One good thing has been birthed by the Trump Presidency: droves of Americans have been moved to “resistant” action in the form of running for office. The Daily Kos reports that Democrats have filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission to run in 385 House districts out of 435 total nationwide. Furthermore, “of the 241 seats held by the GOP, Democrats have filed in 191, or 79 percent. Republicans, by contrast, have only done the same in 62 out of 194 Democratic seats—just 32 percent.” This corresponds to a surge of progressive groups that oppose Trump’s agenda – including Indivisible, Run for Something, Emerge America and Color of Change – as well as a flood of “money into liberal grass-roots programs,” record-level “turnout in post-2016 Democratic primaries,” and a precipitous rise in “the number of Democratic candidates filing for office at all levels of government.”
This is heartening and encouraging! We must always remember, though, that active citizenship is important all the time, not just at the time of national elections. In a democratic republic like ours, we all have an obligation to participate in the system, in one way or another; if we do not, we can see the results – not only low voter rates, where decisions about our fate reside in a small number of citizens and the representatives they elect, but also some levels of despair, anger, confusion, malaise, and a lack of trust in anything or anyone.
Here are a few suggestions that an engaged citizen can consider to offset the negative atmosphere we find ourselves in. Not all of us can do everything, but all of us must do something!
- Read a local newspaper or somehow keep up as much as you’re able with what’s going on in your community, your state, our nation and the world. Don’t stress about this: we are overloaded with information, and our society keeps us too busy in some ways to allow us to be the citizens we must. But do the best you can to stay informed: awareness is a major step.
- Make sure you’re registered to vote, then vote in all local, state and federal elections. Even if you do not agree with everything a certain candidate says or stands for – none of us is perfect – it’s better to vote for someone you’re more aligned with than not to vote at all. (I’ve rarely been totally enamored of our presidential candidates, for instance, but I’ve still cast a vote for one over another. I also once voted for a Republican governor because the Democratic candidate was totally unacceptable on many levels. Also, recall that my “druthers” would be a multi-party system and coalition government rather than our fractured two-party system. In Vermont, I’m often able to vote for a Progressive, an Independent or a Democrat; it’s unfortunate that in the US we usually need to align with one of only two national parties if we want to participate in the process.)
- Support initiatives that increase voter registration and representation.
- Surround yourself with people whose values represent the best of us, not the worst.
- Run for office or support others running for office who stand for American values of liberty, equality and justice for all.
- Write letters to the editor to make your voice heard.
- Contact your elected representatives to let them know where you stand on the issues, to challenge them, to support them, and to receive their informational e-blasts; communicating is fairly easy to do these days via their websites.
- Volunteer for organizations that promote justice and/or that help the oppressed and less fortunate. The internet can be very useful in finding groups in your area.
- If you are relatively comfortable in your situation but in a political “bubble,” surrounded primarily by people like yourself, try to get out of it at least once in awhile. Find ways to expand your knowledge of people and belief systems outside of your circle or comfort zone. Familiarity goes a long way toward reducing fear, prejudice, discrimination and even violence, and “exercising” your brain has been shown to enhance health and longevity.
- Sign online and other petitions that promote progressive, positive and healing values or actions. MoveOn.org has progressive petitions, for instance.
- Check the facts if you sense that something you’re hearing doesn’t sound quite right (or sounds too good to be true). PolitiFact and FactCheck.org are two reliable sites.
- Participate in vigils, religious services and protests to be in solidarity with like-minded folk.
- Refrain from confrontations on political or other sensitive topics, with friends, colleagues or relatives, if there is little point or if the exercise is uncomfortable. Your energy would be better used in dialogue with others or engaging in different types of activism.
- Use social media sensibly and moderately. Too much social media can be distracting, addictive, misleading, and anti-communal (despite its supposed aura of bringing people together).
- For your own peace of mind, if you are depressed or demoralized by what goes on in our country, find ways to take care of yourself. Activism of the kinds described above are some ways because you will feel that you are doing something, but other self-care methods include meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, exercise, centering prayer, healthy eating, dinner with friends, cute baby animal pictures, time with a pet, a concert, a play, a walk in the woods, a funny movie, asking for help, etc.
- If you are a person of color, far be it for me, a white woman, to give you advice! But please know that millions of us around the country are at least trying to be your ally. We may stumble frequently in our attempts, in our language, in our perspectives, but we are trying, in our own limited ways, to pursue justice and equality in this country, and I would encourage you to “keep on keepin’ on,” despite all the barriers and obstacles in front of you.
This is our country: as citizens, we all own it, and we must try to nurture and sustain it however we can.