What we can do

Trump is president elect. My classes are full of tearful students asking what can be done. In truth I have no idea, and very few of us truly do I suspect. It will be some time before anyone gets their footing. This seems true of everyone I encounter, even though this is also true:

If we were to be honest with ourselves, we’ve always known this. I could list all the ways we already knew, but this blog post will be a little different (*that* post will come after VCU screens 13th next week).

One heartening thing I can truly say to my students is this: hate speech is an old problem in the US, even from a major political figure. Violence against women is not new. Because these are old problems, there are already amazing people working on them. One very touching occurrence this week was to find my email and my text messages are full of notes from community organizers and advocates, swiftly and surely game planning. So my first message to my students is to take heart: your leadership is bankrupt, but your communities are rich beyond imagining. Together we have great guidance, and Richmond is lucky to be the home to some incredible organizers. It is with their ongoing work in mind, that I will say…

here’s what we can do:


Identify what you need first. My twitter feed is currently full of people basically saying “BUCK UP AND FIGHT” or “DON’T LEAVE THE COUNTRY.” This blog post is not intended to carry either message. If you are disproportionately likely to be targeted by the policies and public opinions in coming years, do what you can to minimize impact. No one should be required to put themselves at risk to defend a country that is patently unwilling to defend them. No one should shoulder more fear because they are guilted into facing a problem others created. Assess with reason what you can tackle and start with what is manageable. Check in with yourself along the way. Take care of yourself. Keep a close and trustworthy community by your side.

If you have the means set up monthly donation to benefit groups most likely to be immediately targeted (we’ve all seen events where organizations get huge donations for a week and then everyone forgets; if you can make your donation regular). Ten dollars a month can be huge. Make this an automatic deduction to which you commit for as long as you can afford it. Focus on organizations that have real measurable outcomes and/or that prioritize self-advocacy. Below are mostly regional groups to consider for my fellow southerners, but please also look local to you. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

Learn basic principles of organized protest. It’s wonderful to have huge loud numbers, and there are times when we have to take to the streets with immediacy and no time to plan. That said, it’s no good if the one person who stands in front of the national media is the person least informed about the core issues your protest is intended to address. Protest, like any project, can have a huge successful turnout and still go all kinds of wrong. Advertise widely, but have a clearly defined core group of organizers who know how to make protest work to the advantage of the issues you’re targeting.  Standing Rock today is a great example of a deeply organized and self-supporting movement. In Richmond Art 180 has done a great job of organizing protests that are fully stocked with signs, shirts, chants, and handouts to communicate a clear cohesive message to the public (see the recent justice parade). If you attend an Art 180/Performing Statistics march, they will give you materials to distribute and to keep you on message. Marchers at their events are quickly given jobs to do; this is a great sign. Be organized, identify leadership, use them to communicate your goals to the public, have supplies to meet your needs, know how to use social media and other mobile tools to organize and advertise, and have a plan for social, physical, or legal injury.

Research, organize, and campaign for voting access for all citizens, including people who are incarcerated or have prior convictions. This is so important I want to put the whole paragraph in bold. In the united states today 6.1 million people are restricted from voting due to incarceration and voter disenfranchisement laws. That means, as I screamed to the Twitter void on election night, 6.1 million disenfranchised people is our baseline for voter obstruction. It is also over twelve times the number of votes that decided this election. This is a national crisis, in part because this number does not yet include voters disenfranchised by unnecessary ID laws, inaccessible polling locations, etc.. Know the laws in your state. Find out how to reinstate rights. Find out how to get an ID. Organize reinstatement and ID application workshops at local libraries, churches, public housing units, reentry centers, schools, Goodwills, and community centers. Don’t overlook rural districts. Everything you do must be accessible to the major language groups in your area. START NOW, MIDTERMS ARE COMING.

When you are working with targeted groups of which you are not member, be an ally first, an an activist second, and know what you’re talking about. Where need exists there likely exists a network of people directly impacted who are already building capacity for self-advocacy. Find them, trust them, and support them. Don’t start new organizations and staff them entirely with people like yourself (colleges and universities, I love you with all my heart, but I’m looking at you here). When you work with groups dedicated to self-advocacy you’ll discover how valuable their expertise can be. At a recent voter registration event I overheard a volunteer turning away a man because he had a prior conviction for a violent felony. The volunteer hadn’t learned local felony disenfranchisement laws because it hadn’t occurred to him that this was an election issue. This is a pervasive problem in activist networks: people who want to do good jump in without first hand experience, without full knowledge, and without listening to people around them already doing the work. Find out who is doing what and see where you can best fit in. Listen, don’t advise. Learn to take orders. 

  • I have yet to encounter in this world a true guide to humility. Please, if you find one, let me know.

That’s all for now! In a week when I come out of my post-election night and day terrors I’ll look back on this and blog about everything I got wrong.


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