The Women's March on January 21, 2017 - the day after Donald Trump's presidential inauguration - was momentous. Not only for the moment it represented, but also for the movement it's unleashing. Young people are feeling their agency. Creatives are producing social commentary. Journalists are reestablishing their craft. And democracy is galvanizing populist support.
While it's harder to get people to show up at events than to donate money, they turned out in droves for the Women's March. At least 500,000 marchers peacefully protested in Washington D.C., for the "protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families - recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country." Some 400 sister marches popped up in every major city and minor burg in the U.S., garnering 1.3 million participants. Hundreds more sprung up in Paris, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and Antarctica. In all, there were 672 separate marches worldwide, firing up 2 million activists.
By way of historical comparison, the Women's March on Washington was the largest combined protest in the U.S. and the second largest in D.C., second to the 2013 March for Life to protest abortion, which attracted 650,000. The 1963 March on Washington, the historic civil rights rally on the Mall where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech drew 250,000 people; from 1965 to 1971 there were a series of anti-Vietnam marches, the largest being the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium, which attracted 600,000 over a week; and the 1995 Million Man March for black rights drew between 400,000 (National Park Service) to 837,000 (Boston University/ABC research).
But activism alone doesn't automatically translate into change. Change happens from long-term organized actions that strategically exert pressure at critical pivot points. Strong movements operate both from the bottom up and the top down. Your actions matter because grassroots movements influence leaders and power brokers to make bold moves and break with party lines. The drumbeat must be unrelenting and sustained - for as long as it takes. Therefore, everyone who marched and everyone who marched in spirit must act in some meaningful way on an ongoing basis.
You can contribute to real change by acting and participating in myriad ways. You can: volunteer, donate money, lobby elected officials, raise money, protest, contact the media, write articles, make art, spread the word. Here are five practical means to translate your energy and activism into change:
1. Find a Group or Cause to Champion - Connect to an organization or a cause you care deeply about and stick with it. Don't spread yourself too thin with too many causes, but rather commit to fewer things over the long haul. Whether you choose a larger organization like Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Center for Accountability, or Climate Reality or a local educational or health group, make a concerted effort to contribute in some way every week. Over time it will be a fulfilling part of your life, rather than a task.
2. Talk to Your Elected Officials - Elected officials represent you. You must make your opinions heard throughout officials' terms, not just on Election Day. Your town, city, and state websites have your local officials' contacts and the National Priorities Project has them for your Congressional representatives. Go to your officials' offices hours. Call, e-mail, and write them to let them know how you feel about the issues of the day. Flood their phone banks and their mailboxes. Organize your own petition via Care2.com or sign onto organized petitions by CREDO Action, MoveOn.org, or Change.org. Sign the petitions, tag the links with hashtags, and share them widely on your digital platforms - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, blog, vlog, podcast, and website.
3. Get Involved in Public Service - Be active in the political process. Run for office or support candidates who represent your ideology. You can start locally on school committees or in state legislatures. Virginia, New Jersey, and North Carolina have key state-level elections this year. There are 38 governors' races in 2017 and 2018 that may affect gerrymandered districts (recarving the borders of a district to ensure a party or candidate wins). The mid-term Congressional elections in 2018 are critical to the complexion of Congress. Because the Electoral College is likely to remain in the 2020 presidential election, the best way to elect a president who represents your values may be to work in a sister battleground state such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Maine, or New Hampshire to swing those electoral votes.
4. Register to Vote/Get Out the Vote - Voting is the most powerful tool of democracy, yet it's the most overlooked. If everyone eligible had voted last fall, we might have had a different outcome today. Ensure everyone you know who's a citizen of 18 years or older is registered. Many people don't register because they don't know how. Work with your town hall and state to spread the word on how to register. Help voters sign up in inner cities, on farms, and on college campuses. Check out Rock the Vote's efforts to increase voter registration and The League of Women's Voters initiatives to make registration easier and stop voter suppression. During elections, encourage people in your sphere of influence to exercise their franchise. Drive those that need help to vote or volunteer at your local polling place.
5. Support Journalism and Freedom of the Press - The days of believing fake news are dead. Sound journalism - supported by verified facts - is central to an informed citizenry. That's why freedom of the press is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. To develop a discerning eye, read various news sites, watch news programs, and subscribe to a newspaper or publication. Note the difference in how media outlets report on the same issue. Understand the difference between reporting and opinion (public affair programs and op-eds). Watch documentaries on many subjects. PBS has some of the best. Cultivate and share your trusted news sources widely on social and digital media. Hold social media sites and news outlets responsible for fact checking. Support #Truth and #Journalism and denounce #FakeNews and #AltFacts.
There's much that you can do, but these five avenues will focus your energy in ways that matter. If you want to keep following the Women's March thread, its organizers have outlined "10 Actions for the First 100 Days" of Trump in office. They offer 10 doable, actions with easy-to-follow steps like socializing and sending postcards to elected officials. There's no dearth of means to sustain the momentum and make a measurable difference. Add your ideas, organizations, and links in the comments below.
But, don't wait to be led by others to become a change agent.
"If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing." - President Barack Obama
Anne Zeiser is a critically-acclaimed transmedia and social impact producer and media strategist. She's stewarded films and iconic series for PBS, produced news for CBS, managed national brands for marketing firms, and founded Azure Media, which develops transmedia projects on air, online, and on the go that fuel social impact in communities, in schools, and in capitals. She's the author of Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media from Focal Press' American Film Market® Presents book series.Chapter 29, "Media-fueled Social Impact" outlines how to create social change movements using the media.
Follow Anne Zeiser on Twitter @AzureMedia