Becoming activist

I’ve been politically aware for years and years.  And if you had asked me back in 2012 whether I was politically active, I probably would have said yes.  I posted on Facebook and I talked to my friends about politics, so that made me politically active, right?

In 2016, like so many others, I learned that real political activism is something much more involved.  When Donald Trump defeated all the odds and became the 45th president of the United States, I was shocked. Dismayed. And very, very worried.  Though I am not wholly again populist policies, and I agree that the plight of the Midwest factory worker has been ignored.. these didn’t seem like justification for Donald Trump.

See, my daughter has a hearing aid and some learning disabilities. Though you could not contort your upper body and mock her, as Trump did to a disabled reporter at a rally, her struggle to thrive in this world is hard enough.  How am I going to reassure her about the goodness of people when there is a dismissive bully in the White House (and, now, a catastrophically unprepared Secretary of Education in his cabinet)?

My 4-year-old son is a little bit of a hitter. We work with him day after day to help him control his emotions and use his words.  What will I say to him about the importance of containing your emotions and acting with kindness when the holder of the highest office admires aggression and encourages violence?

I was raped in college. It was awful and it took me many years to rebuild security that my body was my own and NO ONE ELSE got to just grab it.  When I heard Trump talking in that van about how being powerful allows you to do “anything you want” it triggered two weeks of flashback anxiety for me… and for many of my friends. Because most of the women I know have been the recipient of sexual aggression or assault.  And this sexual aggressor is our President?

No. This could not stand.

Suddenly posting on Facebook and talking to my friends was revealed to be empty nonsense, utterly lacking in consequence.  It was time to get real.  Thus began my education in political activism. About a month into the Trump presidency, I want to share what I’ve learned so far.

Recovery

I’ve been writing for Quartz about this process since the day after the election when my editor sent me this note:

“Oh man. Can you send me some psychological advice about how americans who are shocked and sad and sick can get through the next few days/weeks?”

I wrote this article, arguing that people need to:

  1. Take a break from social media and tend to their basic needs. Sleep, exercise, eat. Remember how exhausted we all were just after the election?  New York City was like the land of the living dead.  Ashen faced liberals gave each other  impromptu hugs and cried at work.  People needed to take a deep, steadying breath and eat some soup.
  2. Practice empathy. The 48% of voters who picked Trump dd so for sometimes very good reasons– James Comey had recently reignited concerns about Hilary’s emails; Obama was talking about how great the economy was doing while some people had experienced NO economic recovery, etc.  The enemy is not the Trump supporter, the enemy is Trump.  I had written a whole other article discussing how to find common ground with people with whom you disagree.  You can can read it here.
  3. Organize.  I argued that it was time for “people” to get busy resisting Trump in organized ways.  Really, though, I was having a stern conversation with myself about how I needed to get off my computer and do something in the real world.

Calling all Senators!

I am super introverted and I feel awkward talking to strangers. This may be surprising, given that I am always giving workshops and teaching classes to rooms full of strangers… but put me on the phone and anxiety reigns supreme.

Around this time, however, there were a number of knowledgeable people coming out hard for the notion that the best possible way to resist Trump was to micromanage your representatives to congress.   The next article I wrote chronicled my very first call to my representative.

Writing that article I talked to two staffers- one for a Senator in the Northeast and one who had worked for a republican representative in Utah.  The most amazing part of writing that article was getting to hear them explain to me that the collective voice of the people is truly, honestly, no kidding powerful.   I didn’t believe it… how could one voice matter?

“It’s not one voice,” they explained, “it’s all those voices together. There’s nothing else like it.”

I mean, I knew the Tea Party had upended the Republican Party through tenacious obstructionism but it hadn’t really hit me: that kind of dogged civic participation was open to everyone… it was open to me!  So I forced myself to figure out how to call my representatives.  It was a tad awkward, but really… it was very straightforward.

The movement to call Congress was a little like a trust fall- I had to call before I was sure that everyone else would call… but I did… and they did… and it’s been amazing.

Beating back hopelessness

Two separate women who each created a Facebook event for a Women’s March on the day after the inauguration decided to join forces… and then women in hundreds of cities around the world joined in… the end the end result, as you may know, was that 3.3 million people marched against Donald Trump’s Presidency on the day after the inauguration.

Now I really wanted to go, but on the other hand I really didn’t want to go (I hate huge crowds… they make me anxious).  To resolve my angst, I decided to look into the psychological benefits of protest marches.  Out of that investigation, came this article.

What I learned was fascinating!  Here are three facts I’m glad to know:

  • Hopelessness is a very, very dangerous feeling.  It drains us of our ability to act and, in that way, perpetuates itself.  The opposite of hopelessness is action born of anger and courage.
  • The biggest predictor of activism is prior activism.  So if you want someone (like yourself) to be politically active the best thing you can do is pull the trigger on the next chance you have to get involved, no matter how small that action might be.
  • This one is kind of random- did you know that as many as 50% of pro-life activists were pro-choice before the got involved?  Active involvement creates commitment to issues!  That one blew my mind.

I did ultimately go a women’s march and it was an an exhausting, crowded, and empowering experience.

Other resources for Activists

Obviously, I’m not the only one writing about these issues!  Here are a few resources that I’ve found particularly helpful:

  • Individisble: This a “Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” written by a bunch of congressional staffers.  These guys have been partnering with organizations like MoveOn to hold training webinars and host events.  It’s worth being on their list to hear what they are up to.
  • 10 Actions in 100 days. The organizers of the women’s march are working to sustain coordinated efforts after the march.  Get on the list and you’ll get emails about the next coordinated effort.
  • Call the Halls.  Emily Ellsworth, who I interviewed in my article about calling my representative, wrote this guide. Full of helpful info.

 

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