Like many others, I’m inspired but skeptical of the extraordinary, million-person turn out for the Women’s March on Washington and sister marches throughout the world. As we approached the massive Washington, DC demonstration, a friend asked me, ‘what does marching like this really do? Isn’t it just letting off steam?’ I guess that’s one way of looking at it. But a big march shows the world how much steam there is. Considering we just elected an unqualified, insensitive buffoon to lead our country, showing the world how many people oppose his agenda means a lot. That being said, I hear the critiques. I’m concerned that symbols of the march, like the pink pussy hats felt marginalizing to some trans-folk and people of color. I’m concerned that the march’s platform doesn’t mention war. I’m concerned that like the occupy movement, this movement may fizzle and folks will go home, never to find opportunities for engagement. So before our opportunity for creating the society we want winds up lost in a pile of pink dryer lint, I’ve put together the following list to help those of us who are fired up and ready to go to put all that energy somewhere. Here’s stuff you can do, right this moment to make change, wherever you are, whatever your capacity!
- Decolonize your mind. Get yourself a real education that helps you live as a truly free human being. Reject the education that we are offered that bogs us down in standardized tests and lectures about preparing to be good worker bees with marketable skills. While all of us would probably say that we are against oppressions such as misogyny and racism, what no one ever tells you is how deeply we internalize these negative, divisive ideas from society. Every aspect of our lives, from our relationships in love and the workplace to our beliefs about what we can accomplish in life, are informed by racism, misogyny, heterosexism, Islamophobia and orientalism. Even those of us with the best of intentions can be racist and sexist. We can hurt others and ourselves without even meaning to. It does not matter if you come from a very liberal place like Brattleboro or Whidbey Island and grew up basket weaving while singing liberation songs of the civil rights movement. You too can perpetuate racism. I have been the white person who responds with defensiveness when called out on racism and I’ve learned that this does not help anything. Instead, try and sit with the criticism for a moment before responding, even though it is hard to hear, even if you think it is unfair. Educate yourself by reading writers of color like Baldwin, Lorde, Assata Shakur, Richard Wright, bell hooks, Alice Walker, Frantz Fanon, Angela Davis and many, many others. Listen to critiques of capitalism by Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy. Read critical race theory and queer theory. If you don’t like reading on your own, invite some friends to a book club once a month or once a quarter.
- Know your elected officials up and down ballot and contact them. If you think you are going to bring about a progressive revolution by voting for Jill Stein every four years, think again. One Capitol Hill staffer recommends (and I agree) that you follow your state and local elected officials on social media. Make sure you know their names. Make sure you write them letters, schedule meetings with them about local issues you care about, campaign for them (or for their opponent). Pay attention and hold them accountable. People who run for office locally tend to be among those who run for higher office later on, so knowing them now can mean you have access to them later, when they are serving on Capitol Hill or at higher levels in state government. Also, run for something yourself. Because the past forty years in U.S. politics have been mired in the personal scandals of elected officials instead of their policy commitments, good people are discouraged from running for office. Do it anyway if you feel called to. If you are a solid, progressive candidate, we will have your back. Check out https://www.runforsomething.net/ , an initiative to get millenials to run in down ballot races.
- Green your life. Have you thought about how much waste you create? How much meat you eat? Where your vegetables come from? How much plastic you throw away? Whether you could bike or walk instead of driving? What kind of soap you use to clean your home? By making minor changes around your home, you can help to slow the impact of climate change. And remember, something is better than nothing. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Engage Locally. My amazing cousin Sarah Kane cares passionately about the environment. So, in her hometown of Tacoma, WA, she and a group of committed folk worked to pass a plastic bag ordinance. Now, retail establishments in Tacoma don’t give out plastic bags for free anymore which cuts down on litter and reduces the waste caused by single use shopping bags. An org that does local work in DC and Maryland that I really love is Jews United For Justice (JUFJ), where I served as a Jeremiah Fellow. If you are in DC or Maryland, you have access to paid sick leave and paid family leave at your job because of the work of this organization. JUFJ is currently working on several fair housing initiatives and fighting for a $15 minimum wage, among other things. Get involved in these campaigns, make friends with your neighbors, and make the community you live in now the community you want.
- Engage globally. The United States is a large country flanked by two oceans. For this reason, many of us don’t travel to other countries and don’t speak another language. This results in U.S. citizens not fully understanding the impact our decisions have on the rest of the world. Go to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, or Latin America and learn about the history of U.S. involvement in those regions. Learn about the disastrous human cost of our foreign policy and corporate greed. Remember that who you vote for in the U.S. and whether you choose to engage your representatives, senators, and president has an enormous impact on the lives of people around the globe. Did you zone out watching CNN’s coverage of that trade bill last year? Does Syria confuse you? Do the names Allende and Mosaddegh mean nothing to you? Are you irritated when people start yelling about Israel-Palestine? Familiarize yourself with the world, learn some basic geography even, and you could wind up changing it.
This could be the start of something important. The election of Donald Trump was a jolt, certainly, but now we have an opportunity to move further than we ever have. Let’s make the most of what we’ve got right here and right now. And let’s keep getting into the streets!