One year ago today, I showed up late for a meeting in a basement.
“Please come,” a friend had said in invitation. “It’ll help you feel better.”
My coffee order took forever. I wasn’t sure where the meeting was. I wandered around the coffeehouse, sincerely considering sneaking out to my car and driving home.
Still in a weary, post-election fog, I’d agreed. I had to do something.
When I finally found them downstairs, the gathered group sat around one long table, holding cups like fragile baby birds. My friend’s eyes met mine, and she smiled. I sat down in the last creaky, metal chair.
The meeting was loose—part brainstorm, part support group. Before I realized what I was doing, my hand was in the air. I was offering to vet the petitions on Facebook and research which were legit. I was tearing out a sheet of paper to pass around for email addresses. People wanted to know what they could do that would actually help. When that sheet came back to me, it was full. Thirty names.
I had something to do.
I couldn’t have imagined that thirty would turn to 3,000, then 30,000… or double again within four months. Or that I would be invited on radio programs, podcasts, and to live events. I just kept agreeing to do thorough research, to be clear and kind, and to share what I learned. To show up.
And what I’ve learned in the twelve months since comes down to four things that will be helpful in the coming year:
1. We need each other
If you’ve ever done trust activities, you probably know the one where the group forms a circle, each person turns to face the next one’s back. And then, tight like sardines, everyone all sits down, trusting the lap of the person behind them. Sometime it works. Other times, people end up in a laughing pile on the floor.
In this activity, every body is equal and valuable–Black, female, old, unemployed, immigrant, Native, Republican, lesbian, educated. The only thing that matters is that each person be present, show up, and commit to each other.
In this year, I’ve learned there is no “Them” in a democracy. We may think in terms of Us and Them, but the very nature of democracy makes us a country of Us. U.S. Everywhere we go and everyone we meet is Us. Even the Thems are still us. We can try to escape this reality and alienate each other, but the truth is undeniable: we’re all in this messy, democratic experiment together.
When we show up and commit to one another, incredible things happen. Sometimes there’s giggling. And do-overs. Sometimes there’s real support. Like lawyers and protesters at the airport for the Muslim ban. Like hundreds of thousands of women and allies marching together and healing. Like avalanches of calls, postcards, and faxes that advocate for healthcare again and again—not just for ourselves, but for every American.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Do we still alienate each other? Sadly, yes. But the Constitution’s framers didn’t seek a perfect union, but a more perfect one. Even a little more perfect is progress. We need each other to get there.
2. We need focus.
On the outside, it might seem like my list is competing with others like Rogan’s List, Wall of Us, and Loyal Opposition. But the amazing people behind them are my allies and buddies. We honor each other’s differences, share resources, and encourage as we work our tails off.
Just yesterday, I noticed with horror that an issue flew by completely unnoticed. It passed in the House and Senate without a peep from any of us in the resistance. After we all gaped in astonishment, one of my buddies said, “It’s all coming at us so fast.”
And she’s right.
Just for comparison’s sake, the Washington Post has a journalist assigned to each presidential cabinet member. And here we are (me included), trying to stay on top of everydangthing the president, cabinet, and Congress are doing (not to mention following the unfolding Russia scandal and Mueller’s investigation).
Like a frog in a warming pot, I had No Idea® what I was getting into a year ago. You probably didn’t realize it either.
Every now and then I meet a genuine Energizer bunny who *swears* she’s not tired and has plenty of energy to keep resisting. The rest of us, however—including those at the front of the flock—are flapping in high winds. We can’t keep up.
One response to this onslaught, of course, is to nose dive and return to less-than-blissful ignorance of what is happening in our country. Another would be to pretend it’s all good, under control, not to worry (flap flap!!) with predictable health consequences.
Or. We can have an honest chat with ourselves about our abilities and limits. What can you handle for the long haul. I’ve thought long and hard about this for Americans of Conscience. As much as I want the checklist to be a one-stop-shop for all your resistance needs, it can’t be done well and researched thoroughly in this climate. I’ve concluded that three issues is the carrying capacity.
I should note that some groups are thrilled to keep barking up the president’s tree and calling out cabinet shenanigans. I celebrate them.
- Rogan’s List comes out daily.
- Loyal Opposition is taking names.
- Indivisible shows up in person.
- 5 Calls is thorough and organized.
- Wall of Us has heart.
- Resistance Manual is amazeballs.
The sign of maturing activism is to choose. These groups above are refining too. But look at groups like NAACP, which has been advocating for equality for 108 years. NOW’s got 51 years of grassroots feminist activism. The National LGBTQ Task Force is 44. And the grandmama is the Sierra Club at 125 years old. We can see that their long-term, narrow focus has gotten results.
With this in mind, here are the three issues the Americans of Conscience checklist will focus on this December and through 2018:
- Equal rights for all Americans
- Full voting access for all Americans
- Humane treatment of asylum-seekers
Why these three issues?
One big limitation of the new, post-election resistance is its lack of diversity. I considered cajoling more people into joining us, but instead, the checklist will introduce you to experienced groups already doing an incredible work in social justice. Centering people of color and other under-represented groups is an important way to be an ally and increase impact. Part of our role as Americans of Conscience is to support and amplify issues that affect our neighbors. (If you’re part of these groups or have suggestions, please be in touch!)
This issue matters because of 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election (Kermit arms!). If we want a regime change, it starts with votes. And if our country truly gives one vote to each person, we must untangle the rules that prevent working people, poor people, Black people, formerly-incarcerated people, elderly people, urban people, and young people from voting. This might seem an unsexy issue, but it needs attention now if we want a different president. The clock is ticking.
Of all the issues I’ve come across in the last year, nothing has shocked me more often—made me stop everything I was doing and sob for whole minutes—than what ICE is doing to people seeking asylum in the US. This borderline-paramilitary organization terrorizes vulnerable human beings on our tax dollar. It cannot stand. And because I haven’t found a source yet that provides activist resources about ICE, I’m going to create it: A. to advocate for humane treatment of immigrants, and B. to reach out in friendship to detainees.
These changes in the checklist are refinements gained from a year of research and experience (and were actually implemented three weeks ago—did you notice?). We’re still new at activism, so let’s try them out this year and see how we do.
3. We need to celebrate.
Another learning from this year is about how important it is to pause and take stock of our accomplishments, no matter how small. I was blown away by the incredible response to the reflection post last month about how much we’ve learned. How much we have changed inside and the ordinary details of our lives!
Being outraged and angry can be energizing. Showing up when you’re tired is noble. And. We need joy too. We need to see each other’s smiling faces and spend some moments accounting for the positives. For expressing gratitude for our own and others’ courage. For praise. For dancing, laughter, and fun.
Marisela, my dear friend from Colombia—a country that knows trouble—said to me recently, “Jen, you have to do what you can, and then you must live your life. Have a wine! Dance some salsa!” I spent a moment feeling scandalized at the thought and then realized, she’s right.
“No es solo tu trabajo. Es el responsibilidad de muchos.”
She made me laugh and remember that it’s a distinctly American trait to take on the weight of the world. It isn’t my job alone to do this work. It isn’t yours either. It is the responsibility of many.
And the relief of this takes us back to our first insight—that we’re in this together. If I do my part, and you do yours, and others do theirs, we will get somewhere good together.
4. We need to rest.
The last insight from this year is about how vital it is to stop. Stop the news, turn off the constant stream of information and get quiet, alone or in company. Allow ourselves to sleep in and not give two hoots about what the president thinks for a few hours. Rest isn’t just for the body, but the mind and spirit also. For that reason, I will get out in the woods this week to listen to the rain and admire November’s last few yellow leaves. How about you?
In the spirit of rest, I’ve decided devote the last week of each month to restoring and reflection by not producing a checklist (starting the end of December). You’re welcome to do as you wish, of course, but this I’m certain will help me persevere in the long run. It could be three more years with this guy at the helm (or, God forbid, seven). Either way, we’ll need all the reserves we can muster. Rest helps.
During my off week, I’ll post a request to share celebrations and insights. This way, we can be restfully reflective together.
I never imagined where that coffee meeting would take me, but I’m so glad I showed up. I’m glad YOU showed up. I’m honored and grateful to be a part of your activism journey. It means so much to be working alongside you toward a healthier democracy that respects all people.
So. What do you say we get like sardines for another year and keep working to support each other?
Perfect post for this weekend, Jen! I am grateful to have this cohort in my life and to have the opportunity to revisit, revise, devise actions into the new year. Your words encourage me to adhere to my recently determined carrying capacity. (Great term for this, btw) I have resigned from one community commitment to make room for another opportunity that has developed within the resistance community locally. And I realize with this reading that I have also committed to long-term learning on health care and social justice, through my genealogy work, which has decreased my anxiety levels. Your plans will help me continue the refining of my work and my passion. Resist on! Thank you for your work.
Great focus and great post!!!!!!
Thanks so much for this, Jen. Your blog and checklist were and continue to be the guide I need to stay strong through all this. Hugs.
Happy Thanksgiving Jennifer. And thank you for being one of my inspirations this year. It has kept me sane, motivated and focus in being a fully engaged citizen in this democracy of ours.
Thanks so much for this post. I shared it. As far as focus, I can’t call on every issue, so I take turns. Because of my time constraints–full time school transition specialist/part time college student/novelist–I can only be a worker bee in the resistance, as opposed to a leader. But I worker bee my butt off until I have to step back and breathe. Thank you for stepping up to be a leader!
Jennifer, thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m passing your post on and on and on.
Jen, I found you by mistake, and your tenacity, reasonableness, and thorough evaluation of the issues has inspired and encouraged me to continue to act, each and every day (almost). I hope you are able to draw strength and perseverance from those of us who do the same from you. Thank you for helping and encouraging me to be an active participant in my future, the future of our country, and my children’s and grandchildren’s future. It is our sacred obligation.
I’m very proud of you, Jen. You have shown remarkable courage and perseverance – which we all must at this traumatic time in our country’s history. We CAN do this! We MUST do this! Lovingly, Shirley Grossman
Thank You Jennifer ! love *~~~;-}Darlene
You are the greatest, Jen. Thank you for all you do. If you lived in New Mexico I would want to adopt you as a friend. Take care. <3
I think your timing is perfect with this post, Jen. In part, it is because in my small way, I share many of your thoughts. I have been feeling overwhelmed by trying to keep up with all the issues and all of the emails I receive from organizations requesting financial support. I recently decided to ignore everything for awhile. And, your timely post lets me know I am not alone and it doesn’t mean I am quitting, jut regrouping. So, this Thankgiving week will be one of giving thanks for all the good in my life (includes you and your work) and letting the deciding the best way to go forward. I think that will involve making a list of the organizations which are most meaningful to me and keeping track of contributions and also scheduling regular phone calls, etc to my senators, congressmen, etc. I will be focusing on issues concerning the environment,and gun control for sure. Thank you again for providing a sensitive and intelligent voice and guidance. Yesterday I ran across a quote by Margaret Mead from many years ago which also gives me hope:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can
change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Thank you for guidance in the work of resistance. You’ve not only been an important resource but an inspiration, too. I need balance in my life but I cannot and will not stop my participation in our democracy. The debacle of the Trump presidency has taught me how much democracy is a participatory endeavor!
Thank you again.
Even reading this post makes the air return to my lungs. You are so wise, and I am so grateful for what you’ve already given us. Thank you, Jen!
Thank you for your post and all of your checklists and your reminders to rest and let someone else be the lead goose (horse) sometimes.
I started a Facebook page on November 11, 2016 for progressive horse people (of all disciplines). 1 year later we 1073 active participants on the page and we make calls, go to rallies and marches, send postcards, etc. We post news and humor and all the things we think each other needs to know. Your checklist has been a regular part of our group since the beginning. But I got tired, just like you are talking about and of course busy, with life and work, etc. So I read your post today and realized that with focus on fewer things or certain members taking certain topics and others focusing on others, we can try to prevent burnout and numbness, which I think are related but different.
WE have members from almost every state and perhaps we will bloom more from here.
Individually we belong to people power(ACLU) and indivisible and Love Army and Move on. The Ready to Resist calls by Move on on Sunday evenings have been super inspiring.Do you have any extra advice for us? How we could make the most of our group? Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do!
I think that sounds like a really thoughtful way to proceed. Trust your gut on this, and the brain will follow. Horse people are good people! 🙂
“I just kept agreeing to do thorough research, to be clear and kind, and to share what I learned. To show up.”
I think this sums up why I was so drawn to your first checklist, and why it’s still the resource of it’s kind that I turn to most.
Thanks for all you’re doing here. I genuienly appreciate your perspective, information, and action ideas.
Thank you Jen!
Happy anniversary to one of my favorite re-sisters! Walking this journey with you has been amazing, gratifying, and exhausting. Thank you for reminding us to breathe. Thank you, too, for your continued support and shout-outs for Rogan’s List. Like you, last November “I had to do something.” I’m grateful our shared thoughts brought us together.
And to think, we have the current president to thank for this gratifying, soul-nourishing connection! Wonders never cease!
Thank you, Jen. Same to you.
Thank you for your continued advocacy, leadership and focus. I appreciate your sending out this list. I use it weekly to spend about an hour of advocacy and I know others whom I’ve forwarded it to do as well. I am disappointed by the new, more limited direction though. One thing I really liked was how the list was responsive to current issues, and I could pick what mattered most to me. Some of my top issues are anything related to women and women’s health and access to health care and anything related to holding Trump accountable including the Russia investigation and supporting others who do what’s right even in the face of opposing Trump. My issues don’t line up as well with your top 3, and so I’m concerned I won’t have as much material to use going forward.
Thanks so much for what you do. I go through your list every week, write the letters, make the donations, etc. I’m able to be so much more effective with the couple of hours I have available eachweek to do such things thanks to the time and research you devote to this.
Thank you for your energy, your clarity, your leadership. Your advice to work together, to focus, and to rest is wise. I particularly like your advice to focus. It helps me resist feeling like I need to respond to everything, and feel better about focusing on voting issues, which are particularly significant to me as a long-term solution to this mess.
Thank you so much. In addition to all the wise points you make, we also need reminders. Like you just gave us. We need to be reminded that we are together, and strong, and effective, and also human and OK.
Thanks, Jen, for everything you do. You’re helping all of us make a difference.
Thank you from the bottom of my big messy heart Jen for showing up to do this checklist. I deeply appreciate the entire list. I am a devoted Acts of Gratitude postcard writer! It was so affirming to find this in your checklist. I’d felt early on that writing thank you postcards of support and encouragement to those speaking up in both parties, was the thing for me to do. It helps me stay all in to see the good and applaud it.
Many blessings for good health and fortitude! Rob
I’ve learned we must rest hard way. But part in this that hit me is feel the joy. Sometimes is so discouraging and feels hopeless. Need to celebrate our victories.
Yes! Joy is rebellion when “they” want us to fall in line. Live it up!
Jen, you take my breath away. Among all the people I’ve known in my 70+ years, YOU have grown the most. You are so deeply thoughtful, compassionate, wise, gentle, nurturing, committed, accepting (while not standing for any shit), clear… I could go on and on. My thanksgiving gratitude includes YOU, that we’re on this planet at the same time, that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing you grow into who you are now, and the inspiration you have given to so many by your example and your willingness to put yourself out there for the sake of all of us. Thank you!!!
You are making me cry, dear friend. Thank you for being a part of getting us here. I am so grateful for you.
Sounds good Jen. I’ll follow suit.
Thank you for your wisdom and your leadership.
I too have made three things my priority because I cannot
take on all of it. The wonder of it is that all bases can be
covered because of the diversity of personal interests I am so glad
to receive your lists and most of all perhaps for your attitude
of mind and the wisdom you express. It took me many years
to learn what you are teaching. I will soon be 81.
Jennifer-Thanks for keeping me hopeful. . Your work has provided many of us who are “living in a world of normalized political fear” concrete steps to help our fellow Americans.
Thank you so much for showing up – steadily, consistently, with compassion and wise advice about self care. I continue to be inspired and warmed by your work.
Good choice of issues!
Note: Under the voting issue I would put making each vote of equal weight as a high concern.
Thank YOU for keeping us organized and on task! My binder of notes on what we’ve accomplished continues to grow. We will get through this together! <3
Brava, most remarkable advocate and activist! I applaud every single thing you say here (especially Kermit arms) and am filled with gratitude that you took up the call to action and stayed true to your integrity. You call on us all to show up with our best selves.
Thank you, Jen, for showing how to mother tens of thousands of us. We’re growing.
Thank you so much for all that you do. You may want to post the following elsewhere than in Comments. I have found – and quite unexpectedly! – that regular Physical Exercise is one of the VERY BEST things that anyone, at any age or stage of Health, could possibly do for themselves! and I definitely want to pass this on! Since I am 81 years of age, and have some mobility issues, I for a long time THOUGHT ABOUT – but didn’t actually do it! – starting a therapeutic exercise program, maybe sitting-down exercises in a chair. Then, ONLY a little over a week ago, I found some music on the Internet that inspired me [Swing, NOT heavy rocknroll!], music that was slow and gentle and made me WANT to move in dance-like, easy motions [while still sitting down]. This – like a miracle! – seemed to OVERNIGHT improve my circulation, my BREATHING, my ability to walk farther, my alertness – I could not believe how fast that happened! Then, in the Public Library, my eye rested on, and I took home, this small volume: “The RBG Workout”. As in, [the Notorious] [Supreme Court Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg! It is her personal workout devised by her personal trainer, and illustrated with cute drawings of RBG actually doing the exercises in workout gear. And she and I are close in age! I got some good ideas for more exercises from it, adapting it to my own personal needs. And I don’t mind touting the book [which retails for a mere $14.99!]. I cannot RAVE enough about what a Difference a – now still very brief, 10-12 minutes, and not straining, but regularly each day – exercise program has ALREADY made in my life – and I can look forward if I persist [and SHE WILL PERSIST] to working up to RBG’s four hours a week! I am quite frankly astonished, and did not even begin to expect results SO FAST, as I have had! So, WHATEVER your age, state of health, abilities and mobility – there is something you CAN do. Since I sleep on a very hard mattress by preference, I’ve started to do, when I wake up, some exercises lying down – of course, the floor is always good too. I don’t have to stress out my bad knee…. maybe this will even help it! You’re welcome to pare this down if you want to use it, but I think people will be TICKLED PINK – pussyhat pink! – to know that they and Ruth Bader Ginsburg can be doing this, improving both their Health, and their Social Impact, TOGETHER….!
Thank you for all you do. Your persistence and dedication to democracy enlightens and encourages us all.
On another note, because of you, I joined the Democratic Club in Freehold NJ, a Republican stronghold. I helped with fundraisers, put shoe leather on the ground canvassing for governor, state senate, and state assembly candidates, and made countless phone calls encouraging people to get out and vote. I was not alone. Our club grew 10-fold and 30 of us all pitched in to help elect our candidates. I’m VERY proud to say ALL of our candidates WON! We turned Freehold NJ BLUE! Unfortunately, the local freeholders and town committee candidates were not elected, but… the count was close. We’re not finished. In 2018 we’re looking to endorse a democratic candidate to unseat Chris Smith, a die-hard republican who chooses not to reside in the state he represents. If we put in the same effort, and believe in our goals, I’m confident we will win.
So, thank you. Your enthusiasm gave me a push to get involved. Keep up the good work.
Thank you, Jen. You’ve always been an inspiration. Thanks for keeping up this working, reminding us where we might want to focus & providing such useful info with your characteristic smart and compassionate style.
Jen… You are an inspiration and a friend. It’s just so good to read your sensible and encouraging words, which help me feel less alone. The few things I have been able to do make me feel that I haven’t just let this happen. Together we do support the idea that we can keep pushing, some now and some later and that we will get our country back from all the greedy, misogynistic, hating jerks and we will become a nation where we have equal rights, voting rights, rule of law, public space and opportunity once more.
Thank you, Jen, for all you and others are doing to provide leadership for the important actions we are involved in. And thank you for reminding us all to take a rest when needed. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Thank you so much!
I will share your post with my Huddle group. We write gratitudes every month!
You keep us going and focused.
I’m all about redoubling my efforts. I’ve slacked off the last week or so, but looking forward to picking up the pace starting this week! Already completed on item on this week’s ACAC!
I want you to know that my kids have seen me make the calls and send the emails and just this week been proud when their grandad and I both got letters to the editor about the tax plan published in our local papers. And yes, I will now keep working with you on ICE and voting rights. Well chosen and sally on. We will be citizens together and it will work out better over time even if it gets worse in the short term. The next generation isn’t going to stand for this and they are going to vote.
Thank you sooo much for your insight, your hard work, your informative information and your courage and strength!
Agreed we all need to pitch in and do the best we can. Some weeks, days are difficult to continue on but if we all take turns, together we can do it.
Thanks again, enjoy the coming holidays.
Thank you so much, Jen, for all that you do!
Your writing is concise, real and so very human. You encourage me to continue to resist in the name of our planet and humanity. Your “Jen’s List” has been a beacon leading me through this morass of issues. Enjoy your well deserved rest.
Thank you for a year of action, thoughtful reflection, and inspiration!
This is a well-written look back at the first year of resistance. I’m proud to volunteer with AoC checklist!
Good for you, Jen. There is so much to fight for and against that each of us just HAS to focus on one or two issues. Otherwise we do burn out. So I will think hard about my issues, starting with yours and do my best to stay in the fight for the long haul. thanks for all you do.
Thank you for being so clear, researched, honest and true in your sharing of what we can do as concerned citizens. While I will miss the other content on your list, I totally agree that your areas of focus are so important for us all. These issues are at the root of all things that will help us going forward.
Thanks for all you do!
Jen, as I said on Twitter, I only discovered you today. At first, I was wishing I had found you sooner, but reading this November piece, I see that you have distilled your areas of focus to those that are also of most interest to me, and that encourages me regarding the timing of connecting with you. I am also reminded of these words that I saw on social media and used as a profile pic on my FB page for awhile:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justice, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to finish the work,
But neither are you free to abandon it.
– The Talmud
I see justice, mercy, and humility in what you create and I thank you for it.