Activism is a bit like writing. People conceive of it as constantly glamorous, but in reality it's a long, hard, often invisible slog of small victories, deep failures, and sweating effort, with occasional huge highs to show for it.
The Women's March, a movement that took in some 300 countries and numbered millions of participants Saturday, is one of those grand moments, a high watermark for feminism, political participation, and American democracy. Behind it, however, remains the machinery of activism in its other forms, the part that requires day-to-day anger and focus and campaigning and representation and door-knocking. That — if the women (and men) of America are going to hold President Trump to account, protest against abuses, and move against the rise of populist far-right rhetoric — is where the work lies. That's your real fight.
Movements often live and die not just by their protests but by what underpins them, the current of real emotional political response to an unacceptable circumstance. The context of anger and the methods in which it's deployed can create real and lasting change. Do you know what you want that change to look like? Do you know how to
make change happen during a Trump administration? Here are some ideas, and your motivation to make it last.
We're in this until at least 2020 (we assume). This is the country you'll wake up to every day. Here's
how to keep the fight going.
Beware The Erosion Of Institutions
Fears around the rise of Trump, particularly from a historical perspective, are focused around the erosion of institutions that keep democracies free and governments answerable to checks and balances. Put simply, there are bits of America that keep it American, democratic, and free. You're going to have to watch for those bits for the next four years, and if they're being eroded, yell like hell.
Freedom of the press matters. Follow the
World Press Freedom Index and Reporters Without Borders. Treatment of the rule of law matters. Be aware of the work of the ACLU. Prisoners, refugees, and immigrants matter. Check out Amnesty International. Governmental transparency matters. Follow the work of NY's Center For Data Science, and of Transparency International. The ability to communicate with your governmental representatives matters. Keep up with phone numbers and methods of communication with senators, representatives, and other members of government. What seem like small increments can build into bigger avalanches.
Resist In Active, Consistent Ways
Here's what's next, after you fold up your pussy hat and your awesome signs and go back to work: maintain your energy. Keep yelling at Congressmen. Keep using governmental and non-governmental means to challenge the unacceptable. Give money to
organizations that may be defunded. Disrupt and destabilize problematic behavior in any way you can. Be safe, and keep others safe, and decide when your own safety is secondary to the pursuit of conscience. There will be days when you are too tired, and too worn out, and need to do self-care, and that is in itself also a form of protest, so that you can come back to the fight with energy and hope.
The good news is that, if the marches have told us anything, we're not only not alone — we're in huge numbers. The community of resistance to this nonsense is significant. There are multiple resources to help you out:
the new Resistance Manual, created by some of America's most brilliant activists, gives guidance to all kinds of protest and registering-of-disapproval. Safety Pin Box, meanwhile, was created by Black Lives Matter activists to give people weekly measurable ways to resist white supremacy. Join groups to fundraise, talk, support one another, keep communities together and safe, mobilize, and be awesome.
Know What Authoritarianism Looks Like
I spent part of my PhD researching collaborationist composers in authoritarian states, like Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. (There's a difference to understand here; authoritarianism is a
concentration of power in one person or group that can't be questioned, while totalitarianism is when the individual is completely subjugated to the state.) The patterns of authoritarianism aren't precise everywhere, but you can sure as heck know what a few of the basic ones are: A leader who can lie or completely distort the truth without any regard for the truth or acceptance of rebuttal; a silencing or disabling of effective opposition; a lack of accountability to other institutions, like justice departments or anti-corruption groups; cronies in power; propaganda on a wide scale over a variety of mediums to emphasize that everything's OK and everybody who says that it isn't is crazy, criminal, or simply absent; a demonizing of an "Other" of some kind; abuse of extraordinary powers, like martial law; and violations of civil rights (mass arrests, for instance).
There are ways to survive and be canny in these situations. Keep eyes on the news, particularly foreign outlets who may not be as susceptible to the administration's control. Make copies of all your identity documentation. If there is a register of any kind, protect those who may be on it, and resist any attempt to make you release information on their whereabouts or identities. And do not trust the information of White House sources, because they can't even tell the truth about something as stupidly insignificant as the
amount of people at an inauguration.
Know That This Won't Be Glamourous
These marches matter because they indicate what
Jonathan Chait at New York calls "the liberal backlash," in which the "demobilization of the Democrats" after years in power gave way to a massive rise and kick in the nation's collective ballsack. This is a big moment, and we'll be high on those images from above of women and allies en masse across America and the globe, coming out in force and in numbers to cry NOPE. But that high is the beginning of the next stage, my friends.
The next four years are going to be a sh*tty slog and they likely won't be buoyed by thousands of women on planes and buses and streets yelling in joyous defiance. I know. It sucks. If you want to get the spotlight and do something prominent, why not take
Tammy Duckworth's advice at the DC rally and run for office yourself? (Tammy Duckworth 2020, by the way.) Even that, though, will be many small acts of effort. China, for thousands of years before 1905, used a method of execution known as death by a thousand cuts — this is the hopeful cumulative effect of all of these aggravating, hard days, not one big slash to topple a giant.
Don't Forget To Make It Global
Hundreds of thousands of people outside of America joined solidarity marches to declare their frustration and misery at Trump's position as head of America. They did it not because America is the center of the universe, but because gender inequality is a deep and pervasive problem worldwide, and the protection of women's rights and freedoms is something that resonates globally. Return the favor.
Show up for them when they need you. Donate to
organizations that fund feminist causes overseas; help legal efforts to overturn deeply sexist laws; and generally hold onto the sense that this is not merely American womanhood, but all womanhood, stepping out into the light and expressing itself as a mass movement that will not tolerate trampling. We are going to do it. We're going to change the world.