Lately I find myself remembering a particularly volatile time we went through at the University where I used to work. Things got extremely political and there was a lot of hateful talk and distrust. Some of us prided ourselves on our activism and clever words. We became distracted and self-important. Others just hunkered down and did what they needed to do to advance the actual work of their departments and their students. When the shit-storm finally passed, guess who came out on top?
So now, in the context of a much bigger shit-storm, I think it’s time to consider what kinds of words and actions are useful and which ones are just making us “feel better”. Here’s a short (and unquestionably preliminary) list.
- First, consider the things that have no substantive effect:
- “Liking” and “reacting” to posts on Facebook and re-Tweeting stuff.
- Sharing anything that comes from blatantly partisan pages and websites.
- Embedding ourselves in an echo chamber where we hear words and words and more angry words from people who think exactly as we do.
- Signing every online petition that comes along.
- Posting on Facebook that we’re praying about it.
- Protests that are only opportunities to vent. If there is no clear intent, demand, or message, then it’s probably a waste of time.
- Buying and wearing T-shirts with pictures of Bernie that say “Hindsight – 2020”. Or similar. (I just really liked that one.)
I’m not saying not to do these things – just don’t fool yourself into believing they actually help. Also, I’m not saying that feeling better is of no value. Certainly supporting one another (for example, on Pantsuit Nation) and offering words of encouragement and solidarity are important things. It’s just that it’s not enough.
- Now here’s a to-do list of a few things that might actually help:
- Be well informed. This means reading – all the way to the end – well researched pieces from actual experts and real journalists. Sharing these is also useful. Everything else on this list follows from being well informed.
- Get involved in activities and organizations that promote and protect the people and activities that are currently threatened. And by “involved”, I mean volunteering and actually DOING something.
- Pay attention to local politics and show up to meetings and events that can have an impact on community policies and decisions.
- Allocate resources to organizations that are having an impact. But never, never feel that giving money is enough.
- Reassess the values you promote in your own work and lifestyle and stay aware of how this impacts the bigger picture.
- Refuse to be distracted. Stay focused.
- Live your life as if the world you believe in actually exists.
I’m sure there are lots of other things that could be added to both lists and I encourage comments. Yes, writing this made me feel better. Now to get busy and do something that might actually help.