“People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, that’s the time to do something about it, not when it’s around your neck.”
THE 2016 ELECTION was a shock to many, including most humanists. In the immediate wake of Donald Trump’s victory, millions vented their grief, anger, fear, blame, and uncountable postmortems online, on TV and radio, in newspapers, and at dinner tables around the country. Others took to the streets in protest. Yet, while so many had something to say about how or why it happened, few at first offered concrete ideas on what meaningful actions the average citizen could take in response. All that energy without an outlet led to frustration.
So, we at End of the Line Humanists near Chicago started to research and compile a working list of actions that individual humanists or humanist groups could take to make a difference. Little by little, as the reality of Trump’s victory set in, voices in the media, government, the entertainment industry, and elsewhere made their own practical suggestions. The following is an overview of the best of these calls to action.
Join, donate, and volunteer your time to organizations that do good work, especially those whose funding is likely to be cut by the next administration. Look for social justice, women’s reproductive rights, environmental, and secular advocacy organizations in addition to your local food pantry or homeless shelter. Many of these organizations take donations and memberships online. Most need volunteers. One of the best Facebook posts on this subject was by a private citizen who shared that if you make a donation to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name, a certificate of donation will be send to his office at the state house in Indianapolis (you must supply that address). Be creative
Attend a meeting of one of these groups or start your own. Choose a civic-minded group like those above or check out one of the many secular organizations.
Protest, assemble peaceably, and physically show up to things. Focus and ask for one or two specific changes when you do. Milling around before news cameras is not enough, no matter what the size of the crowd. Organize, for example, a march to demand that the lame duck Senate confirm Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. Attend one of the marches planned for January 21, 2017, in Washington, DC.
Stay informed and alert about threats to human rights and secular values, and the current legislation about them. Good places to start are the Action Alerts on Secular Coalition for America’s website and the Take Action page on the American Humanist Association’s website.
Read books and articles on the alt-right, white nationalism, Christian nationalism, and Christian dominionism. Racists are being openly invited into the new administration, and the ultra-religious have been quietly slipping into government positions for years. As AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt reminds us, they will not be so quiet now.
Stay connected with others who share your values. Like Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “We have to be ready to mobilize on specific issues when the time comes.”
Start and sign petitions, such as a ballot initiative to abolish the Electoral College or permanently stop the Dakota access pipeline. There are websites like MoveOn.org where you can sign these types of petitions, or even start your own.
Write or call your congressperson. A letter or email counts more than you think; a phone call is even better.
Write letters to the editors of your local papers, especially if you live in a red state.
Share resources. Make lists of specific books, websites, materials, and ideas and share them with others.
Forward and post ideas, comments, invitations to meet and act, and resources on social media. At one point Michael Moore’s “Morning After To-Do List” was being shared more than 30,000 times per hour.
Support independent and investigative journalism. Subscribe to your local newspaper, news magazines, and National Public Radio. More attacks on the media are imminent. Investigative journalism will be especially important in holding the line on the right.
Come out and connect. If you are secular, gay, disabled, feminist, Muslim, or a member of another marginalized group, make yourself visible if and when it’s safe to do so. It’s been proven that putting a human face on group labels makes bigotry much harder; many people voting to disenfranchise particular groups don’t know anyone in that group. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus has cancelled their tour abroad to visit red states instead, hoping to change American hearts and minds.
Back up symbolic gestures with action. It’s fine to wear a rainbow hat or safety pin on your lapel. It helps show the strength of our numbers. But symbols without actions are sterile. Know what to do when you encounter acts of bigotry.
Back up your optimism with action. We need both hope and positive attitudes. But be the optimist who works to solve problems, not the “everything will be alright” version who trusts that they will be solved by someone else.
Use your talents. Hold a bake sale or garage sale, make pottery and sell it, and so on. Donate the proceeds to causes that support your values.
Make art. Write a poem, novel, play, or song; paint, sculpt, take photographs; design t-shirts, signs, and Internet memes; come up with catchy slogans to further the cause. Make a podcast or YouTube video. Art heals us, inspires us, and moves us forward in times of stress. One of the most visceral offerings of election week was actress Kate McKinnon singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live. (Incidentally, despite its religious references, the song is really about the joy and suffering of being human.) Some loved it, some didn’t, but that short performance dominated the Internet the next day and moved many conversations forward.
Find allies. One of the more specifically useful things online is a two-minute film from VideoRev called “5 Ways to Disrupt Racism.” It was shared on the page of Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented, a liberal Christian Facebook group. We will need to forge alliances with groups who share our values and band together to act.
Listen to your opponents. Reward them with your support when they get things right, even if it’s just from political expedience. Be kind to your friends, family, and neighbors who hold opinions different from yours. Pay attention to their concerns and motivations. But fight normalization of bigotry, misogyny, nationalism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and Christian privilege. Don’t stop speaking up because these horrors are now so prevalent. They are still horrors. Be aware that most politicians who do terrible things have clearly stated their intentions up front. Believe them.
Don’t move to Canada (or another country). If you want to move, as several pundits have suggested, move to a red state where you can organize, advocate, and vote.
Enjoy your life, your family, and your favorite pastimes. Author Garrison Keillor made the point that the power has shifted and some things will be out of our hands. He suggests taking up gardening in the interim. It’s important to remember to experience the freedoms and pleasures we’re actually fighting for while they’re still ours to enjoy. However, it’s easier to do this and to sleep at night if you’ve acted in some capacity on your values. Find that balance and rest up for the big battles. They’re coming.
While few of us can do all these things, all of us can do a few of them to protect our country and change it for the better. The forces on the Right—corporations, Wall Street, fundamentalist religions, and so on—have been patiently, quietly working their plans for years. Those plans are coming to fruition. Let’s not let them reap that harvest.
A version of this list was originally published at the website of the End of the Line Humanists.