As reality begins to settle in, the internet is groaning with collective distress and calls for action. Over the next few weeks and months, it's going to become clearer what for the resistance is going to take, and what paths are likely to be more effective. Right now, I know that I've been deeply affected by events, what people are saying and writing, and my own thoughts. Because I'm in living in Canada now, but am a dual citizen who votes in both countries, friends and acquaintances everywhere I go are asking me "what do you think, what's going to happen, please explain America's system to me., can't something be done?" It's been preoccupying, to say the least.
I'm grateful for the perspective of my threescore years and the various struggles I've been involved with during my life, and after some serious reflection I've made some decisions about this blog: I am not going to give it over to political posting, except on occasion. This is a place where readers tell me they've often come for a break from whatever was going on, not to get more of it. They've found some beauty, perhaps, or some quiet reflections. I want that to continue, and it's the healthier path for me, too.
However, I will still be working to resist what is happening in our world. The big danger in activism is discouragement and burn-out, and I'd like to offer a few suggestions for how to avoid that. This is advice I'll be returning to myself, because even when it's first-hand knowledge, we're dealing with a lot of emotion here, and that for inevitable ups and downs, and it makes us get caught up so that we forget.
1. "I'm so excited, I really want to do something and be involved." Or, its flip side: "I'm already exhausted - how are we going to do this for four years?"
We each have different capacities for activist work. The euphoria of shared events like marches is great, but it can't last. It's much better to do a little bit on a sustained basis than to do too much, too fast, and get burned out. So think about yourself and your life: do you think you can commit a half-hour a day? An hour a week? One Saturday a month? Four years is a long time. Pick a reasonable and sustainable commitment for you, and stick to it.
2. "I'm actually not sure what to do: I feel overwhelmed by all the issues"
We are all in danger of becoming overwhelmed by too many issues, all of which are vitally important. A wise priest once said to me, "It doesn't really matter where you go in. What matters is that you DO go in, and that you don't scatter your energies too much. So find something that calls to you, and focus there."
If you don't already have a particular issue, such as the environment, or reproductive rights for women, or racism and police brutality, then -- whether you are religious/spiritual or not -- my suggestion is to find a quiet space where you won't be disturbed, and sit for twenty minutes asking that question: "What should I do? Where should I go in?" Ask the universe. Sit still, listen to your breathing, and when your thoughts run away from you, gently bring them back to that question. You may not get an answer right away; you may have to do this over some days or even weeks. But it's actually a very good use of your time, because through this process of discernment you're going to find out some things about yourself. What bothers you the most about what's happening? What makes you feel knotted up inside, or angry, or like crying? Your work is going to be more effective and feel better if it is focused where your own heart is, and through it, you will meet other people who share the same deep concerns and be more effective together.
3. "I don't know what is effective and what isn't."
- Be informed. Use some of your time to read up in quality, reliable media on the issues that concern you the most; know the facts, know the players, learn what is being done.
- Read at least one non-US publication to get a wider perspective, if you don't already: the Guardian is a good place to start.
- Individual action: in less than one hour a week, you can contact all the members of your Congressional delegation about the one or two issues that have most concerned you. Keeping up the pressure, week after week, is extremely important. Don't write a long letter - it won't be read. Use the websites your senators and representatives have already set up, state the issue or choose it from a list, and write a clear, brief sentence or two. Or send a printable postcard, week after week. The responses will be counted and tallied -- large numbers mean the constituents are very concerned. That's what matters, so make it a habit. The opposition feeds itself on polls and celebrity, and they were very distressed about poor attendance at the inauguration vs the marches. We need to continue to show them that there are more of us and we aren't going away.
- Group action: resistance groups will emerge around many of the issues we are all concerned about, and you will be able to link up with them and be stronger together. Events will be planned around individual issues and collective issues: please show up.
- Sorry, but posting to social media is NOT effective activism; it's preaching to the choir, or wallowing in group-think. Yes, sometimes there are good articles to be discovered or shared, and we all need to talk to people. But unless you already have a big following, or are organizing an event, daily life on social media is not how change happens. You need to do the other stuff too, as your priority.
- If you can, give some money to places where it really counts. There will be innumerable groups and de-funded organizations that need your support. It's just like your time: figure out what you can spare, and commit to doing that - $5 a week, $10 a month, whatever. I gave a donation this week to International Planned Parenthood, for instance, and will continue to support both the national and international groups, because reproductive health and freedom have been significant issues for me all my life.
4. "I feel guilty living my regular life."
In a word: Don't. When we allow this crap to seep into every area of our lives, paralyzing us like the venom it is, the bastards have won. Part of the struggle against fascism, extreme negativity, fear and violence is to maintain our true selves, and a belief in all that is good in the world and in our lives. So don't stop creating, don't stop loving, and don't stop living. The formless and pervasive sense of "I should be doing something" will be alleviated by your discernment, your focus, and your commitment to do something concrete each day or each week. So do that, and then get on with your life, wholeheartedly.
Which is what this blog will be doing.