It happened. I wish I could say that I’m hopeful, but history tells me otherwise. We are not immune to the exploitation of our fears. We are not always so discerning as to parse fact from fiction, especially when the fiction soothes our egos and makes us feel powerful.
We need to find new ways of becoming powerful. If you’re white, like me, I recommend looking in your hometown or your state for the Black and Native women leaders who have been fighting against the worst of state-sanctioned violence for centuries, and then taking your cues from them. Trust me, they’re there. I encourage you to reach out to your friends and families to do the same.
For so long, white folks have only felt power through grinding our boots on the necks of people of color. But power gained through subjugation is an illusion (why else would so many of us continue to feel so impotent?), and it’s our duty to break that illusion. It is our duty to find power in humility, in serving the movement for collective liberation. This is about standing up to a president, yes, but also to the violent history that birthed him and made his hostile takeover possible. It is about standing up against the apparatuses that enable state and/or corporate violence and surveillance against people of color, from the prison-industrial complex to pipelines.
What could be more powerful than disrupting and dismantling the systems that do not serve all of us, and thus cannot truly serve any of us? What could be more powerful than heeding the call of our sisters and brothers on the front lines and saying, “Enough is enough. We are long past due for justice, and now we will take it”? What could be more powerful than building a world where everyone belongs?
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
I never did like Aristotle much, but I have thought about this quote often as I’ve considered what it means to engage in activism or, more broadly, to refuse to collude with systems of oppression. It sounds inane, but the world we live in is held together by billions of small actions every day, most of which feel second nature to us. We have laws and institutions and social norms that dictate our actions, like where we live and who we socialize with and what kind of work we do, and these are steeped in notions of white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, etc. These systems, while institutionalized, would not function if we forged new pathways for action, built new habits rooted in justice, equity, and democratic participation. We can make the world we want to live in by practicing it, every day.
Sarah Kendzior is an expert on authoritarian states, and she rightly predicted the Nectarine Nazi‘s rise when others were casting him aside as a laughable candidate, incapable of winning the presidency. I suggest you heed her words on how to be your own lighthouse so that when it gets harder–and it will get harder–you remember what that safe harbor world you wish we lived in looks like and how to get yourself there.
Community organizer @prisonculture has been sharing invaluable advice for those of us who might be newer to activism, or anyone feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. She recommends choosing 1-2 causes you’re committed to and working as hard as you can on those issues, be they the environment, abortion rights, health care, prison abolition, immigration, etc. There will always be calls to mobilize around issues that might fall outside of your specific area of focus, but are still important to you, and we should remain poised to respond to emergency situations as needed. But if we all have our issues and we commit to fighting, and we commit to encouraging our loved ones to fight for their issues too, we might stand a chance of winning after all.
If you’re looking for guidelines on how to actually do activism and what it looks like, here are a few resources:
- I’ve posted it before, but the Indivisible Guide is a great blueprint for putting pressure on your senators/representatives. It was written by several former congressional staffers and draws from the disruptive tactics the Tea Party used to stymie President Obama’s agenda (though the guide’s authors disavow, you know, the awful hatefulness of the Tea Party).
- Here, another former congressional staffer offers advice on how to get your elected officials to listen to you.
- The folks at Stay Woke/Campaign Zero, including DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzie, both organizers in the Movement for Black Lives, have released a Resistance Manual that allows you to track specific issues in the Minute Maid Mussolini policy agenda and includes some state specific resources.
- Most importantly, keep showing up. Once you’ve decided what issues you care most about, find the people and organizations in your community that are working on those issues. Pay attention to who is in leadership positions–are they white? Male? Cisgender? If you fall into one or more of those categories, consider how you might seek out leaders of color, particularly women and trans/non-binary people, to whom you can offer support. Don’t expect a warm or welcome reception, but listen and show up. Remember that the world we live in requires a lack of trust between communities. Practice being trustworthy to create a world where we can actually rely on each other.
- Finally, here’s a plug for a concrete action you can take today. While millions of people were out in the streets on Saturday for the Women’s March, several women and girls were unable to attend because they are currently incarcerated, many of whom for defending themselves against domestic abuse. Consider buying a gift from this wishlist to let those women and girls know they’re not forgotten, that part of marching in the streets means carrying them with us.
On how quickly institutions and politicians can fall:
- trump’s Team Prepares Dramatic Cuts by Alexander Bolton
- Republican Lawmakers in Five States Propose Laws to Criminalize Peaceful Protest by Spencer Woodman.
- How State-Sponsored Blackmail Works in Russia by Julia Ioffe.
On creating an action plan:
- What Will You Do if donald trump Deports Me? by Juan Escalante.
- Food and More: Expanding the Movement for the trump Era by Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Olivier de Schutter, and Ricardo Salvador.
On the 53% of white women who voted for the Tangerine Terror, and their sisters who didn’t stop them:
- Women Who Voted for trump in Their Own Words by Susan Chira. There is so much disturbing cognitive dissonance in this article that it is deeply painful to read.
- White Women: Where Were You? by Johnetta Elzie.
Speaking of cognitive dissonance:
- Peter’s Choice by Rick Perlstein. Surprise: empathizing with an Orange Crush supporter doesn’t erase their bigotry OR make them believe in facts.
- We See What We Want: On the Ever-Widening Political Divide by Gabrielle Bellot.
- Stop Making Sense: Or How to Write in the Age of trump by Aleksandar Hemon.
- What Do You Do If a Red State Moves to You? by Michael Kruse.
On calling it as you see it:
- Alabama Found Guilty of Racial Gerrymandering by Alice Miranda Ollstein.
- A Handy Guide to Disrespecting Cheeto Satan From Inauguration and Beyond by Luvvie Ajayi.
- Claudia Rankine’s Home for the Racial Imaginary by Lauretta Charlton.
On telling better stories:
- 5 Black Women Whose Stories Are Ripe For the “Hidden Figures” Treatment by Carimah Townes.
On protecting our digital communities and online information:
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 100 Day Plan
- How to Make Sure Your Home Address Isn’t Easily Available Online by Ali Osworth.
To Black women. Angela Peoples in conversation with Brooke Obie (not actually a recording).
To Bryan Stevenson, an attorney who fights against the death penalty and mass incarceration, in conversation with Paul Holdengraber.
Or to the track that is permanently etched in our hearts, no matter what happened on January 20, 2017.
Sarah Kendzior tells us how to understand trump’s power plays.
Omg little kids in China recreating “Honor to Us All” from Mulan. A sweet salve for weary hearts.
Until next time, y’all.