What Can We Do?

WHAT CAN WE DO? In the face of the Donald Trump regime, the collaboration and capitulation of the Republican-majority Congress, the threats to the US system of checks and balances, and the rise of the hatefully bigoted, white-supremacist hard Right, many people are feeling disheartened. They want to resist, but don’t know how—and they’re pessimistic about whether they can make a difference.

If that’s you, I have some good news: resistance is not futile. Resistance can be highly effective. And if you don’t know how to resist, I have a few specific, practical ideas. Not all of us can do all these things, of course, and we shouldn’t: we don’t want to burn out. But if we can do some of them—if each of us has the time, budget, ability, and security to do even one—that’s how we’ll build a resistance.

For starters, we can call our elected officials. Even if you  think you know how they’re going to vote on something, call anyway. It does make a difference. And you don’t need to give a big speech: all we need to say is, “My name is X, I’m a constituent of Y in the Z ZIP Code, I’m calling to urge the Senator /  Congressperson / Governor / Mayor / City Council member to do this thing.” And to make it easier, we can put the numbers of our elected officials in our phones. (Get all the numbers: senators and representatives have regional offices as well as DC numbers.)

We can share calls to action on social media: spread the word about demonstrations, meetings, fundraisers, calls for expertise, calls to contact our elected officials. Even if we can’t take those actions ourselves, we can get the information to people who can.

We can donate money to organizations involved in resistance. The ACLU is an obvious choice, and we should also consider smaller organizations, local organizations, and organizations supporting people who will be most vulnerable under the current regime. (Don’t forget the American Humanist Association!) And if we don’t have money but we do have time, we can volunteer. If we have expertise, we can think about how to share it, or ask organizers if they need it. And we can ask organizers what kind of help they most need.

We can enjoy our lives as much as possible. Oppressors want us to be beaten down, despondent, broken. Pleasure brings back some of our power. And for some of us—for queer people wanting queer rights, for instance, or anyone wanting reproductive rights—our pleasure is explicitly being oppressed. For people in a resistance movement, pleasure is resistance. So we can pursue pleasure, publicly and defiantly, or privately for ourselves and the people we love. I’m not suggesting we all put on a happy face all the time: for many of us, it’s important to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation, and not try to suppress our rage or fear. But when pleasure is possible, we can let ourselves feel it.

We can learn history. We can learn the history of fascism, white supremacy, and extreme right-wing movements, learn how to recognize them and fight them. We can learn the history of resistance movements in the past, what worked and what didn’t. We can remember history, so we won’t be condemned to repeat it.

We can respect other people’s activism, even if it differs from ours. If we think X is important, we can say, “Hey, X is important too, let’s not forget about it” instead of, “Why are you fools paying attention to Y? You’re being played! You’re missing the big picture! You’re wasting your time!” We’re coping with a lot of issues: immigration, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, racist policing and prisons, constitutional violations, gross overreach of the executive branch, the loss of checks and balances—more than I could possibly list here. They’re all important, they’re all connected, and we need to resist on all fronts. It makes no sense to scold people for resisting the wrong facet of fascism—and it can be extremely discouraging, especially to people doing activism for the first time. It’s less likely to draw people to your cause, and more likely to drive them out of activism altogether. Resistance to fascism is most effective when it’s rapid, widespread, highly visible, and persistent. That’s what we have now. Don’t squelch it.

There is one exception to this. It’s worth listening to marginalized people, the people who will be most damaged by this regime, when they say our activism is ignoring them. In other words, if black people are saying, “Hey, that Women’s March was awesome, it’d be great if some of you showed up at a Black Lives Matter protest,” that’s worth listening to.

Speaking of which: we can listen to marginalized people when they tell us how this regime will damage them and when they identify what kind of support they need. As my friend and colleague Heina Dadabhoy says, if we’re sincere about wanting to learn from marginalized people, we need to treat them as experts and teachers. We need to approach them with humility; ask respectful questions instead of arguing or trying to trip them up; not talk over them; look up the things or people they suggest we look up; not pester them when they’ve decided it isn’t office hours and they don’t want to teach right now; and sit quietly with the discomfort when they say things that are hard to hear. We can listen: stop talking, and really listen. And we can boost their signal. We can share their voices on social media, and when we hear bigotry around us, we can speak up.

If we’re white, we can show up at demonstrations by and for black and brown people. Demonstrations are less likely to get hit with arrests and police brutality when a bunch of white people are taking part in them.

And speaking of demonstrations: yes, they’re effective. They tell our elected officials what we think and how we’ll vote; they inspire and embolden other activists; they encourage and support the targets of oppression; they provide a place for activists to connect, network, and find other opportunities for activism. And importantly, they tell the rest of the country what we think. People are more likely to believe what others believe, so when people see persistent, widespread opposition to a regime or a law or an idea, they’re more likely to question it. Of course demonstrations aren’t enough by themselves—but that’s true for literally any form of activism.

We can go to local political meetings. We can run for local office. If our cities are sanctuary cities, we can support that and ask our local officials to strengthen that status; if our cities aren’t sanctuary cities, we can ask our local officials to make them so. We can talk with our friends, neighbors, colleagues, families: push back when they say bigoted things, and make the case for resistance. We can keep an eye on our friends with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illness: the fact is mental illness has skyrocketed since the election, so we can educate ourselves about warning signs and how to help. We can make art: about resistance, about oppression, about anything. We can support artists. We can support companies who actively oppose fascism with their words or actions or both. We can boycott companies that support fascism or are complicit in it. We can support our local small businesses, especially those run by marginalized people. We can Google “how to resist,” and look at a bunch of books, lists, movies, and videos that include ideas this article leaves out.

Very importantly, we can take care of ourselves. Self care is not selfish: it’s what will sustain us in the marathon ahead. We can eat well, get some exercise, get enough sleep, get support from the people we’re close to, get physical and mental health care when we need it, and have fun. And we can take breaks from activism, news, and social media. Taking a break isn’t putting our heads in the sand. It’s an acknowledgement that the fight is long and hard, and we need to replenish ourselves if we’re going to keep fighting.

And we can take care of each other. This is important for all of us, but it’s especially valuable for people who can’t be on the front lines. As I said recently on Facebook: if you can’t participate in protests, go to meetings, lobby elected officials, or otherwise directly participate in resistance, that’s fine. Not everyone can do these things. So look at ways to support others in the resistance. Can you babysit? Give rides? Give backrubs? Cook meals? Fix a website? Fix cars? Throw parties? Manage the mailing list? Set up for meetings or clean up after them? Give travelers a place to stay? All of this is hugely helpful. Burnout is a major problem in activism, more so now that everyone’s in high gear all the time. If you support activists, you aren’t just supporting the resistance. You are the resistance.

Resistance is like stone soup. If everyone brings something, it becomes sustaining, delicious, and powerful.