From Resistance to Insistence: How to be effective advocates, part 2
10 min read
A majority of the public almost always blesses new presidents with a honeymoon gift. In a gesture of patriotic fairness, even people who voted against the incoming chief say, “Okay, we’ll give you a chance. We’re hoping you’ll be better than we thought.” is grace period usually lasts a while before the public starts to sour. As New York Times columnist Charles Blow noted, our last five presidents enjoyed lengthy periods in office before a majority of Americans registered disapproval:
Ronald Reagan–2 years
George W. Bush–3 years, 3 months
George H. W. Bush–3 years, 1 month
Barack Obama–1 year, 3 months
Bill Clinton–1 year, 7 months
Enter The Donald, whose policies, personality, moral principles, and assorted psychoses have rocketed him through the shortest honeymoon ever: His performance achieved majority disapproval in … just 8 days!
Some politicos grow in high public office. Some just bloat. Trump earned his precipitous slide in public opinion by putting bloat on spectacular display from Day One. He has proven routinely irrational, plunging into prolonged fits of petty paranoia, succumbing to delusions of imperialist grandeur, conjuring enemies, spouting absurd tales fabricated by right-wingnuts, denying facts, and being pathologically addicted to lying. His explosive, chaotic behavior in public and on Twitter can no longer be passed o as “Donald being Donald.” Let’s face the obvious: The president of the United States is deranged. And dangerous.
But the “sane” ones are dangerous, too. V.P. Mike Pence, Attorney General Je Sessions, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–along with the whole GOP leadership, a sycophantic crew of advisors, and a voracious army of corporate lobbyists–all know Trump is mad, but they cynically and selfishly feed on his morally bankrupt narcissism. And don’t forget the little group of feckless Democrats in Congress who prefer appeasement to confrontation, hoping they can gain by finding common ground with the madman.
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So, craziness rules. And in such times, We the People must rise. Indeed, multitudes of ordinary folks are doing just that from coast to coast. Better yet, the spontaneous nation- wide resistance to the Trumpification of America is solidifying into a widespread grassroots insistence on a genuine populist agenda–one rooted firmly in our people’s democratic ideals of economic fairness and social justice.
The most fruitful place to support this movement is right where you live and work. A feisty, creative civic spirit is igniting old and new activists in nearly every zip code. Whether teaming up in such upstart coalitions as Indivisible and Our Revolution, or with more established groups such as People’s Action, millions of Americans are steadily and successfully building political power in their home bases. This is politics that matters– a winning, people’s politics. To help foster and expand it, Team Lowdown presents Part Two of our tips & tidbits for effective organizing and mobilizing. (You can check out Part One here.)
WANT MORE IMPACT? ACT LOCALLY.
“THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY” has never been truer. While the shiny circus that is our national politics is mesmerizing (especially now), local and state legislation often has greater impact on our day-to-day lives. And building connections and strength in our local communities is fundamental to success in larger arenas. For those of you frothing at your screens, there is one significant catch: Local efforts don’t usually make it into the theater of cable news or other mainstream national media, so you’ll need to build your own networks of reliable local news and attentive neighbors to keep up with what’s really happening around you.
Support local journalism. Local journalism has suffered greatly from the crunch on media business models, and newsrooms are emptier than ever when it’s most critical to employ trained journalists to cover local issues. Josh Stearns, of the Public Square program at the Democracy Fund, advises (more like, pleads): “Subscribe to your local newspapers, donate to nonprofit newsrooms, become a member at your public broadcasting stations, and support the local businesses that advertise on community news sites. Build a relationship with your local journalists, give them feedback, tell them what you’d like to see covered, share their stories.”
Go to school (boards). Look to school boards, neighborhood associations, community boards, and town and city councils for opportunities for positive, local change–and for trying out your action chops. Find out and share their meeting dates, what they’re considering, how to register public comments, and how to put items on the agenda. Here’s what Deanna Z. told her parents when they wanted to lobby their town council and organize their neighborhood against a proposed commercial development. You can adapt it with your particulars:
Make up a flyer and distribute to your neighbors. Include a brief description of what’s happening; the date, time, and location of the next council meeting; and contact info for the organizing point person.
Ask anyone who responds to attend the meeting and possibly to speak.
Ask the clerk of the council the process for getting to speak or adding public comments to an agenda item. Gather your group before the meeting and confirm who will speak and on what topic.
After the meeting, follow up: For instance, call council offices to schedule in-person meetings. (Small groups are often more effective than one-on-one meetings, so see who else can join you.) Ask people to call their reps. Provide phone numbers and suggest talking points.
Another reason to support local bookstores. Local, independent bookstores (that survived the Amazon assault) can be vital community hubs. These rabble-rousing independents–and many public libraries, too–are hosting lectures, meet-ups, skill shares, and more. Share your favorite local spots with: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE (NEW) LIFE OF THE PARTY
There’s one good thing you can say about the Democratic Party: It’s there.
Unfortunately, the party of New Deal populism is no longer “there” in the sense of being the trusted political mechanism of, by, and for working-class and poor people. Over the past 35 years, some establishment office holders and high-dollar donors have transformed it into an exclusive club, leading to the atrophy of the “big-D” Democrats’ extensive network of “little-d” democratic committees (including hundreds of local precinct committees that connected to regular people). Simultaneously, the Dem’s elitist hierarchy was surrendering the party’s purported egalitarian values and integrity to the corrupting chase for corporate dollars.
Why bother messing with such a vacuous political entity? Literally, because it’s there. Even though the party has long been run by insiders as a top-down operation, its old, bottom-up organizational structure of precinct, city, county, district, state, and national committees is still in place, and all its members are elected by majority vote. With a focused effort, grassroots people them- selves could begin winning these slots and start democratizing the Democratic Party.
One group is already moving on this: Our Revolution, sanctioned by Bernie Sanders to continue organizing the progressive, political rebellion ignited by his presidential campaign. Through transformtheparty.com, Our Revolution is turning on and turning out hundreds of Berniecrats to compete against the old guard. And they’ve already won party positions in Nebraska, Hawaii, California, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, and Washington state.
Message: It’s one thing to be mad at old-line, don’t-rock-the-boat Democratic officials, but a lot more satisfying and productive to become an official yourself.
FRACKING. While national environmental attention focuses on high- profile horrors like the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, local groups have made big advances in limiting fracking in their regions and states. Bucking conventional wisdom that it would be impossible, New York state banned fracking after a state-wide coalition of local organizers coordinated their advocacy efforts. In Maryland, a current moratorium on fracking ends in October, and residents are already rallying to confront state legislators gearing up to vote on a renewal.
REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS. While Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land (so far), legislation in many states is making it harder and harder for women to get needed care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 344 state-level restrictions on abortion access were passed between 2011 and mid-2016. Support local abortion providers and advocate for state reforms with Lady Parts Justice League: ladypartsjusticeleague.com
SANCTUARY CITIES. With the attack on immigrants and refugees coming from the very top, localities are taking it on themselves to defend their people. Five states and more than 600 counties limit cooperation with federal agents engaged in immigration enforcement. In the Lowdown’s hometown of Austin, Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez are refusing to use the county’s jails as detention centers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (In retaliation for Austin’s rebellion, right-wing Texas legislators have pushed through budget cuts for the county–including slashing funds supporting domestic violence victims and veterans.) Religious congregations and groups like the Austin Sanctuary Network and the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia are standing up to the threats, providing actual sanctuary to people threatened with deportation and/or lobbying to protect them.
DIGITAL TOOLS ARE A MEANS to an end and not the end itself, so be clear about your goals. Our interweb emissary, Deanna Zandt, reminds us that “the internet won’t fix politics, but we will, and the internet can help.” Some pointers:
Be smart about online petitions. The Powers That Be often don’t give two hoots about internet petitions, no matter how many people sign them. But organizations often use petitions to identify and educate people interested in issues or movements and to build lists for fundraising and future alerts.
You’re not changing anyone’s mind. The value of the internet now is mostly in building a community of like-minded folks to take action–e.g., state and local Indivisible Facebook groups. You can also engage people with opposing viewpoints, but while you’re unlikely to change minds in cyberspace, challenging wingnuts can signal them and others that you’re not swallowing right-wing BS.
Meanwhile, local, in-person discussions with people who hold different views can be constructive and strategic, establishing con- tact and laying the groundwork for potential alliances when issues cross ideological lines (like when Trump voters start losing access to affordable health care).
And remember: People in your network at higher risk for targeting by authorities and hackers need greater privacy and security. Consider the vulnerable and act accordingly! No matter what pre- cautions you adopt, assume all internet communication is public
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
THE TERM “SELF-CARE” is a bit overused, but the principle is spot on: Caring for ourselves, our families, and each other while we work for change will carry us farther. We love this quote from Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self- preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Political change is hard, often frustrating work. But you’re part of a community, so others can pick up the work and run with it when you need a break. You can jump back in when someone else needs a pause. Building a people’s democracy isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Here are a few suggestions from TheTempest.co: Read a fun book, take a hot bath, turn off all your devices for an afternoon (or a day!), get outside and take a walk, call an old friend and just catch up, bring together some good friends for a meal or a party … and get some sleep. However you recharge yourself, you’ll be happier and more effective when you return to the action.
Our thanks to Bob Wells and The Big Bendoski
IN TODAY’S UPSIDE-DOWN MEDIA WORLD–a universe in which many publications that feature truth-telling reporting are struggling for survival–The Hightower Lowdown has been able to thrive and grow thanks to the support of you Lowdowners. Your subscriptions form the core of what it takes to keep us kicking, and many of you also make generous donations over and above. It all helps extend the work we do: spreading word about anti-democratic crimes and corporate rule, and lifting up the growing people’s rebellion that is taking them on. Thank you for your support. We are very grateful.
In this issue we’d like to say a special thanks to two long-time readers who remembered the Lowdown with gifts in their wills: Robert J. (Bob) Wells and Lawrence (Larry) Bendoski. We didn’t know Bob or Larry personally, so we’re especially touched that such a deep connection was made through Hightower’s writing and commentaries. We’ll honor their memories by putting their bequest gifts to immediate use!
Lowdowners, if you share Bob and Larry’s commitment to real democracy and authentic people’s media and would like information about how you can leave a gift in your will, please write to publisher Jay Harris (email@example.com).