Okay, so I’m going to say some stuff at the start of this post that’s going to be a bit of a drag, but I want you to stick with me. It’ll be worth it, I promise, and there’s no way around what I have to say at the top without going through it. So I’m just going to jump in, and I’ll meet you on the other side. Here we go…
America’s current crisis isn’t one crisis, it’s a hundred.
We’ve got a crisis in access to medical care, and it’s about to get worse. We’re in a deep crisis in mental health care, and again, it’s about to get worse. Ditto access to reproductive healthcare. Two of the last five presidential elections have been won by candidates who lost the popular vote. That’s a crisis. Because of gerrymandering, vote suppression, and voter clustering, elections in the House and Senate and state races are growing less likely to reflect the will of the electorate. That’s a crisis. The interference of American intelligence agencies with the just-concluded presidential election is a crisis, as is the likelihood that we will never get a full accounting of that interference.
Also a crisis: Police violence against people of color, and police impunity when such violence is committed. The Republican Party’s manifest unwillingness to hold the Trump administration accountable for conforming its actions to the constitution. Rising income inequality and persistent poverty. The incompetence and malignance of so many of the administration’s appointees. Their plans to dismantle public schools and universities, undermine academic freedom, and open up the public-money spigot to predatory for-profit colleges. The weakening of international organizations and agreements. The undermining of essential diplomatic relationships. Threats to free speech and scientific research and the arts and the climate.
And of course there’s so much more I could add to the list. (I didn’t even mention the Russians.) No one person can fight all of it.
…you still with me? Excellent. Because here’s the good news:
No one person can fight all of this, but no one person needs to. Wherever you put your effort in the coming days and years, your effort is needed. Whatever work you do to fight this crisis is important work. What’s vital is not what precisely you do, but that you do something—that you pitch in and lend a hand.
It’s easy to imagine that there’s one crucial path to preventing the trainwreck we’re watching unfold, and that our obligation is to find that one thing to do—impeaching Trump, saving ACA, ending voter suppression—and do it. But that’s not how this works. We need to fight on every front at once, because all the work is necessary. That may seem overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be, because again, nobody can do it all, and nobody needs to.
The work is ongoing, on a hundred fronts. All you need to do is be a part of it, somehow, somewhere. Everything helps. Everything is vital.
And here’s some more good news: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you’re someone with loads of organizing experience and lots of resources and a robust network of fellow activists and you see a gap in the existing web of work and you want to jump in and fill it, that’s great. That’s happening all over the place right now, and it’s great. But if you’re not any of those things—if you’re new to all this and want to help but don’t really know what you’re doing—that’s okay too. It’s better than okay, actually. It’s wonderful. Because it means that the struggle to fix what’s wrong with the world has one more person in it today than it did yesterday, and building that struggle is how we win. So hi, and welcome, and thank you!
So how do you get involved if you haven’t been involved before? One of the best ways is to find a group that has been involved before, and help them out. Most of these crises aren’t new, and none of these struggles are. Trump is making things worse, but he hasn’t invented anything. People have been fighting people like him, and stuff like the stuff he’s trying to do, for decades. Centuries. They know how to do this. They’ve been doing it. They’re doing it right now. And they’d love to have your help.
So start brainstorming. Is there an organization you’re a fan of but have never been involved with? Google them, and see if they’re looking for volunteers. Is there a local politician you’ve always admired, or a losing candidate for local office you wish had won? Drop them a line. Are you a union member, but inactive? Get active. Is there a rally coming up in your community? Find out who’s organizing it, and offer to lend a hand with logistics or setup. Get in touch with a local food pantry, or homeless shelter, or teen crisis hotline, or abortion clinic. If you can afford to donate money, do, but while you’re at it, see if there’s a way for you to help more directly.
I’ll have some more concrete suggestions for how and where to lend a hand later, but really, don’t stress out too much about what to do. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of getting off of your butt and doing something. Because it’s by doing something that you’ll really start figuring out how to be of use, and learning how.
Maybe the first place you volunteer will be an amazing and wonderful and empowering experience. Maybe it’ll set your life on a completely new trajectory. But if it doesn’t, it’ll still be worth doing. Because you’ll learn a bunch of stuff by doing it. You’ll learn what you’re good at, and what you like doing, and what kinds of work are sustainable for you. But you’ll also learn a lot about how organizations and movements work, and what makes them succeed or fail. You’ll make connections with other people, connections that may persist after your relationship with the group is over. And crucially, you’ll get out of your comfort zone. You’ll expand your comfort zone. You’ll get more comfortable with not just the work itself, but with the phone calls and emails that put you in the room. You’ll learn how to do all the stuff, both practical and logistical, that’s going to help you be more useful in the next project you take on.
You may have noticed that I’m mostly talking in this post about getting involved with organizations and institutions. There’s a few reasons for that:
The first is that a lot of folks have written good guides to taking individual action, particularly political action. (Here’s a very well-shared one, here’s a great one that was just published today, and here’s an excellent one that leans more toward grassroots social action. This is good too, and you’ll never go far wrong following Woody Guthrie’s lead.) If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably encountered at least one of those guides already.
A second reason is that, as I said at the top of this post, this crisis is going to put extraordinary stresses on regular people and the local institutions that help them get by. Keeping people fed under Trump is part of fighting Trump. Getting people access to birth control under Trump is part of fighting Trump. Supporting teachers under Trump is part of fighting Trump. We need to be doing it all.
A third reason is that working in organizations gives you skills you can’t get anywhere else. You may not be an organizer now, and if you aren’t, you won’t turn into one overnight, but this is stuff you can learn, and one of the best ways to learn it is to apprentice with people who know it.
But the fourth reason is maybe the biggest, and it’s this: We don’t know what’s coming, and we’re going to need each other when it gets here. The worst-case scenarios for democracy and civil liberties in the coming years are really bad, and even if the worst cases don’t materialize, building robust networks of friends and allies in the struggle is going to be vital to winning victories, maintaining our equilibrium, and staying alive. And while I’d be the last person on earth to deprecate the importance of online relationships, we’re going to need to be connected with each other on a face-to-face basis too.
Calling your senator is a good and important thing to do, but it doesn’t make you less isolated. Donating to someone’s Go Fund Me may help them, and society, a lot, but it doesn’t prepare you for the next fight. Tweeting is important—I’m a big fan of tweeting—but in the years to come I’m going to want to have good people nearby as well. I have some now, but I want to have more, so I’m going to go find them and work with them.
I said on Twitter this morning that I think we’re on the cusp of a huge wave of left and liberal organizing in this country. I think we’re going to beat Trump, and I think beating Trump is just the beginning of what we’re going to do. But as I said this morning, it’s going to be hard. We’ve got a long struggle ahead of us, and it’s not a struggle we’re going to win just by calling elected officials.
We need to get together.