Millions of people took part in marches in cities across the country this weekend, their voices raised for equality, justice, and kindness. Among their number, and watching at home, were thousands of brand new activists just waking up to the reality we’re in and the power we hold to change it.
Whether you were able to attend or not, I hope that stories about the event have awakened the activist within you. Because this is only the beginning. This march was a message to those in power: we’re important, we’re many, we’re watching, and you’re not going to get away with evil. How do we take this spirit and push forward with it to create change? Because marching isn’t enough. We’ve got a long road ahead as this administration works to sell outright lies to us while dismantling our rights.
There are so many activists out there who know a lot more than me, and who are already writing better posts than this one about what to do next. I’m new to this myself, and have so very much to learn*. But I’m hoping that maybe hearing some of this from a friend might make it less intimidating.
Here are some steps that we all need to take in the next few weeks. And once we’ve stepped those steps, we need to step’ em again. And again and again. Then more steps, and bigger steps, until we see results. And then? Keep going.
Activism for Beginners: Baby Steps
Get Familiar With Your Bias and Privilege
We’re all biased. It’s the way the brain gets wired through years of experience with the world, cultural expectations, exchanges with others in the community and outside of it, and consumption of media in all its forms. Everyone, to some degree, holds preconceived notions in their heads about groups of people, even if they aren’t consciously aware of it. You can test your implicit bias through Project Implicit, even though there’s a good chance you’ll be uncomfortable with the results. I know I was uncomfortable with mine. The important thing is what you choose to do with that discomfort. It’s easy to want to dismiss it, saying there’s no way it can be accurate, because you’re not racist or ableist. You’re a good person! Yes, you probably are. You probably try to do everything right and treat people fairly, but it’s important to know the ways in which your brain may be making decisions for you without you even being aware of them. Look at your results. Know where you may need to be exerting a little more conscious control over situations and choices. Just be more aware.
Once you’ve had some time to sit with your biases and pledge to work against them, look at your privilege. Privilege doesn’t mean you’re rich and happy and have never had it tough. It just means that there are some things that you have never had to experience, simply because of the different circumstances of your existence. Acknowledging that other people’s lives and experiences can be very different than yours is important: it’s a way to train yourself out of getting defensive when someone calls you out. The fact is, if you’re white, you’ve had it easier than every other group out there. You owe them the space to tell their stories, and you owe them some difficult homework in understanding and working towards equality.
Open up your eyes and mind to some new perspectives by following some activists on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribe to their blogs or the publications that they contribute to. This is the easiest possible doorway to activism. Just read. Read the words of Black women. Read the words of Indigenous women. Read the words of Trans folks. Read the words of disabled folks. Read as much as you can from people whose lives are different from yours, and who have more to lose in the upcoming political horror show. Listen, learn, and try hard to understand how your actions may need to change in order to stand behind these people in a meaningful way.
And I do mean listen. Don’t interrupt, don’t get defensive, don’t make the conversation about you, and don’t ask for citations to back up their words. If they bring up historical facts you don’t recognize, make a note to go home and put in the work researching and understanding where they’re coming from. If they make you feel uncomfortable, examine those feelings and try to get to the root of them so you can work on being a better and more empathetic person.
While you’re reading, why not support good journalism by subscribing or donating to sites that are doing a good job out there getting actual news to the people? Fight the clickbait economy and support them with your dollars. I’ve subscribed to Mother Jones, the Washington Post, and Teen Vogue (no, seriously), and I’ve donated to the Guardian. If we want good journalism, we need to make it possible for these places to pay good journalists.
Yes, start calling your representatives in the federal government about all the things going on that you disagree with. Tell them how you’d prefer that they vote on matters that are important to you. Then, afterwards, call to either thank them for voting that way or tell them you’re disappointed that they didn’t. But this isn’t just about the federal government. There are state governments and local governments that speak for you, too. Do you know who represents you when everyone meets for votes in your state capital? Who is on your local board of education? Who’s your mayor? What do they stand for? What important matters are coming up for votes? These people all have offices and phones, and they need to hear your voice.
Do your research and figure out what’s going on closer to home, and then get involved in whatever ways you can, from letters to the editor to attending public meetings to running for office yourself, if you’re qualified (and brave).
What causes matter the most to you right now? How can you help them? Whether it’s time or money, see what you might be able to donate to organizations that are doing some of the hardest work in this fight. There are big ones, like ACLU Planned Parenthood, and Campaign Zero, but don’t forget to act locally, too. Food banks, domestic violence shelters, job centers, children’s groups: find them, and ask them how you can be involved.
Even everyday interactions can make a difference. With so much hate swirling around, and actual Nazis among those in charge of the country, plenty of people have reason to worry for their safety and well-being. Smile at the veiled woman on the bus. Tell the Hispanic barista you like her earrings. Tip the Black waitress a little extra. Speak up when you hear someone say something that is not okay. Fight the normalization of hate speech. Normalize kindness and tolerance. Model good behavior and hope others catch on.
Do you need more help prioritizing your energies while your outrage meter keeps overloading with every fresh news story? I’m right there with you. I highly recommend signing up for regular emails from Indivisible and re:act, which contain simple weekly action items, including telephone scripts you can use when calling your representatives. The group behind the Women’s March is rolling out an action plan. Many other national groups, like Planned Parenthood, Moms Demand Action, and the ACLU are also giving out useful information about ways to participate. Sign up for their mailing lists, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on what they need you to do.
It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed. The list of horrible things we need to fight against keeps growing, and no one person can possibly manage to work against all of it, every day. Rage burnout is a real thing. But every little bit does help, and it’s okay to choose only a few points for your action list. I make a list every weekend, using the mailing lists above as a guide to urgent priorities like hearings or votes. I have a regular slot in my calendar for calling my elected officials over my lunch break.
There is power in numbers – just look at how many turned out for the marches this weekend, and how much it shook the administration. We need to keep people engaged and involved so that the movement continues. Share your hard work in ways that might inspire others, even if it’s just on Facebook where your conservative aunties might see it. See if a coworker wants to volunteer with you. Write letters to the editors in your local papers. Forward links to activist mailing lists to friends who may want to do more. If you’re more extroverted and feel up for it, maybe get a local discussion group together in your neighborhood so you can plan to act as a group and reach more people. Go to town hall meetings and ask your representative important questions, so their answers will be recorded by local journalists for all to see or read.
Beginner activism is still activism. It still counts and can make a difference. Don’t let your inexperience stop you from trying, failing, learning, and trying again. Listen when you’re given feedback from folks who have been fighting this fight longer than you. Share what you learn. Most of all, keep going. Even if we can create change, we need to sustain it, as this election has shown us all too well.
*I’m still learning, and I understand that I’m unlikely to get any of this completely right on the first try. Please, let me know if I’m missing important things here, and I’ll do my best to edit this post in response.