What you can do (for my white friends who are asking)
Ideas for 2017 and beyond
Within 48 hours of the 2016 presidential election, I received hundreds of texts, calls, Facebook messages, tweets and emails from white people. The most common themes were terror and determination to do something. Over and over the same question – what can I do?
I didn’t know what to say then, and I barely do now. I’ve talked it over with some close friends. I’ve sought out what other people have to say on the topic. I’ve tried to absorb the wisdom of people who have been fighting a lot longer than me as much as I can. I’ve worked to clamp down the bitterness that you’re just asking now because you finally, finally believe that all the rampant bigotry you ignored your whole life because you felt safe has mutated into a rabid zombie chicken come home to roost (now you’re terrified). I try to keep perspective that every person asking me is hopefully not asking a person or color the same question, which is a good thing.
This is what I have come up with. I hope you find it useful.
It’s a new year, and we’ve got work to do.
(1) Listen to Black women
Okay, fine, you’re here for a more detailed answer. Fair enough.
Trump’s ascension to the presidency is the result of white rage and backlash as well as misogyny (what it’s not is economic anxiety). Black women have been telling us we don’t properly understand either – or their intersections – for a very long time. Just like Black women have been leading social movements (and sending people into fucking space) only to find themselves erased from their work in real time and history books.
Black women were the largest demographic to support HRC. They were the only demographic to vote for Trump in the single digits. Not Black men, not white women, not Asian men, not Asian women, not Latino men, not Latina women. Only Black women.
So, (way past) time to listen up.
(2) Read Black history and socio-political writing
Part of the reason your whole world is fucked right now is because you haven’t been listening to the disenfranchised in America when they talk about their experiences (see above), and you haven’t studied Black history.
If you have not sought out Black history and Black theory that means you more than likely know next to nothing about it, because our education system largely erases that history and those contributions to the cannon (see above).
It means that you don’t see the 2016 election as a continuation of America’s legacy of anti-blackness, the ebb and flow of racial progress followed by racist backlash. You believe this is unprecedented because you haven’t studied the reality of enslavement, how reconstruction gave way to Jim Crow, or how the segregation signage came down but structural discrimination has carried on, not just undaunted but growing stronger and more resilient like a god damn antibiotic resistant virus, since the 60s.
Start reading now. Read to understand how this happened, and read to see how people have always resisted so you can feel fortified to fight today.
(3) Be thoughtful about how you participate
If you are new to this you don’t need to be starting or leading anything, you just need to start showing up, listening, and seeing how you can help.
Pay attention to the organizations that are a good fit, and ones that are meant to be for groups of which you do not share in their identity. You can still support groups you aren’t involved in through donations or attending public events.
(4) Make art, support art
Stories shape the way we see the world. This election, where imagined narratives outweighed evidence and facts, is proof of that.
We transmit stories through art. If you are an artist, you are of the upmost importance to your country right now. Art is inherently political. What stories will you tell? Who will you represent? Who will you lift up? Who will you seek to tear down?
How will you shape the way people think about and understand the world, their place in it, and what they can do?
If you aren’t an artist, how will you support artists? And not just the ones with fancy displays at Barnes and Noble, or the ones featured in magazines. Seek out the indie creators and put some money in their paypal accounts.
Keep creating, and help others to create. Our stories are resistance.
(5) Call things what they are
Facts are fucking facts, not the “other side”.
The alt-right are white supremacists. If you feel the need to use the term because it encompasses the tech aspect of the movement, say something like “the alt-right, who are modern white supremacists,” to mitigate the chance that someone less familiar with the term might not realize what it is.
Grabbing people’s genitals without their consent is sexual assault, not locker room talk.
You can’t have a mandate when you lose the popular vote by three million.
And so on.
(6) Don’t look to Democratic leadership to save us
No, not even Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
There are two things you can always count on Democrats for: to roll over when they should fight, and to treat the people who support them the most like shit.
Democratic leadership will make the mistake of saying this means the party should be less progressive. We cannot let them. Democratic leadership will try to wait and see and play nice with kleptocrats and bigots. We cannot let them.
The only thing this election proves is that Republicans played the long game better – they paid more attention to local elections, the gerrymandered the fuck out of every state they could, and they worked to erode voting rights wherever and however they were able.
(7) Turn off cable news
At the end of the day white people are to blame for Trump. It is us alone. But a real close second is the media.
He descended down that escalator and announced his candidacy with an anti-intellectual illiterate tirade that included blatant racism, and the media ate it up.
They gave him more free press than any other candidate. They treated him like a toddler, to be indulged, never held to task.
They covered Hilary Clinton’s emails more than all. policy. issues. combined.
Trump has made media companies massive amounts of money. For this, they love him. He also threatens them and bullies them. For this, they fear him.
Turn away from cable news. Be damn critical of print news – even the New York Times falls into the category of skewed, trash coverage I detailed above. Find independent journalists with a proven track record, and support them (I’ve followed Sarah Kendzior since Trump announced and that is in part why I have always seen him as a real threat). Let go of your preconceived notions of who publishes critical journalism.
Side note – as you seek out better journalism you will start to see a much, much scarier reality than the one broadcasted on your television. It can be overwhelming. I like this idea shared about keeping a list of what is subtly changing around you.
(8) Reevaluate your commitments.
You can’t do everything.
If you are serious about “doing something” you better be god damn ready to give up some time or some money (probably both).
For about two years I’d been part of a writers group locally. I enjoyed the group. The women are nice, it’s a good professional resource, and it keeps me feeling connected to the local writing community.
This group also happened to meet at the same time as a community group I have always wanted to support, a group that addresses issues that are important to me and has a component so children can participate.
After the election I realized that while I still prioritize my writing, the time I was spending with my writing group (1) was not time actually writing (2) did not reflect my most important values.
So I quit, went to the next community group meeting, and didn’t look back.
(9) Pick a cause.
You can’t do everything. See a theme yet?
Are you freaked out about what this will mean for climate change? Research local environmental groups and see what is going on in your own back yard (I guarantee, something is going on, and it probably is happening the most to communities that are poor and populated by people of color). Are you terrified what this will mean for civil liberties? Get involved with your local ACLU chapter.
What you should not do, especially if “doing something” is new to you, is try to join every organization under the sun. Pick something and work your ass off.
(10) Whatever cause you pick, make sure you give a shit about gerrymandering and voter suppression.
This is your daily reminder that Unpresidented Trump only won because of an effective system where white rural votes are overinflated in power and value while votes in communities with high percentages of people of color, primarily Black voters, are systematically suppressed.
The other side isn’t done. If Jeff Session’s nomination as Attorney General is any indication, they’re just getting started.
(11) Make calls, write letters
Write your representatives (letters are better than emails, which can be sorted into folders with a filtering system, some potentially never even getting read).
Call your representatives.
If you are able, show up and talk to your representatives in person.
If you aren’t sure what to say, turn to google. People create and share call scripts and letter templates. Your local ACLU chapter is also a resource for who to call and what proposed legislation to address.
(12) Get involved locally.
Let’s be real. Progressives have no power in the executive branch, the house, and the senate. The federal judiciary is about to be filled with Trump appointments because Turtle Faced Bitch Ass Mitch McConnell shat on the constitution and blocked President Obama’s judicial nominations.
All we have is local, y’all.
Do you know how your local government works? Know when you can vote for judges again? For school board seats? When is your neighborhood’s next metro council meeting (or your local government equivalent)? Start finding out and get involved.
(13) Confront your loved ones who voted for Trump.
If you cannot confront the people closest to you, what, exactly, are you ready to do?
You don’t have to make a decision over night. I’m better in writing, so I’ve been working on a letter to a family member since after the election numbness passed.
What you want to say and what boundaries you want to set is a deeply personal decision. But saying nothing is not an option. Years of saying nothing helped us get here.
(14) Love the hell out of your people.
There is one thing in the aftermath of the election that stands out as a bright spot in an the endless bleak expanse: the people who are my people. The people who are genuinely there for me, and I for them. The people who care and try to do good. The people who are funny and intelligent and sharp and soft and loving. The artists and the intellectuals and the fighters. The people who make me laugh. These are my people.
Whoever your people are, surround yourself with them as much as possible. Love them harder than you did before. We need each other more than ever.
(15) Remember self-care.
If you think we’re doomed, I don’t blame you. I don’t even disagree with you.
Make time to take care of yourself – your mental and physical health. Even if it’s just staying in and saying no to things so you can recharge (#teamintrovert). While things like pedicures and travel are nice, if money is an issue consider things like walks and hikes, cooking and baking, listening to music, or reading a book from the library in a comfortable, quiet spot.
(16) Keep resisting.
You’ve made it to the end of this rather long list because the question what can I do drove you here.
You need to hold tight to how you feel today, because you’ll need that fire six months from now. Two years from now.
Remember, we didn’t wake up in a different world on election day. The battle isn’t new. If you’re serious about what can I do, the answer is keep fighting, always.
That’s what I told my kid when he looked at me with tears in his eyes on November 9, 2016. I told him we don’t always win, but we always fight.