On the virtue of good habits, rather than anger and dramatic causes, for sustaining democracy.
If you wait for big motivating problems before acting, you’ll be comparatively ineffective both because of waiting too long and your own lack of practice engaging with politics, which makes you susceptible to those who would prey on your anger and disappointment.
Great musicians spend years learning to play, great writers spend years learning to read and write and tell stories. We love the myth of immediate success out of nowhere but the truth is that stuff takes work, stuff takes practice, and anyone willing to put in the work can gain some level of accomplishment.
This is advice that I hope you’ve heard before, but it applies to more than just personal success.
There are forces in the world that would like you to believe you are powerless, that your actions don’t matter. That your votes, your donations, your calls, your protests, don’t matter. That truth doesn’t matter. That you can trust no one, not even yourself, that all choices are equally bad, the system is broken, everyone is corrupt, you can’t change anything, there are forces in the world that are actively trying to manipulate you into giving up your power.
But you are powerful, it just might take a little bit more time and effort than you were hoping for. Let no one convince you that your opportunity to use your power comes only once every four years, and only if the right candidates are presented to you.
There are those who would love to force Trump voters, many of whom were reluctant to vote for him, to become Trump supporters, pushed to the extreme by their constantly having to defend their own choice and by extension Trump himself, even as they start to realize he’s not going to keep his promises to them. I know there are those who voted for Trump and are already acting on their concerns about him, because voting for someone doesn’t have to mean supporting everything they do until the next election. You can vote for a flawed candidate and then work on the flaws.
I know people whose support for Bernie Sanders was both their first real political action, and their last. There are forces who would convince you not just that his loss was unfair but that the answer to this unfairness is to withhold your participation, to somehow punish the system by standing idly by, watching and criticizing your own democracy for making mistakes it could have avoided with your help, could still avoid with your help. What do you think you’re left with when no one participates in a democracy?
Question the motives of those whose cynicism promotes only inaction, those whose moral posturing demands only inaction, those who would tell you the way towards positive change is to do nothing. Be wary of arguments with self-selected strangers who engage with you solely for the purpose of disagreeing with you and telling you to stop. There are plenty of good faith discussions to be had with those around you, your neighbors your friends your family your community, who you might disagree with on some things or have different knowledge and experience but you can find common ground and be accepting of each other’s humanity and work together. Spend your time with those people, not with those who would target you as an opponent to be beaten.
Remember there is such a thing as truth and reality. Remember that in the US we have the constitution, a foundational document that gives us common ground. It is not partisan to denounce unconstitutional actions. Everyone, including the electoral college, has plenty of good reason to reject Trump given his disregard for the constitution, his conflicts of interest and the conflicts of the people he’s choosing for his team, he never had strong Republican support, doesn’t have popular support, and is on track to be very destructive if people don’t step up and do more than just criticize each other.
By the way, the electoral college doesn’t vote until December 19th, and technically they can vote for whoever they want. And I mean anyone; a couple electors this year say they’re voting for Mitt Romney. Electors are chosen by the state’s winning party, and it’s possible that enough electors will stick to their morals and deny Trump a majority, in which case the vote would go to the house of representatives meaning your congressperson might be deciding this election. Maybe not, but there have been elections where entire states worth of electoral voters got together and voted for someone else. So there’s something you could practice engaging with politics about, whether it’s because you do want the electoral college to vote for someone else or don’t want them to or maybe you don’t like the idea of the electoral college altogether. If you don’t like the system, our system was built to be able to change itself, but only if you participate in it, and for those who work better under a deadline, it’s not so long before the December 19th electoral vote.
If you don’t think your actions can immediately cause the change you want, that’s fine, not all actions have immediate results, or obvious results. But participate anyway. Politicians can safely ignore those who don’t participate or who participate only once and then get discouraged. And if enough people don’t participate, they can ignore all of us, and that is how democracy fails. There are other powers in the world who would like to see us fail in exactly that way. But participating in politics gets easier with practice, and it’s something that everyone can learn how to do.
Step 1: Make a list. Paper, digital, whatever, give it a fancy title, this is the list that you can then populate with other actions you might like to take, and the goal is to do one or more of these actions… every Tuesday during lunch, for example, just for 5 or 10 minutes, during Action Time. It’s easy when it’s a habit, and if you can find a buddy to team up with for Action Time, that’s a good step 2.
The great thing about having a list and a time to act on it is that instead of constantly worrying about the state of the world or stressing over the news while you’re supposed to be doing other things, you can just put your worry on your list and get back to what you’re doing until action time.
Here’s some things on my list:
1. Call my Congresswoman to congratulate her on being elected House Minority Leader. I’ve called her before about other things but this is partly because it’s easy practice making congress calls and partly getting another call on the books so that congress knows that this citizen is paying attention. I will probably reach a very nice intern who will be happy to hear the support and to pass along my comments and if they have time I’ll ask them if there’s anything else that should be on my radar and they will be thrilled to tell me all about important political happenings that don’t reach tend to reach the headlines and we’ll both end the conversation happier and better informed.
2. Email my friends in Oklahoma and Texas and ask if they would make a call to their local politicians about women’s rights, this is on the list because I saw some scary stuff in the news that I wanna do more than just be mad about.
3. Look up my local party headquarters and events, I’ve been meaning to check out what’s up around here and maybe there’s an event I’d be interested in, maybe not, I dunno.
4. Something about Education? I’m not sure what yet but I do tend to get dragged into education policy discussions and I’d like to help counter the damage DeVos could do to public education.
5. Call state governor and local politicians expressing a hope that our supermajority of Democrats will play nice with our state Republicans rather than getting infected by Trump drama partisanship.
6. Subscribe to a local news source. Because reading and supporting real journalism that answers to subscribers, not advertisers or clicks, is essential for holding politicians accountable, fighting corruption, and staying informed, and I’m not paying for anything local enough to care about my local politicians right now.
What else? If I lived in a Red state, I’d be calling my state’s Republican party to ask that our Republican electors vote for anyone but Trump. If I lived in Louisiana I’d be trying to get everyone around me involved in the current senate race. If I lived in the UK, I’d be making calls regarding the Brexit negotiations, if I lived in France or Germany or any other democracy I’d be paying attention and taking action while I still can. You can call with friends, letters are good too, you can gather a group and help each other, you can have a letter writing party, you can call on speakerphone with a friend who’s better at phone calls than you are, with practice it’s just as easy to complain to your representative as it is to complain to your friends on social media though you can keep doing that too as long as you’re not doing that exclusively.
It’s good to have a long list you can work on even just for five minutes a week, avoiding the drama and pressure of putting all your hopes in one giant push for one person, one big rallying cry for the most dramatic political thing ever. Changing the world doesn’t require stress and anger and all-encompasing negative emotions. It’s a skill that takes regular practice just like everything else in life so make a list, schedule in some Action Time, and relax. We got this.
If you’re in the US, find out who your representatives are here: http://www.whoismyrepresentative.com/
You can search their name to find out more about them and their positions, or you can just call them and ask!
Hank Green’s excellent video about how to write a letter to your representative, with examples and info in the description: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mp4h-3vQafk
There’s tons of videos on the internet of people calling their representatives, so you can get an idea of what it’s like.
Want to know more about the electoral college? Mickeleh’s video series on the electoral college has uncommon depth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zac-2V7CTs He argues against the idea that they should change their votes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2vV9xBOSmY
UK person? Rosianna on post-Brexit political participation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLxzv6HmyHk
The internet is full of information for wherever you are and whatever you care about. Also talk in person to friends, family, and people in your community, to learn what they know and help each other take action!