It’s a new year and a new administration, and quite a few of us are sick about it. One thing I have learned since my local activism took a more public turn is that many citizens aren’t experienced in advocating for or in interpreting public policy. In addition, a huge number are intimidated by public officials (when, constitutionally speaking, public officials should be intimidated by us). So here’s a guide for managing your rage to make the world a better place. I hope it helps. [This post can be a guide for anyone of any political perspective, but, as always, I am candid about my own in it. You can take it or leave it.]
You're mad, and so am I.
1. Rage Against the Machine: The Value of Your Anger
First of all, when elected officials take actions that you believe harm Americans and the future of the nation, your anger is justified. People who disagree with you about that will try to scold you and say that we should “all be coming together” and will advise you not to “ take everything so seriously.” If you care about your country and how it treats people here and abroad, you are right to be angry when your government makes mistakes or, worse, betrays its own values.
Don’t let anyone (who cares less or is more cynical than you are) shame you about caring for your nation or for others.
There is a no logical reason in the world to back off when you genuinely believe that danger is afoot for your nation and its people. When people scold you for being vocal and active about political events, they will tell you to “be respectful” or “be nice” to them about it, and some of them are genuinely asking merely for polite behavior. That is a reasonable expectation. But when they use similar admonishments as a polite way of saying, “Shut up,” that’s not a reasonable expectation.
You owe no one an apology for speaking out about issues that matter to you.
The problem with anger, though, is that it can dominate your thought processes to the point where you act irrationally, disrespectfully, and overbearingly. I have plenty of experience with all three of those behaviors myself, and they’re part of the reason that I maintain Ground Rules for my blog’s Facebook page. We all need standards, we all need to remain calm in the face of crisis, and if you want to persuade anyone to agree with you, you need to remain logical and focused on the issues.
Anger can (and should) be the fuel to keep you involved in your government, but it should not be the engine running your activism.
2. Channeling Your Anger into Action
A rant here and a diatribe there can feel amazing, but how do you channel that energy into something that does more than alienate your Aunt Misty on Facebook? Here are my recommended follow-through actions for you once you step down from the soapbox.
- Be factual (not the “alternative facts” kind--in other words, not lies). First and foremost, if you’re going to talk politics at work or on social media, get your facts straight. Don’t cite fake news sources, don’t repeat rumors or news stories you have only heard by word of mouth (“My cousin over at the county building says…”), and back up everything you say with verifiable information. Otherwise, you’re just a sassy crackpot, and no one wants that.
- Be public. Speak your mind in forums such as letters to the editor of your local paper, county government forums, marches of like-minded people concerned about an issue, and petitions circulating for a cause. If you’re not willing to stand publicly in some way (and to withstand public scrutiny) for the things you say you believe, then you don’t really believe them.
- Be consistent. Public gestures are fine, but private ones matter, too. When people discuss public affairs with you face-to-face and are clearly wrong in a factual sense or in an immoral sense, say something. Too many times, my white skin has led other white people to think that, once all people of color are out of the room, that I want to discuss “the blacks” and “those people’s problems.” I say, “Please don’t speak that way in front of me,” or “I am not at all comfortable with this conversation. Please stop.” I don’t let them get away with it. If you can’t summon the words in the moment, roll your eyes and walk away. That works, too, in a pinch.
- Be organized. Keep notes on the actions you take and on the causes that worry you most. I have an advocacy notebook where I keep my government representatives’ phone numbers, blog post ideas, reminders to make those phone calls, and a weekly list of everything I want to do over the next seven days to make the world a better place. It keeps me working (not just ranting).
My advocacy notebook (which is kind of fabulous, if I do say so myself)
- Be strong. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless, especially when one feels as though the government is doing so many irresponsible things at once. Also, plenty of people will criticize you for speaking up, and some of them will be quite mean about it. Difficult as that is (especially from people you consider to be your family and friends), you cannot let them get to you if they are asking you to betray your fundamental beliefs about what is right. This is one of the toughest aspects of activism, but integrity is important. So remain calm and firm when they attack, and be prepared to stand up to them over and over again. We all need to fight this fight day by day. Officials don’t get elected overnight, and we can’t stop their most dangerous actions overnight. Eat well. Rest up. Stay cool. We have work to do--years of it. After all, representative democracy never promised us a rose garden.
3. The Elephant in the Room: The Mixed Blessing of Facebook
Oh, Facebook. We need to talk about social media, and especially Facebook. On other forms of social media (most notably Twitter and Instagram), the newsfeeds are more “in the moment” and less conversational, so avoiding politics is easier. (Those forums are ideal for people who hate political posts.) Also, the less emotionally charged “follow” and “unfollow” functions on those other platforms makes ditching Aunt Misty for her diatribes about President Obama's birthplace much easier. There’s no word like “unfriending” on Twitter or Instagram to make everyone feel uncomfortable.
However, Facebook is a more potentially toxic situation. Let’s examine that and why you should stand strong in using Facebook for advocacy and also in ignoring people who are ticked off at you for it.
- Facebook is a social network, which means that you share the parts of your life you are comfortable sharing in that medium. Now, why sharing “I’m going to call my senator today” is a less acceptable status than “I hate people who don’t refill the toilet paper roll” is beyond me, but it shows the fundamental hypocrisy of some Facebook users: they want full acceptance of everything they post, but they do not extend that privilege to their friends. Those particular Facebookers often have no idea that they’re being hypocritical in that regard, and you can’t fix that. You can only persevere. One of the reasons I maintain separate Facebook accounts (one as a personal page and one as a page for my blog) is to keep political hostility on the blog page. I still post some political items on my personal page every now and then, and sometimes that line is a little fuzzy to draw (politics are personal, after all). Facebook can be wonderful, but it is also a major stressor in trying to navigate balance and standards of conduct. You need to figure out your own balance and standards there.
- Social media is ideal for spreading the word on community action. How do you think that the Women’s March became so huge around the world? Social media. How did so many people know to take action on Betsy DeVos’ nomination for Secretary of Education (when no one has ever cared about the nominees for that job before)? Social media. Post events, speak your mind, and encourage conversation about ideas and issues to the extent that you are comfortable. If your friends are mad at you for discussing things that you care about deeply, are they really your friends? If they can only be rude and insulting when they discuss issues, do they really need to be in your feed? Let them go their own way, and insist that they let you go yours.
- But that may not always work. On Facebook, if you don’t like someone’s behavior, you can “unfriend,” “unfollow,” and/or “hide” posts and/or people, but this has become a psychologically volatile topic for many. Just the word “unfriend” sounds so harsh, doesn’t it? But that tool is there for a reason. If you no longer want to be Facebook friends with someone, you should unfriend them, and it should be that simple, but it’s not. The reluctance to take that step leads to one of the things I do not like about Facebook: passive-aggressive status writing.
- Passive-aggression is one of my least favorite personality characteristics. If someone is angry at someone, I wish the angry one would either deal with the problem directly or let it go. Posting snide statuses in response to something a friend posts is not kind, is not friendly, and is not effective. Many such posts surfaced last Saturday during the March for Women. Passive-aggressive memes and statuses that were attempting to shame anyone attending those marches were everywhere. Those posts usually started with something like, “I don’t usually post about politics, but…” or “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but…” “I don’t mind people speaking their minds, but…” In the words of Dr. Phil, “Once you put that word ‘but’ in there, you were really saying ‘Forget everything I just said.’” More ridiculous were posts equating completely peaceful protests by registered organizations with the previous day’s violent actions by self-proclaimed “anarchists.” Don’t get me started on that logic. The shaming of these posts doesn't work because passive-aggression reads as controlling, manipulative, and cowardly. Avoid that. If you won't take someone on honestly and directly, then don't take them on.
- Then there are the "Can’t we all just get along?” memes, including ones asking that we all be nice to each other no matter what our politics are. I agree with those up to a point. Once someone starts spewing hatred at groups of people or to individuals with whom they disagree, I am not required to play nice any longer, and neither are you. “Play nice” is, by definition, phony, and I won’t be a phony when it comes to standing up for what I think is right.
4. So What Now?
In the United States, we citizens are responsible for our government. We are each 100% responsible for every elected official, every employee, every decision. Those “Don’t blame me; I voted for <insert election loser>” bumper stickers are factually incorrect. We are all responsible for all of it. Not taking action (and especially not voting) doesn’t make you any less responsible for it. Thus, direct action is imperative, especially if you feel like the people in charge are not behaving responsibly or morally, or may perhaps even be leading the nation to tyranny (something I never thought I would live to see in my lifetime).
Every day, the news overwhelms us with information on so many difficult and troubling issues. Tackling all of it yourself is not reasonable. Here are a few steps you can take to manage that deluge of information.
1. Decide which issues you care about the most. Obviously, public education is my priority. Because of recent events, my background in language and communications also compels me to speak out about the deceitful public messages from the Trump Administration and about transparency in government. That's what I can handle right now.
Other issues I care about deeply (the environment, health care, foreign affairs, etc.), are still on my radar and are still something I act on but are not the agenda items on which I focus most of my energy. I hope you will take one of those and run with it. My list alone has me tearing out my hair. (I read an article the other day that advocates not fighting back and lying low during this time because the writer believes that action only feeds our opponents' mindset. I call "Hogwash" on that. No totalitarian government was ever stopped from perpetrating its misdeeds on the populace by having citizens quietly cooperate with it.)
2. Maybe you need a guide to help you. Since the November election, a few guides have come about that can help people organize and understand what to do. Here are some that unapologetically support many issues that I support. If you are of a different perspective, then by all means search for those yourself.
- Together We Will, a local grassroots movement in Harford County that is trying to make the world (and our area) a better place
- Resistance365, a daily list of actions you can take to stop prejudice and hatred in the world
- Rogan's List, the work of a former university librarian who provides you with a daily list of actions to take to fight for good in the world
- The United State of Women Action Network, a group that provides information and action to take on the issue of gender equality (For those who questioned the need for a women's march last week, this would be a great place for you to learn about the experiences of others who have been less fortunate than perhaps you have.)
- Indivisible, a guide written by former congressional staffers that uses the lessons learned from the rise of the Tea Party to advocate for specific actions to stop the Trump agenda
- Your favorite nonprofit, charitable organizations that are promoting a better world through improved health, education, or social justice. Nearly all of them have an advocacy guide to assist you in how to help them further the cause. (Here are some of my favorite causes as examples of those advocacy pages: Episcopal Relief and Development, UNICEF, Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance, International Rescue Committee.)
3. Talk to your friends. Close friends often have similar beliefs about the world. If you and your besties have the same political agenda on specific issues, then divide up the work among you. Maybe one of you commandeers health care, one of you manages education, and one of you handles foreign affairs. You can provide each other with articles and information on your designated topics and let each other know when to call your representatives about upcoming legislation. Pool your people and share the load.
4. Read and learn. One of the most important things you can do in this political climate is to stay informed and buy your news. Online news outlets that still practice actual journalism (New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) charge a fee for news online because they are legitimate news sources, and producing that product costs money. Fake news outlets and other less reputable sources of information are often free as a bird, sucking you in by posting provocative “click-bait” article titles that bring them dollars from online advertisers. To make sure that you are getting reporting that is verifiable and holds itself to established standards of journalism, pay for your news.
(For those who, in response to this suggestion, scream about the "liberal media," scream all you like, but if you hold legitimate news organizations in the same category as Breitbart and even sites like Occupy Democrats, then you know little about journalism. Bias is inherent in every single news report. The degree of bias, the standard for evidence in a report, and the accountability for that information are the differences between legitimate news organizations and fake news purveyors.)
After November 8, one of the first things that my husband and I did was to ensure that our online subscriptions to the Times and the Post were current. The new president has been clear in stating that he thinks freedom of the press is not something he has to enforce, that he will punish news outlets who do not post events as he perceives them, and that he is willing to lie regularly to get the kind of public attention he seeks. Support the journalists who are holding down the fort and calling him on it.
I hope this advocacy primer gets you started on speaking up if you haven’t started already. This nation was founded by citizens who believed that their government was not behaving in a fair, rational, or noble way. Dissent and rebellion are as American as 4th of July parties, and we have the right (as our Founding Fathers so specifically told us) to fight back against tyrannical demagogues and their toadies when they rise to power. Advocacy that is smart, organized, caring, and consistent is the only way through the next four years.
Toughen up, buttercups, and GAME ON.