First steps

I wrote last week about feeling like I wanted to be more active, politically, socially, but not having the wherewithal to actually do much. I have friends, fired up and passionate, doing their 5 phone calls a day and still wishing they could do more. But I’ve just felt overwhelmed by everything as it coincides with my personal life.

I know, from my time in DC, where everything is politics all the time, that I have to tune out regularly. When I first lived in the DC area, I listened to public radio during my commutes, and it was lots of news on the national and international stage. Every day. And what was going on in 2001 and 2002 was upsetting to me. And so one day I just gave myself permission to not pay attention to the news for a while. That turned out to be a great decision for my mental health.

So now, I pay enough attention to know the outline of what’s going on. But I don’t read everything, I don’t spend a lot of time to know all the details of everything that is going on. And I am willing to go for days not knowing anything. One thing I did read, early on, was the Indivisible guide written by former congressional staffers. While being in DC, I learned that the staffers run everything, know everything. I have friends who have been staffers. I’ve done a tiny bit of science lobbying through BESC (you can too!) and have talked with staffers. I respect them and their perspective.

Since reading that document, I’ve wanted to get connected locally. But how? Normally, I’m a keen organizer and could put together an event myself to find other like-minded people. But I am off my game right now. I can’t be a leader right now. I’ve also only lived here a few years and most of that was filled with baby-having and baby-raising and my job. I’ve talked to a couple neighbors, but none of them knew of any groups smaller than state-level ones.

So I was glad when I saw a District 5 event being organized through social media. I need one of these events because it’s not clear to me what I can do that’s useful. I live in very liberal Massachusetts in a very liberal district. To give you an idea, Elizabeth Warren (of #shepersisted fame) is my senator. Katherine Clark (who was one of the first to announce she’d boycott the inauguration) is my representative. Supportive phone calls are nice, but isn’t there more?

So on Saturday, I drove to a nearby community center along with about 75 other people. The organizers had had to switch venues twice, originally planning for a dozen participants, and then 50. It was really encouraging to go. Here’s what I learned.

  • It’s been less than a month since the inauguration. It feels like longer, but it’s really just been several weeks. Grassroots organizations — some for resisting, some tied directly to the Democratic Party, some for building something new — are just starting to organize. And there are a lot of them. And it’s not clear yet how they’re all going to interact. That will play out over time. (For example, the District 5 group splintered off a similar Boston group. Now this District 5 group is so big, it’s likely it will break into smaller groups, as well.)
  • If you haven’t done anything yet or you feel overwhelmed by all you want to do, but can’t, breathe. It’s only been a few weeks. There will be passion and energy needed over the next two years, over the next four years. If you can’t do anything now, that’s okay. You’ll be needed later when other people tire out.
  • Figure out a long-term strategy that you can do regularly. Can you make phone calls? Yes? How often? Some people can make five calls a day. Others might need to commit to just once per week. That’s okay. Pick something you can stick with. Not a calling person? Can you connect to a local group? What talents can you provide? If all you can do is join an email list and be in the loop, that’s great. For me, I’m committing to doing one thing per week. Last week I went to a meeting. This week I’m writing this post. Next week, I’ll gather contact and voting info on my senators, representatives, governor, and state-level senator and representative. One thing at a time. Slowly.
  • There are SO MANY people who are energized and motivated right now.[1]They appear to be mostly middle-aged and older liberal white women. One challenge I see is to bring a diverse group of people together. I think it’s possible, but it’s going to require direct attention and effort. It gives me a lot of hope. Our meeting of 75 split into four discussion groups. My group talked about what we want to say to Katherine Clark, what we want to ask of her, what we want her to tell us. It was led by a woman who introduced herself like this: “I’ve always followed politics. Always cared about what’s going on. But I was complacent and thought things were going in the right direction. I never DID anything. Now I’m kicking myself. Why didn’t I volunteer last summer to get out the vote? I’m green. I don’t know how to do this. But I’m passionate.” I think this sentiment resonated widely. And, as it turned out, our group included two former congressional staffers. This mixing of energized passion and knowledge of how the system works is awesome. I’m very hopeful.

Permanent link to this article: http://ecologybits.com/index.php/2017/02/16/first-steps/

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  1. Friday links: don’t kill science, unlearning descriptive statistics, BEST POSTER EVER, and more | Dynamic Ecology

    […] Semi-relatedly, Margaret Kosmala on dipping her toes into political activism. […]

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