After the election, I received a flurry of emails from my friends all over the country expressing their fear, anger, sadness, and shock regarding its outcome. But one voice was notably silent: my friend Sam, who also happens to be one of the most politically active of all of my friends. Finally, this evening we received an email from her that was several paragraphs long.
Her email was full of pain — a pain caused by the guilt she felt over not having done enough for this election. “I’m so much more focused on me,” she writes. “My education, my wedding, my career, my house, and on and on and on. I haven’t been looking outside myself much.” I think we can all relate. We’re busy and we get swept up into our own lives. But in keeping up with our jobs, our homes, our family, our digital lives, we forget about the political system that has a tremendous effect on our lives.
Sam feels guilty because she knows what it’s like to be an active participant in the political process. “In years past I have been able to say I knocked on X hundred doors and called X hundred people and raised or gave X,” she wrote. “I did jack-squat this time.” In previous elections — both state and nationwide — she’s stood behind candidates who she believes in and done the hard work to get them elected.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same. I tend to bury my head in the sand when it comes to politics, and this election has made me realize the danger of my complacency. Many citizens of this country — myself included — think that the people in Washington will take care of everything, but the truth is, they can’t do it without us, their constituents. Our inaction IS action.
A lot of us feel angry after this election; protests are erupting all over the country and my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of lengthy rants. But anger does little to move us forward. Reflecting on this election over the past few days, my thoughts have turned from shock and sadness towards the future. Moving forward, what can I do to be a productive citizen of my country? How can I engage with democracy in a meaningful way? How can I turn my rage into positive action?
As I said before, I’ve never been politically active, aside from voting in major elections. I don’t keep up with local politics and I’ve never spent time working on any campaigns. Up until now, my political acts have consisted of tending a vegetable garden and riding my bicycle — and I won’t stop doing these things. But I’m ready to do more.
Getting involved in something like politics in a country as vast as the United States of America can definitely feel overwhelming. Where do we start? How can we make a change? Being politically inexperienced, I called up my good friend Sam and asked her about different ways that I can get involved. Together, we came up with this list:
How can I turn my rage into positive action?
1. Put down the smartphone and get out of your pajamas.
Signing petitions, retweeting articles, and posting rants on social media can give us the illusion that we’re doing something, but what would happen if you volunteered for a local candidate who supports issues that are important to you, or attended a city council meeting? Social media can be a great tool for organizing action, but it is not a form of action in itself.
2. Educate yourself.
The political process can be confusing, so ask questions and do your homework. We live in a time of limitless information, so use it! Knowledge is power.
3. Find your cause.
Immigration reform, environmental sustainability, women’s issues, and systematic racism are just a few of our country’s most important issues. Unfortunately, there are too many to get behind them all. Rather than getting overwhelmed and giving in to helplessness, pick a cause that resonates most with you and find out what you can do to make a change.
4. Work on the local level.
Every little race matters — not just the presidential race. The people we support on the local level are the ones that will eventually represent us in Washington D.C. Midterm elections are only two years away, and it’s never too early to start preparing.
5. Money talks.
There are as many nonprofit organizations as there are stars in the sky, and it’s hard to know who to support. Thankfully, websites like Charity Navigator help you sort out the good from the bad. Again, choose an organization that supports issues that are close to your heart and let your money do the talking.
6. Time is money.
Voter registration drives. Beach clean-ups. Local politics. (Many candidates don’t have enormous budgets for their campaigns, so they rely on volunteers to help them get the word out.) Even if it’s only a few hours a month, your effort will go a long way.
7. Share your story.
Talking to people about our experiences, hopes and fears can help humanize otherwise faceless issues. Whether you’re an educator or a nurse, a farmer or a midwife— engage with the people around you. Share your experiences. Talk about what’s important to you and why. Don’t be afraid to have important conversations, but always speak from a place of love and compassion. The more we learn about one another, the more open our hearts, and the better off we will be.
8. Reach beyond the echo chamber.
Although it may be tempting to give in to fear and shut out people with opposing views, it’s more important than ever to stay connected to our human community —and not just those who voted for our candidate. Listen to people who are different than you, and you may find that you have more in common than you thought.
9. Take care of yourself.
As important as it is to give our energy to great causes, it can be easy to burn out. It’s essential to find ways to nurture yourself and regain your energy, whether that means drawing a hot bath, dancing in front of the mirror, or finding solace in nature.
10. Don’t forget this feeling.
Sam told me that she wrote herself a letter detailing how she’s feeling right now to read as a reminder later, when the complacency starts to creep back in. Anger can be useful when it pushes us towards productive action, so let’s use this powerful surge of feelings to make a positive change in our society, our country, and our planet.
Top photo: Twitter/@survivorhealer
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Carmella de los Angeles Guiol is a writer and educator living in South Florida. She has traveled to five continents and has worked as an artisan baker, organic farmer, and deck hand on a luxury sailboat. You can often find her kayaking the Hillsborough River, but you can always find her at www.therestlesswriter.com / @xRestlessWriter.