your job or driving yourself bankrupt.
“How To Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed By Your Newsfeed” by Ann Douglas. Stay informed, but don’t give in to the deluge.
“99 Ways to Fight Trump.” Most of the 99 ways are, IMHO, more likely to make you feel good than to make a real difference, but there are a few gems.
“We Marched. Now What?” by Janna DeVylder. Organized into things you can do to start, things you can do every day, and things you can do as they arise.
“What To Do About Trump”. Like the title says, a bunch of ideas for responding to the election.
“Shy Person’s Guide to Calling Representatives” from the ActionFriday tumblr. Pretty much what it sounds like: great advice for introverts.
White House, Inc. Funded by a SuperPAC that’s spent exclusively against Republicans. Give them your email address and phone number, and they’ll connect you to a Trump property. The theory: since Trump hasn’t meaningfully distanced himself from his businesses, we should see those businesses as satellite White Houses.
“The Best Way to Win an Argument” by Tom Stafford. Spoiler alert: ask someone to explain, in detail, how their idea works.
314 Action. A PAC focused on convincing and supporting scientists for public office.
Run For Office. Give them your address and they’ll give you a comprehensive list of elected positions you’re eligible to run for.