An Idiot’s Guide to Progressive Activism in the Age of Trump

An Idiot’s Guide to Progressive Activism in the Age of Trump
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You probably got a link to this article from Facebook, given that over half of all Americans get their news from social media. If you’re a liberal like me or even a #NeverTrump conservative, you’re probably swimming in posts and articles about the perils of a Trump presidency, Hillary’s shortcomings as a candidate, and those ubiquitous non-college educated whites. Now it’s time to give it a rest and do something more concrete.

I’m asking myself what I did to be politically active this year. I certainly spent enough time reading gleeful exposés of Trump’s perfidy and pondering whether Nate Silver or some dude from Princeton had the better forecasting model. Did I give money? I did; in fact, I gave far more than I’d ever given to a candidate before. Did I work a phone bank, encouraging Democrats in swing states to make it to the polls? I did—but I could have spent a lot more time doing it. Did I attend a rally? Alas, I did not. Did I cajole my friends to donate cash or work a phone? Did I nag my friends in swing states to pull the lever for Hillary? I did not fail to make myself into an informed citizen, but in terms of actually contributing I did pitifully less than I could have. Sometimes I console myself with my contributions as a professional social scientist and a self-proclaimed public intellectual, but that’s thin gruel.

Now ask yourself these questions. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, I encourage you to read on for suggestions about seeking redemption.

The internet and social media make it easy to stay informed (and, of course, misinformed). They also make it easy to organize. So here’s what I’m going to do from now on. Phone banking will have to wait, but the rest of this stuff is good anytime.

1) Phone bank more

You can attend phone bank parties at a supporter’s home, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. Hillary’s website had a link that allowed you to call people from the comfort of your own abode. From here on out, all presidential candidate’s websites will offer this functionality. So rather than binge-watch Battlestar Galactica for the 4th time, work the phones a bit. You’re not trying to sway undecided voters, but just ensure that registered Democrats in swing states make it to the polls. So it’s unlikely that you’ll have to endure many taunts about being an arugula-munching, Chardonnay-sipping commie who hates our freedom.

2) Call your congressmen, senators, and other elected officials

I suspect that many of you will be displeased with the way the political winds will be blowing in the months to come. Rather than writing scathing posts on social media, why not devote your time to importuning your elected officials? Emily Ellsworth, a former Congressional staffer, recently reviewed the most effective ways for constituents to contact their federal representations. Her advice can be summarized in just a few words: social media is worthless, real letters are better than emails, but best of all are phone calls. Furthermore, it’s always better to contact a politician’s district office than her Washington shop.

Here are some objections you might have, along with my incontrovertibly irrefutable responses:

“I’m only one person! How much difference can I make?”

If you really think that, why did you bother voting? And take a moment to think of Americans who somehow made a difference, and all the social movements that achieved real change. Rosa Parks probably never anticipated her game-changing moment either.

“How do I make my representatives listen to me?”

Take Emily Ellsworth’s advice and call your elected representatives. Better yet, organize a bunch of your friends to call. I don’t often have much use for Facebook, but it’s great for getting a bunch of your people to do something. So form a Facebook group of like-minded friends, or just post entreaties to call your congressman on your timeline.

“I don’t have any free time.”

I get it. Picking up the phone often seems arduous, but it only takes a few minutes. Then you can return to playing Fruit Ninja on your iPhone, but with a new-found sense of accomplishment.

The other thing I’d encourage here is a division of labor. Perhaps you’re married. You can keep abreast of the issues that might inspire activism, while your spouse makes the phone calls. Problem solved! Or create a Facebook group of like-minded souls. This way you can easily delegate the research and the activism.

“I’m a Republican, or a Democrat who voted for Trump.”

First off, I’d like to thank my conservative friends. They help me escape the lefty echo chamber. And despite our differences, there are still many things we agree on. Nearly 90 percent of Americans favor current levels of Medicare spending (or higher spending), and this support cuts across party lines. Support for social security is predictably similar. As a whole, Obamacare is unpopular, but many of its provisions—I’m looking at you, preexisting conditions—are supported by most Americans.

I could go on, but I’ve made my point. It was popular condemnation of George W. Bush’s plan to privatize social security that led him to abandon this reactionary dream. I hope this will be the case if (or when) Trump tries to roll back our safety net.

3) Support a political advocacy group

This is among the easiest things you can do, but will still make an incremental impact. Let’s go with, just because we’re all familiar with them. You might not agree with them on every issue, but they’re probably on the right side most of the time. Shoot them a few bucks. They’ll lobby on your behalf, keep you informed of looming political battles, and suggest additional ways you might get involved in progressive politics.

4) Expand your news horizons

If we keep clicking on the same kinds of stories on Facebook, we get shown more of the same kinds of stories on Facebook. And most of our friends tend to share our political proclivities, so they’ll share the same kinds of stories you regularly click on, which means you’ll share the same kinds of stories you regularly click on….

This isn’t all bad. Most of us have Facebook friends who are good news curators, always posting insightful stuff (and this makes up for that cousin who keeps posting stories about Hillary’s satanic puppy-eating cult). But we still experience more tunnel vision than might be optimal. Confirmation bias is an insidious force.

And yes, conservative news often drives me nuts, but it forces me to sharpen my lefty polemics. Very occasionally it can change my mind, or at least force me to admit that an issue is more complex than I might have initially thought. And if all else fails, I still get insight into stuff a substantial minority of my fellow Americans believes in.

Here is my solution to the echo chamber: follow a bunch of people on Twitter. That way YOU control the ideological diversity of your news, not the people who happen to be your friends (or some mysterious Facebook algorithm).

For the purpose of easy classification, I’ll divide my noteworthy Twitter news sources into three groups: left, right, and major media outlets. At the end of this article I’ll list some of my favorites in each group. I fully acknowledge that this is a partial and idiosyncratic list, so I’ll welcome suggestions for other folks I should be paying attention to. And I promise that none of these conservatives will be mouthing off about how Abe Lincoln endorsed Trump from the grave.

And if you want to be a hardcore news junky, or have an inordinate interest in some boutique issue like the Law of the Sea Treaty? Sign up for a Google Alert, and you can get pinged every time someone starts running her trap about your pet cause.

Nick Wolfinger: @NickWolfinger

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