How our civic participation and activism can make a difference

Yesterday after watching President Barack Obama’s Farewell speech, I mused over the idea of participating in the democratic process more.

Even as a person who has been an activist since college, I find myself struggling to find my footing. As I recover from Lymphoma and readjust to having two chronic illnesses that present challenges for participating in person, I had started to feel helpless.

After all, I can plan to protest, march, or attend a town hall meeting all I like — but I often have no idea whether my body will cooperate with my plans until the day of.

I realized after some thought, that more people around me had this same helpless feeling, but for other reasons. There’s the idea that if you can’t protest, or attend a march, you can’t help bring about change.

Or that if you’re unable to dedicate your life to activism, your efforts won’t count.

Activism and participating in democracy is about more than protesting.

It’s showing up to meetings, volunteering, petitioning, getting signatures, voting and making phone calls.

And we need it all. We need to get rid of the idea that if you’re not making the most noise, or doing something dramatic, what you do doesn’t have an impact.

We must all choose the role that works best for us. Do what you can from where you are. It all counts. Anyone telling you different has an agenda or is ignorant about how change happens.

Some people are going to be well suited to organizing marches. People like myself who have mobility challenges might lean more to the area of raising awareness, making phone calls, and raising or donating funds.

We can make change happen together — and we have before.

Those of us who care can do a few simple things to help — or force — our representatives to fight for our interests. All we need to do is participate in our civic processes.

Specifically how? I wrote about one way that I’ll link to shortly.

First I want to address what so often seems to stop people from continuing to raise awareness or otherwise participating in democracy- the idea that if they can only do a little, it doesn’t matter.

Not only does it matter- a few consistent actions, even by a minority, has been proven to work, to get change to happen.

Even what’s often referred to as “slactivism” is necessary — a trending hashtag on Twitter is one way to get stories that normally won’t be covered on the news.

I bring that up because I am part of the #BringBackOurGirls movement that people outside the movement considered a failure because the young women in the news were not all recovered.

But what most people don’t realize is that the return of the girls was a rallying cry, and not the only goal.

Yes, that’s how it finally got noticed and on TV.

The objectives were many though — aid offered from the US, the acceptance of that aid from the then-president of Nigeria, and enough outrage over that president to affect the election that followed.

That election then resulted in another ruler who, despite his past as a military dictator, listened to the cry of the people and has organized the ongoing recovery of hundreds of girls and boys kidnapped by Boko Haram.

We’ll never give up looking for the young women who were kidnapped. But it’s no small thing that hundreds, possibly thousands of young people of both gender have been rescued from captivity.

This would not have happened without the initial grassroots cry of Nigerians working in West Africa and the children of Nigerian immigrants like myself as well as other American citizens with no African ties, using our collective voices to affect change.

And our voices would not have been heard if all of you who used the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag had given in to the notion that your voice didn’t matter, that adding your voices to ours wouldn’t make a difference.

Our voices mattered then. And they still do now.

Not only did it make a difference then.

It still does now.

Then, it helped get the issue on the top blogs, then news publications, then mainstream news. All the actions we fought for afterwards, that we continue to fight for today despite no longer being a big news story, might not have been possible without this.

Think about that the next time someone tells you that your efforts to raise awareness about an issue you care about doesn’t matter.

Think about the recovered boys and girls the next time someone tries to convince you that things like #BringBackOurGirls failed.

Saving lives is not failure.

No longer being on the news is not failure.

Affecting the election of the 8th most populated nation in the world matters. As does shaming a president of a country that size into acting.

What does that campaign have to do with democracy in America today?

I remember being an American child living in Nigeria, watching a tank roll down the main road after a democratic leader was overthrown in a bloodless coup.

The recollection of that chill in my spine, as well as being able to put into context events that I didn’t understand then is some of what moves me to action now.

As an American born in this country, the 2016 election and the incoming President-elect has made me nervous for the future of our republic. It isn’t about having the Republican party in power.

It’s about the fact that democracy is being threatened, and the checks and balances that should guard us from impending disaster either aren’t working or don’t exist.

So what do we do when our president-elect does things like consistently choosing advisors who have track records of being opposed to the organizations they are proposed to run?

How will the Constitution protect us if the highest court in the land refuses to uphold the Constitution or keep the protections we need against corruption such as the Voting Rights Act? Who would we appeal to then?

The situation now seems as impossible to deal with as the recovery of even one kidnapped Chibok girl seemed in 2014. Working together we were able to reverse the fortunes of some of those specific girls.

Whether they ran or were rescued, the fact that we refuse to forget them has had a domino effect that resulted in the rescue of many more. And the hope that we could one day recover the rest of the young women, as well as boys and other children captured by this terrorist group before and since.

If we can make change happen across the Atlantic, we can make it happen here

Last night, while I didn’t agree with everything President Obama said, one thing I could agree with him on is that it’s up to us.

The Tea Party took over the Republican party with the simple notion that the representatives and senators we elected need us to stay in power.

Unless the Constitution is suspended, up until the moment that occurs, we have the heroes we need to defend us.

Those heroes are us.

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