Activism Inertia

Note: This piece was written on January 22, 2017. 

Well, here it is. The eve of the Inauguration.

Feels more like the dawning of the Apocalypse, if I’m honest. Prior to November 8th, I honestly thought I would be in D.C. right now, preparing to welcome the first female president. I’d dreamt of an incredibly happy, exciting, and historic occasion since the start of the primaries. I guess I’m at least 1 for 3 because if nothing else, tomorrow will go down as the official start of a long, dark period in America’s history. One that the history books will record as a series of Tweets…

As hopeless as I feel right now, I’m trying my best to accept the inevitable and instead gear up for one hell of a fight. These next four years might be the hardest, but they need to only be the beginning of a real Progressive-Democratic crusade in this country.

Unfortunately, the flames of the movement I saw ignite after Trump’s election seem to be sputtering already.

Recently, the creator of the not-so-secret Facebook group “Pantsuit Nation” filed for non-profit status and is set to publish a book of stories culled from member submissions. The morality of publicly printing anecdotes that the storytellers thought were shared in confidence is one concern (yes, I realize the creator says she has received permission), but the larger problem I can see is that all Pantsuit Nation ended up becoming was a repository of “feel-good” moments.

What started as a way for Americans to come together and collectively celebrate as they voted for the first female president turned into group therapy as we all tried to come to terms with the reality of a Trump presidency. People were understandably scared and in need of support, and in that way, Pantsuit Nation served a noble purpose. But it could have been so much more. Collectively, the millions of members in this group were angry, and they had a way to reach out, organize that anger, and begin to affect real change.

Sadly, the activism never emerged. There were rumblings of discontent that would occasionally manifest itself into small acts of resistance, such as passing around the invitation link for Trumps “victory tour” and encouraging everyone to RSVP for a ticket but not show up. Or the genius idea to donate to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name, (more than 82,000 donations have come in his name since the election, and the VP gets a thank-you note for each one!) or even the groups of women who got together to attend a Trump rally but then collectively walked out to make a statement.

But overall no cohesive movement has formed. And now Pantsuit Nation is crumbling after the news of the sellout; members splintering off into more locally-based groups that still have yet to form an actionable group with a message.

Part of the problem might be that the left is in “protection mode” rather than “fighting” mode. Think about the hot issues right now—saving the ACA, saving women’s reproductive freedoms—it’s all about preventing the right from decimating existing policies (and rightfully so) but nothing about working to make anything better.

The left’s entire argument around the Affordable Healthcare Act is “fix what’s broken” and then they rave about how the right wants to irresponsibly repeal without a replacement... I haven’t seen many ideas on what might actually make it better. The left cries “single-payer” but what does that mean to the average citizen?

I can’t help but feel as though the wave of activism that began in the wake of the Presidential election is already starting to wane. At this rate things will go back to the way they always have been—where only a tiny fraction of the population pays attention to any election that’s not presidential, and voter turnout remains low. I don’t think we can afford to let that happen this time. There is just too much at stake.

How do we keep momentum going? What can affect real change?

I suggest starting with small actions. Call your legislators, not just once but regularly. You can find contact info for your Congresspersons here and here. Don’t limit yourself to Congress; keep in contact with your state government as well—they are generally more accessible and willing to listen. Better yet, send postcards! That’s the easiest way to get a message out there when voicemail boxes are full.

Let them know you are still paying attention and these issues will continue to matter to you. Narrow your focus to just a few things of utmost important to you; don’t try to blanket statement anything.

Most importantly, keep the conversation going. You don’t have to become that political pest on social media that everyone eventually hides or unfriends, but instead curate specific, FACT-BASED articles to post every so often. And definitely do your homework about what qualifies as credible sources of information! (I sense a future blog post coming…)

Even better, talk to people in real life! Invite some politically-inclined friends for coffee and talk about things you could do in your area.

There are plenty more ideas out there, and I’m sure I’ll talk about more as we dive into this new presidency head-first. My point here was to give you a few small suggestions to get your own cognitive wheels turning, and hopefully leave you feeling a little less hopeless than I have been.

In fact, writing this blog has helped me feel just a little better. We all have a voice, and what we have to say matters. Let us never lose sight of that fact.