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?