I don’t know if this is a word of hope or warning or rallying, but here’s the thing with this sudden flurry of activity from Trump and Congress: as those of us who have lived under radical GOP rule can tell you, “shock and awe” is definitely part of the program. They’re going to throw a thousand things at the wall, counting on the fact that people can only effectively oppose a few of them. Don’t bother with the “X is just a convenient distraction from Y!” It’s all coming at the same time, you’ll make yourself nuts.
(Also, as a side note, for fucks’ sake stop with the “this is terrifying,” “this is not normal,” “let that sink in,” etc. Everybody’s consciousness has been raised, thanks.)
Anyway, the GOP throws up this shock and awe attack because they know they have a weak hand. Time is not on their side, and they know it: the more time people have to look at their agenda, the less they like it, and the more they reject it. The same is true with nominees: the more scrutiny they receive, the less likely they are to get a radical through. This is why GOP legislators in the states are reducing the time required for the hearing of new bills. It’s also why the GOP Congress is in such a hurry to get nominees confirmed, and why they hide their hearings.
Not only all of this, but the extremists want to get things done early, so that people forget about them by the next election. And let’s be honest: the way things are going, the national GOP is setting itself up for a massive backlash in 2018. So the single most effective strategy for liberals these days might be: stall stall stall delay delay delay.1 Make them bring their proposals and their nominees out where everybody can see them.
This means, dear liberals from blue states, or progressives with good representation, you do have something to contribute. Call your Congresscritter and demand that they insist on full hearings for all legislation and all nominees. Liberal members of Congress have utterly no reason not to drag things out to their maximum length, each and every time. Your phone calls can stiffen their resolve to make sure that happens.
There’s so much going on, it’s hard to know where to begin. Don’t sweat it. Unless there’s a true crisis, just pick a favorite issue and go. Figure out what committees your reps serve on, what issues they care about, and push there.
And again, for fucks’ sake, don’t shame people for making phone calls on issue X when you think they should call on issue Y. Everybody’s doing what they can. (Ditto marching, lobbying, etc. etc. Let a thousand flowers bloom.)
How to make things happen
Listen, I was talking to a friend the other day who didn’t know how to call her representative. Worse, she didn’t know that she could call her representative. She literally had never thought about calling a congressional office. When I told her that yes, in fact, it’s possible, that Representatives and Senators worked for her, she was taken aback. Again, she’d never thought of it. “It doesn’t seem like they work for me,” she said. “It usually feels like the other way around.”
There are many people like this who don’t think they can share their opinion with elected officials. It’s simply not true, and elected officials count on people not knowing it so they can ignore citizen opinion. (As a friend points out, this is also why elected officials overestimate how conservative their districts are. It’s because they mostly hear from conservative constituents.)
If you care about the issues, it is your responsibility to educate others about their rights as citizens. That’s true for both liberals and conservatives, but particularly for liberals. Here’s why: the modern, radical, GOP succeeds by locking people out of the political process by formal means (vote suppression) and by informal discouragement. If you want liberal or progressive values to succeed, you must increase participation.
Therefore, one of the most valuable things you can do as a progressive activist is to teach other people how to make their voices heard. Another incredibly important thing you can do is help people register to vote, particularly as barriers continue to rise. Fortunately, there are tools to make at least the participation bit easy:
- You can look up congressional activity here: http://congress.gov
- You can find your representative by zip code here: http://house.gov/htbin/findrep
- Find your Senator here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
- You can read about strategy here: http://indivisibleguide.com/web/ (That’s the Indivisible movement, highly recommended.)
- You can even get suggestions of calls to make and sample scripts: http://5calls.org
Remember while you’re doing this: tweets and Facebook posts to elected officials are utterly worthless. So are emails, email petitions, and open letters. Direct letters are better, but not much. What they do respect and fear are phone calls, particularly to their local district offices. They also listen to constituent meetings, which it is your right to ask for. (Better in a group.) They also pay attention to town hall meetings, particularly if they get embarrassing.2
So there you have it. I am a reluctant spokesman for hope, but the fact of the matter is that ordinary citizens are far from helpless, despite the best efforts of some people to make it seem that way. You have tools to slow the extremist roll or even turn it away altogether. Furthermore, I have often found that the best way to cope with anxiety is to remind myself of my values and then find a way—one way at a time—to act on them. If you take action, you’ll feel better about your situation, and who knows? You might even change the world.
1.↩“These days” being a key phrase here. I am not at all interested in what Democrats or liberals could have done or should have done. Nor do I care about variations on “the Democrats screwed this up” or “We need a better party to lead us,” or “Nothing can be done,” or “They’re all corrupt.” This is acedia at best and FUD at worst. Do something or fuck right off.
2.↩This is all condensed from the Indivisible guide, which again is very good.