As the late legendary coach Pat Summitt always reminded her players:
"You can't always control what happens, but you can control how you handle it."
It feels as if our country has hit a new low, and dealing with all of its ramifications isn't easy. Yet if we as a global community can learn from and inspire each other, we can collective get through anything. Even if we can't change the actual events, just managing how we react to it and deal with it is a victory.
In my previous articles, I spoke about what America can learn from the historic election of Mayor Sadiq Khan as well as the ultra-diverse people of London. I firmly believe we can and must learn from what happened last week. and react constructively in a sustained, forward-thinking way. So here are three guiding principles under which we commit to a robust action plan to fight back and create the country we deserve.
1. Go Vote!
Turn out to vote not just in Presidential cycles, but every cycle. Voting is never just about Presidential candidates-voter participation is crucial for selecting Congressional, state, and local representatives as well as potentially crucial ballot initiatives. Who gets to be your sheriff or sits on your school board matters. Rest assured: If you and your friends and family don't turn out to vote, Bubba with the Trump tattoo gets to decide all of that.
The other major reason you should vote-yes, even if you live in a "safe state"? Politicians still look closely at voter turnout demographics. Ask yourself: if you can't be bothered to even vote, why should they feel bothered to serve you and your interests? Unless you're the person running for office, absolutely no candidate for any position will ever match your political beliefs exactly. Thus voting is a civic duty which doesn't always leave you feeling the best on whatever choices you make. But you still have to show up and make choices-or else you and your community won't really matter in the eyes of those running the show.
While youth voters (18-35) form a plurality of the electorate, we always under-perform at the polls. Always. I don't believe persistent voter apathy over the past decades is an accident, and agree with those who argue that there is a reason why civics is no longer really emphasized in our classrooms. Likewise, too many of our religious and other community leaders keep failing us when it comes to civic education, because they themselves don't understand its importance. Yet we have power in the palm of our hands, and if we can just give a damn and show up, we can make a huge difference for our communities, country, and world. In 2016, we must do better.
So vote-because it's literally the least you can do.
2. Tireless Activism.
By now many of us have seen Dave Chappelle's genre-setting and highly moving SNL monologue. Yet from the perspective of many vulnerable communities there doesn't seem much room for real optimism-because it really doesn't matter what a politician says but what they do. In Trump's case so far, it's been incredibly right-wing and even fringe people who have been rewarded with cabinet and other high-level appointments, including possible war criminals.
As comedian-attorney Dean Obeidallah said:
"We can NOT be the frogs in a pot on the stove who don't notice being cooked alive because the heat is raised gradually. Friends: The water is starting to boil."
When dangerous yet fringe views become normalized and institutionalized, all of this "give Trump a chance!" rhetoric becomes a dangerously naive fantasyland. Yet as outspokenly badass activist Linda Sarsour states, the real work happens between elections. So first, take a minute to go thank groups like MPAC, CAIR, Muslim Advocates, National Council of La Raza, Mil Mujeres, the NAACP, ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and other advocacy groups and civil rights organizations.
Their job was never easy, but it just got a bit harder a few days ago. I don't think they hear the words "thank you" enough from us for all they do on our behalf every single day, so go and give them that well-deserved pick-me-up. You never know who it could fire up and inspire-and it's the least we can do for them always having our back.
Civil rights organizations and grassroots initiatives are always fighting-and winning-crucial battles. Their work may not always be as sexy as electoral victories, but their work actually sets up the groundwork for those victories. Even more importantly, they set the groundwork for a better society, nation, and world. So after you give them a shoutout for their hard work, keep supporting them. Find an issue you are passionate about and lend support (donate, volunteer your skills, etc.) to further that cause in some concrete way beyond just raising awareness on social media. Dedicate yourself to living your ideals and putting them into practice, so that progressivism isn't just a lofty ideal but a way of life.
Make no mistake, the rest of us are going to have to rescue our country. And we'll do it with tireless advocacy, community organizing, and grassroots politics-because we will have no choice. You're only on the sidelines of this struggle if you choose to be
3. Coalition building
The first step to any meaningful coalition building among our own "camps" is to be open-minded and engage sincere, constructive dialogue. This is especially true in the immediate aftermath of the Democratic campaign, in which emotions are still very raw and high. There is every reason in the world to be disappointed, heart-broken, and even outraged at what happened. It's not easy to witness so many of our neighbors reward and condone the politics of hate and division. Let's be real: Even weeks later we are all still Orlando Bishop. The mere thought of having to be "open minded" seems to be a slap in the face; it seems to be unilateral disarmament, because surely they would never display understanding and reach across the aisle if we won!
However, this is when we need to fight back the most, and to do that we need to create a sense of consensus and unity. Yet some have been too-quick to retreat into their specific ideological camps while completely denying the validity of any others. Instead, we owe it to ourselves and our nation to conduct a full postmortem analysis-based on reason and evidence-of what worked and what didn't.
Were misogyny, white supremacy, undue FBI interference, and strong tinges of irrational and unfactual anti-intellectualism all critical factors in our defeat? Absolutely. But did we also fail in our messaging, coalition-building, and our inter-party ethics? Undeniably.
We must find ways to address all of these challenging issues. There is a rational middle ground to be had, and we must get the majority of people there starting with all Dems and progressives. Like our post-Brexit British cousins, we must be intellectually honest with ourselves in the postmortem, own up to our shortcomings, learn lessons and apply them going forward. When our mainstream media and politicians so often fail us by painting everything as white-or-black, we have to step into the breach and educate both ourselves and our peers.
For starters, it's eminently clear that establishment politics have failed us, and in the coming weeks and months there will be a shake-up within all levels of the Democratic Party. That process already seems to be taking hold on the highest echelons, but has already faced obstructionism and will likely be even more acrimonious and divisive on lower levels as establishment officials face challenges to their decades-long grip on power.
Yet this whole-scale overhaul is much-needed and long-overdue in order to bring the "people's party" back to being a robust "big -tent" party-and beyond that, a socio-political movement-that serves the rest of us. If we can't build a grand coalition that is then able to appeal to working class white voters in rural and rust belt country, we lose. If we can't inspire enthusiastic turnout among independents and non-voters-who aren't just kingmakers but the whole game-we will lose. We either start now with building bridges, or we will once again be left picking up the pieces in 2018, 2020, 2022, and into perpetuity.
It's not mission impossible, but mission accomplishable-because we've done it before many times including twice with a guy named Barack Hussein Obama. The very first step in doing it yet again will be for "the rest of us"-the 99%-to come together and reach consensus instead of entrenching ourselves in micro-partisan clans. Because the most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us desperately need it. Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, immigrants, LGBT, women, the youth...we now live in a country where far too many members of different communities are currently unsure of their future. They don't have the luxury of enduring our political squabbling, posturing, and gamesmanship. They need champions, and they need them yesterday.
This is Not a Game: Improving America for America's Sake
As the staggering levels of hate crimes attest: Hardcore racists, bigots, and misogynists are simply unapproachable to reason or logic unless and until they overcome their own intolerance, fear, and hatred. Until that point, they might as well be relegated to the basket of unreachables and the key will be to engage with everyone else.
Yet on further reflection, it's startling to think that the racist man who so cowardly heckled my mom with impunity probably has many of the same concerns as her: Staggering income inequality, stagnant wages, outsourced jobs, never-ending wars, and failing schools and healthcare systems. Diminished opportunities for social advancement not only for themselves, but their children as promises of the fabled American Dream start to fade for too many.
Don't get me wrong: Racist scumbags are racist scumbags whose disgraceful actions should never be excused. Yet I agree with Jon Stewart and others who point out that most Trump supporters were simply people who have long been hurting and so desperate that they were willing to trust a man who hosted The Apprentice to the highest office in the land-even if that man is a textbook hypocrite and pathological liar.
The hard truth, as I and many others have said before, is this: Support for Trump did not just magically apparate out of a vacuum-and they cannot all be categorically minimized as a South Park-esque rabble of ignoramuses. Rather, much of his support also came out of decades of well-placed suspicion of the economic and political establishment which has failed them on almost every level (See: Every episode of Last Week Tonight ever). Our efforts cannot just be about winning elections, but affecting genuine, tangible change and progress for millions of ordinary Americans. Along with the billions of people around the globe who are impacted by what happens in the halls of Congress and the Oval Office.
Together, we can cope, rebuild, organize, mobilize, and work. With our collective strength and energies, we can make our country something we can be truly proud of-inside and out.