In high school, I had a girlfriend who was involved in student government and all sorts of good works. While she paid attention to all that was happening in those years of the early ’60s, she essentially was a moderate–certainly not some movement rebel. Or so we thought… until one lazy, Sunday afternoon. As we aimlessly “cruised the drag” of our small town in a ’54 Chevy, we were paused at a red light across from a root beer stand where a group of teens was hanging out. Suddenly, my “moderate” girlfriend lunged halfway out of the backseat window and SHOUTED: “Wake up and piss, kids, the world’s on fire!”
I stared at her wide-eyed and whopperjawed, wondering where that came from.
I’ve thought of that moment recently as I’ve seen instance after instance of the innate rebelliousness of the American people erupting across the country in surprising ways, unexpected numbers, and with astonishing intensity. No need to wonder where this comes from, however. The outbursts are a spontaneous, rapidly expanding mass rejection of Trumpism.
Our Twitter-president plays to his most frenzied partisans with his daily rata-tat-tat of executive orders and public fulminations–firing at refugees, federal judges, Chuck Schumer, the media, Nordstrom, the EPA, Mexico’s president, Elizabeth Warren, laws that protect consumers from Wall Street greed, Sweden, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and… no telling who’s next. But while some delightedly squeal at his wild moves, many more see Trump as not merely unpresidential, but bullgoose bonkers! And dangerous–recklessly using the enormous power of the presidency as a personal cudgel to attack, stigmatize, and seriously harm individuals, entire religions and races, the Bill of Rights, and our nation’s basic values of tolerance, fairness, and opportunity for all. In a twist of ironic justice, The Donald’s deep darkness has sparked a prairie fire of mass opposition, raging political activism, and movement organizing for the long haul. The rebellion is on!
Many of us Lowdowners are activists, ranging from occasional campaigners to us warped gluttons for full-time, full-tilt punishment. No matter your past involvement, with our ship of state entering dire straits, each of us must do a bit extra. And we Lowdowners, especially, can help focus the anger roiling the countryside by sharing some how-to-make-a-difference tips to friends, co-workers, et al. “Traump-atized” by Washington’s new extremist kakistocracy (government by the worst). One longtime Lowdowner emailed: “It is time to have an issue of the Lowdown devoted to what it means to be an activist, how to get involved … how to be most effective.”
Right. After all, millions of our neighbors have long been disengaged, viewing the political scrum as somewhere between irrelevant and repugnant. But, suddenly they’re back–alert not only to Trump, but to their congress critters and to that menagerie of freaky, rightwing corporate mutants that Trump-Pence has put in charge of our government. In January, one red-district Texan told a reporter: “I think of politics the way I think of my car. I just want it to run [without my spending] a lot of time.” Only a few weeks into the Trump-Does-Washington spectacle, he’s now learned a fundamental lesson: “You get the politics you work for.”
Exactly. And it’s not just a one-time, resist-and-dump Trump campaign we’re undertaking, but the mobilization of a long-term grassroots movement to reject the systemic corporate takeover of our elections and government at every level, from our local school boards to our White House. Simply ousting Trump won’t do that. The job, then, is as simple as it is difficult: To have a People’s government, We the People must build it. Democracy requires us common people to join together, with each of us doing as much as we can, as strategically as we can, for as long as we can.
To help people find their way into (and their comfort level within) this collegial community of democratic activists, three longtime progressive agitators/organizers on our Lowdown team–Laura Ehrlich, Jay Harris, and Deanna Zandt–offer basic tips and tidbits. Please read, share–and send your own activism tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you find these useful, we will do a “part 2.”
Help all Americans vote
BESIDES GERRYMANDERING and campaigns funded by right-wing billionaires, eligible voters in many states face a barrage of recent laws that make voting more difficult. The Washington Post found:
“a significant drop in minority participation when and where these [Voter ID] laws are implemented. … Strict ID laws mean lower African American, Asian American and multiracial American turnout. …White turnout turn-out is largely unaffected.”
With no evidence that voter fraud is a problem, the intent of these ID laws is clear: to discriminate against Democratic-leaning voters. In his 2016 campaign for a Missouri Senate seat, Jason Kander witnessed the extent of voter suppression: Beyond the impact of the state’s strict Voter ID law, was the chilling effect of stationing police outside polling places in minority neighborhoods. Kander has vowed to do something about it, recently forming Let America Vote (letamericavote.org) and working with such groups as iVote (ivoteforamerica.org). Sign up to find out how you can help.
All politics is local
THE INDIVISIBLE GUIDE, posted last December, quickly went viral among people eager to effectively resist Trump’s picks and policies, expose his conflicts and lies–and make their anger count. Written by former Democratic Congressional staffers who had watched local tea-party activists block much of Obama’s agenda, the guide has spawned upwards of 6,000 groups in all 50 states. Find it at: indivisibleguide.com. One key message: When it comes to getting congress critters to pay attention, local matters. Indivisible co-founder Sarah Dohl, recently told Salon: Unless you “live in the 1st District of Wisconsin, Paul Ryan doesn’t work for you, and he does not care what you have to say.” But since the first concern of most “electeds” is getting re-elected, if you are his constituent, Ryan cares. A lot. After a busy first month of anti-people, corruption-hiding legislation, many congress critters scheduled town hall meetings during the recent recess, and they caught an earful–if, indeed, they even showed up. The Guide provides helpful detail about how to make your point in town halls, do outreach to local press, take advantage of local public events (be “recognizable and attention-getting”), visit district offices (be polite and respectful), and make coordinated calls.
Run for office
“RUN FOR OFFICE?! ARE YOU NUTS?,” you may be thinking at the image of being “colleague” to some of our current officials. “Why would I jump into the swamp?” Well, if we want to get the ugly out, good folks need to dive in–and win.
Win one for “the little ‘fellers.” The great progressive Paul Wellstone used to say he “wasn’t for the Rockefellers, he was for the little ‘fellers.'” Wellstone Action, founded after the untimely death of the senator and his wife Sheila, is advancing their work by offering trainings to aspiring movement leaders. In 13 years, they’ve trained thousands and guided many winning state and local campaigns. Wellstone Action (wellstone.org) teaches how to work on campaigns, launch ballot initiatives, do community organizing, use digital tools, and run for office. Camp Wellstone is “open to anyone interested in gaining practical skills in progressive political action.” In 2016, 55% of participants got scholarships.
Bridge the gender gap. EmergeAmerica proudly focuses on electing progressive women–and with good reason. At 19.1% women in the US House, the US ranks 104th in the world in the percentage of women in our national legislature–behind, among others, United Arab Emirates, China, and Pakistan.
Working in 17 states, Emerge’s (emergeamerica.org) seven-month (70-hour) programs have trained more than 2,000 women to run for office and with eye-popping results: 52% of Emerge graduates have run or been appointed to local boards or commissions, and of those who ran, 70% won, helping build the bench for future progressive wins. And 39% of Emerge alums are women of color.
She Should Run Incubator (incubator.sheshouldrun.org) provides less intensive online courses offering “thoughtful guidance and support” for women and girls.
Campaigns end, revolutions don’t. The group Our Revolution grows out of Bernie Sanders’ stunning, grassroots campaign for president. It provides Sanders-inspired activists with the “digital tools, organizing knowledge and grassroots support” to succeed. In 2016 OR-endorsed races won 59 of 106 candidate elections and 23 of 34 ballot initiatives. Since the election many people have filled out OR’s questionnaire.
With volunteers around the country eager to replicate that success, Our Revolution is coming to a neighborhood near you.
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTIONS you can bring to your local activism is your creativity. Bring folks together and–while you’re getting your point across–keep the juices flowing. Enjoy your time together. This work takes time, and it helps when you’re doing it with others. Some ideas:
Postcard campaigns. Postcards are an inexpensive way to let your voice be heard in both support and opposition.We love that Lady Parts Justice League’s #ThankBank project sent thousands of cards to independent abortion providers after the mass shooting attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015. Or, like the campaign to send the White House postcards addressed to “President Bannon,” you can flood people you want to pressure. Cards can be better than letters (envelopes often go through security) and get much more notice than online petitions. Gather friends, beverages, food and music for an evening literally addressing your issues together.
Movie nights. Films have long been a powerful way to help people understand issues, history, and context. Streaming services make it simple to host a movie-viewing party in the comfort of your own home. Social justice organizations often create discussion guides such as the one for Ava DuVernay’s 13TH from the Center of Concern (coc.org).
Living room conversations. The most effective way to understand different viewpoints is face-to-face conversation with folks who have different points of view. That may seem scary, so organizations like Living Room Conversations (livingroomconversations.org) are helping people get started. They’ve got guidelines and resources on their website for hosting meaningful conversations. It’s also an open-source project, which means you can contribute what you learn from your own events, too.
Potlucks with new friends. It’s also important to make time for breaking bread with allies outside “official “activist goings-on, so consider holding a potluck dinner. Local chapters of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which supports and organizes white people interested in issues of race in America, host potlucks all over the country, and they’ve shared resources to help get you started: showingupforracialjustice.org/house_meeting
Make art, not war. Got some extra creative juice? Use it to bring others along. Musicians and comedians, poets, and performers organize your people into a show to raise awareness and money for a cause. Visual artists and crafters can create work with great messages, like “Immigrants Welcome,””Black Lives Matter,” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” to support the resistance.Want to get folks together while making stuff? Work on a mural in your community.
Protest shouldn’t be boring. Tired of the same old rallies and marches? Spark up your resistance! Host a glitter bomb dance party, like the one LGBTQ activists threw outside VP Mike Pence’s DC home. People frustrated with New York City’s cabaret laws under Mayor Giuliani–he wanted to stop people from dancing!–once surrounded City Hall and did the hokey pokey. Artists at the Women’s March on Washington built their own human walls against misogyny–check it out at brickxbrick.org.
REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS CAVING TO TRUMPISM have been stunned to return home and find throngs of furious constituents getting all up in their grills. Many of these pusillanimous pols have responded by hiding–literally refusing to appear in public. In Texas, for example, Rep. Roger Williams is never seen in Austin where he is likely to be called to account. This year, though, previously quiet constituents have been in an uproar over Trump’s multitude of authoritarian, antipeople actions. Roger, one of the dimmer bulbs in Congress, has been a tail-wagging puppy for any madness Trump dishes out, so folks would like a word with their “representative.” So far, though, no show.
Enter Julie Gilberg, a local artist and volunteer with Indivisible, the innovative nationwide coalition helping political activists make an impact. Gilberg produced a marvelous sendup of a “lost dog” flier, complete with photo of the smiling, droopy-eyed congressman. Humor is our friend, possessing more sting and reaching far more people than the loudest diatribe.
Resistance is not enough
IN 2010, WHEN TEA-PARTY REPUBLICANS–fueled by million- aires unleashed by Citizens United–took over many state legislatures, they controlled once-every-decade Congressional redistricting. Ever since, the resulting gerrymandering has hamstrung many districts and progressive candidates. (In 2016, with not quite half the national vote, Republican Congressional candidates still took 55 percent of House seats.)
The 2018 and 2020 races for governors and state legislatures will establish how Congressional districts are drawn for the next decade and profoundly shape what We the People can achieve far into the future. So even while pushing back against the immediate threats of Trumpism, progressives must also build toward these critical, turning-point elections. And start now. Among other hurdles are the Koch brothers’ money and their Americans for Prosperity, which claims nearly 1,000 staff in 36 states and 3 million “activists.” At Movementvote.org, progressives can support national and local grassroots groups– many led by millennials and/or people of color–organizing for current resistance and future elections. The Movement Vote site says,”Each one of these groups does a lot with a little– and has a track record of success.”