Please pitch in

Doing a little City Council lobbying with some other SURJ volunteers and rock star City Councilperson Carlos Menchaca

I’ll have some cool book news tomorrow, but today I want to talk about activism. I went to the Women’s March in NYC the other weekend, and it was so heartening to see so many people out marching in person, and all around the country and the world. We’re going to need that good energy over the next few years.

I sprained my ankle Tuesday night, and was very upset that I couldn’t go and protest with people at airports on behalf of my immigrant friends, and my friends with immigrant parents, some of whom can no longer go home to visit their family. But it was also heartening to see so many people protesting, and it made a difference.

Speaking of which, I haven’t been updating my Making A Difference blog, not because I am not doing anything, but because I am doing too much to write about all of it, and in this case I feel like my effort is better put to doing things than documenting them. I am doing things. Every day.

And I want to ask you to do something as well. I have my own priorities that I’ll go into below, but I want to ask you to step up, and be active for a cause you care about.

It doesn’t have to be the exact right cause. You don’t need to wait for the perfect opportunity to come along. You don’t need to know it will work. It might not, but you will learn something for next time. Or the way it works may be too small and subtle to see now. Try something, see how it feels, and then try something else. Take a little time out to rest, and then help some more. I have listed some suggestions below.

We are going to lose a lot of battles, probably even most of them. But no matter what happens, in two, four, eight years, wouldn’t you rather look around and say you tried to help?

Some things that are keeping me going:

  1. Getting into informal groups, in person and online, with like-minded people. I don’t love Facebook for this, but it’s better than nothing. My more motivating online groups are through Slack. My most motivating groups are my in-person friends who I’ve organized, and who have organized me.
  2. Getting involved in local, in person efforts where I can learn from people who have been active longer than me.
  3. Doing things that get me out of my comfort zone, like going to protests, and doing things that leverage my skills, like project/product managing Sister District
  4. Limiting the amount of time I spend consuming or disseminating bad news rather than trying to do something about it
  5. Looking at good news, like the news collected in this twitter stream.

I used to be scared of activism, because I worried I’d get something wrong. But I’ve decided that I’m just going to keep trying to help where I can. If I get feedback, I will try to do better, but I’m not going to stay away for fear I’m going to get bad feedback. And though I will accept critique from people who have been in the fight for longer than I have, I am not going to pay attention to people standing on the sidelines critiquing those of us who are actually trying to help.

You can’t do everything, but you can do something. I think it helps to commit to a number of hours or number of events you can do in a week or month, make it achievable with your schedule, and do it. If you have more time, do more. I am giving a couple of hours a day to this from hom, and as soon as I am on my feet again, at least two in-person events per month, and likely more.

It also helps to choose one or two issues to focus on. Other people will be focusing on different things, and that’s fine. Our safety is under attack from so many directions, we need people focusing on a wide variety of issues.

Here are my priorities:

  • Helping people in New York, often times following SURJ’s leadership on issues of racial justice, immigrant justice, etc.
  • Getting the GOP out of power as soon as we can, including at the state level, which is where we can fight voter rights infringements. I’m volunteerng with Sister District.
  • Environmental justice–here I’m focusing on the NoDAPL efforts right now, and the plastic bag legislation in New York State

Here are some sources of ideas for things to do if you’re not sure. You can go beyond calling and emailing and signing petitions, though. There is no substitute for being with like-minded people trying to make a difference.

If you’re upset about the way this country is going, if you see people who are hurting, if you are afraid of the future, please do what you can to make a change. Nothing is helped by panic and despair, though it is understandable, and I give into it more often than I like. You are not alone and there are many groups that need you, whatever your skills and abilities. Your country and your world need you.

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