Finding Traction for Action in the Age of Trump

Protests have ignited in city streets across the country in the horrifying first 10 days of the Trump presidency. Yet as important as these marches and gatherings are and will continue to be, they alone will not be enough to protect our civil liberties.

And so I've been asking myself: What else can I do to stop the dismantling of democracy in this country I love?

I know from talking with friends that it's a question on the minds of a lot American citizens as they struggle to maintain their equilibrium amid the dizzying and chaotic stream of tweets and executive orders.

If we do nothing but stare, sputtering, at the television or limit ourselves to angry signs and chants in reaction to the Trump administration's endless edicts, then we allow Donald Trump to set and shift the agenda, day by day. If we sit paralyzed, he will continue to steamroll the bedrock tenets of our country's democracy. If we make noise, but it's not targeted or effective, he'll steer through the chaos he likes to create and to some extent thrives on.

Always keep this in mind. Trump got elected in part by constantly changing the subject, by saying something outrageous to grab the headlines and then moving on in a few days, shattering the story line's momentum by getting people mad about something else. Tomorrow, the administration will try to do just that with a prime-time announcement of a Supreme Court nominee. I'm expecting the most radical and extreme choice possible. That will lead to hours of angry talk television and anguished headlines that will help drown out the fury of the last few day's over Trump's half-cocked, ill-conceived, anti-democratic ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, none of which before has been the source of terrorists who have come or were sent to the United States to kill people.

So how do we all channel our anger and concern in productive ways that build on the power of protests in the streets, parks and airports but move us beyond? I surely don't have all the answers. I hope this provides a start.

1) Contribute time and money to organizations that you respect with a track record and history of opposing the abuse of power.

I started by rejoining the ACLU and offering to work up to a day a week editing or answering phones for my local chapter. (Alas, it might be awhile. I learned the Massachusetts chapter has had 1,000 volunteers since the election. So I'm considering a Plan B.)

2) Look for gaps of information and seek ways to fill them.

I noticed today that Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog has begun a new feature tracking how often each member of the Senate and House is voting for or against Trump's agenda. That's a helpful quick reference point. My cousin suggested at dinner the other day that someone should organize a boycott of companies providing goods and services to Trump hotels. The University of Michigan Law School has set up a page cataloguing the various suits filed to block Trump's executive order on immigration from those seven predominantly Muslim states. There will be a need for more sites that show the interrelationships among lawsuits, translate the suits into plain English and explain the laws involved.

3) Look for, and reward businesses, that are willing to speak out

Today, Ford Motor Co.'s executive chairman and its CEO issued a joint statement, announcing Trump's immigration plan "goes against our values as a company," The Detroit News reported. We should track which companies are taking a stand and which aren't and reward those that are standing by our civil liberties.

4) Offer up your expertise on social media and to organizations with which you are affiliated.

I'm a writer, teacher and editor. Others can build web pages, do legal research, help translate, cook a meal, fix a car. Whatever your skill set, let like-minded people and organizations know that you are willing to volunteer. But first work out how much time you have available so you don't promise too much and then fail to follow through.


5) Call your senator, your congressman (or woman), your legislators, and your governor.

It doesn't matter whether they are Democrats or Republicans and whether you believe they agree with you or not.

In the case of Democrats, it's time to apply pressure to make sure their actions match their words. Some Democrats have given rousing speeches at protest rallies and then gone back to Washington to vote for some of Trump's awful cabinet appointees. I realize there's an argument against opposing everyone (though the Republicans did so very effectively throughout Obama's presidency). There is no argument, however, against issuing a strong statement of principle. I'd like to see every Democratic senator and representative decry the violation of human rights and the violation of the principles of the Constitution that's implicit in Trump's executive order on immigrants.

In the case of Republicans, focus on your own state's representatives and legislators. Take the time, too, to call and praise those nationwide who have shown the courage to speak out. There's no question that Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham took a lot of flak from right-wing Republicans and the White House for issuing a joint statement saying Trump's executive order could prove a "self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism."

They added: "This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security."

That, by the way, is stronger language than we've heard from some Democrats. Trump, predictably, immediately attacked the senators, calling them "weak on immigration" and nonsensically saying they are "looking to start World War III," Politico reported.

I read this first thing Monday and immediately reached out to the two senators for, and I confess that I used these words, "putting America first and not their party." I plan to shower a bit of love every day on any Republicans who stand up for our basic civil liberties. They will be essential allies against the most draconian measures of this presidency. And when they stand up, they at the least will slow the pace at which this administration pushes to dismantle our democracy.

6) Speak out.

Silence is always perceived as acquiescence, if not agreement. This is not a time to be silent or to stand by when someone tells you that we should "respectfully give the new president a chance." He's had it, thank you, and he failed miserably. It is a time to forcefully and factually counter what's unfolding around us. But that'll take smarts and sustained action, not just sturdy protest shoes and clever signs.