Resist. Persist. Activism. Revolution.
These words define citizenship in modern-day America.
We are being challenged. For many, Donald Trump is one of the worst people to the reach the presidency. Perhaps the biggest challenge his administration has presented to us has been the ongoing assault on health insurance accessibility. Maybe it’s education. Or access to contraception. Or net neutrality. Or tax reform.
It could also be one of a dozen other issues I have failed to mention.
Whatever our issue—or issues—are, what matters is that we are being called to take action.
I know the feeling; I’ve been there. I live there. Since 1996, I have taken part in every election—across countless campaigns, in half a dozen states, with a hundred candidates (give or take), and regarding some of the most challenging issues of our time.
And I know it can be challenging, or boring, to get involved.
For me, it was intimidating. My first experience fundraising for a campaign was so awful I literally didn’t do it again for another decade. That’s not a joke or hyperbole. In 2002, I was volunteering for a gubernatorial campaign, and my first day in the office I was asked to do the one thing I said I did not want to do: ask for money.
A decade later, I had to do it again. This time I was trained, I was encouraged, and I had grown quite accustomed to talking about the specific issue I cared about with deep, authentic passion. This time, I crushed it.
Today, I am good at it. I’m shameless when I make an “ask,” and I’m hard to say no to.
So even though I know better than anyone how scary it can be, I am gratified by the engagement that feels unprecedented in my lifetime. Before I say anything else, I just want to thank you. We need you. There is lots to do.
But I think it’s important to take a moment to consider a couple of things: this race is long. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. It’s going to be hard. There is no magic fix to the issues that challenge us; they are connected and complex. They are layered together in ways we might not understand yet. The solutions to one might create challenges in another.
We will not fix these things in the short term. There is no one single election we can win that will produce our vision of an ideal world.
But we can do something—we have done something.
We did it in Virginia. We need to do what they did: pull together and elect leaders who believe in the rights of all the people in our country.
We can dig deeper. Learn about issues—really learn. Work to understand the nuances, such as how something we care about will interact with existing laws and regulations. Learn what doesn’t work, and consider ways things might work better. Dive deeper than talking points, spin, and rhetoric.
Learn about the process. Again—really learn. How does your state legislature work? Who are the power-brokers, and how did they rise in power? How can we have a conversation with them to invoke change?
My experience has been most elected officials at the federal, state, and local level are good people committed to public service. But they’re also part of a system—and if we want to create real change, we’re going to have to be part of that system first. Only then can we change the system to make it more compassionate and equitable.
Issues are complicated. We all need to do a better job understanding the issues and the beliefs behind them. The more we understand issues, how government works, and who the people making decisions are, the better shape we are in to fulfill our civic duty.
Then, volunteer. In person. Hands on. Because too many people I have talked to in the last six months really care about something, but they think that their posts on social media are making enough of a difference. Maybe they are. If you’ve got a Barack Obama-sized following on Twitter and your tweets go viral on the regular, game on. Post away.
For the rest of us though, posting on our senator’s Facebook wall is never going to be as effective as being face-to-face with voters and telling our story.
Legislative offices recognize write-in campaigns—whether it’s pen and paper or email, they know one when they see it. They recognize coordinated phone calls, too.
The most successful campaigns I’ve worked on in the last five years have asked people why they care about an issue. For instance, lately I was working on a campaign to preserve net neutrality, and we asked people why it mattered to them. While I might know that, net neutrality is important, and can give you a dozen reasons why, what I really want to know is why it is important to you? How will the loss of net neutrality impact your day-to-day life?
That is what I want to know.
That is the story I want you to tell. That is the story your representatives need to hear.
Keep your eye on the ball. We cannot afford to let ourselves be distracted. To borrow from James Carville—it’s not about Russia, stupid. Yes, the investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia matters. So does Rex Tillerson’s hollowing out of the State Department. So does every decision made by someone in Donald Trump’s administration.
But there isn’t much we can do about that. I trust Robert Mueller and the work he is doing. So let’s let him do it, but not count on the impeachment fairy to save us.
We need to do what we can, where we can, for as long as we can. We need to take sustained action.
For the stronger we are as citizens, the harder it becomes for spin, partisan rhetoric, or propaganda to challenge our views. The stronger we are as citizens, the easier it will be to hold our leaders accountable. The stronger we are as citizens, the better society we are able to build will be.
Be active. Be engaged. And do it every day. For as long as it takes.
Author: David Sammarco
Image: Elephant Journal/Instagram
Apprentice Editor: Amy Alleman/Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May