From travel bans to reproductive policies to health care, President Donald Trump has shown many of his campaign promises were more than rhetoric. They represent a drastic shift in philosophy from the Obama administration and have been met with protest and resistance.
But are marches, phone calls to senators and Facebook statuses poised to move the needle back in a more Obama-esque direction? Mary Lou Finley, who co-edited The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North (The University Press of Kentucky) and worked with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement, offered tips for peaceful, productive activism.
Nix Name Calling
Sticks and stones may break your bones—and names could hurt your cause. When emotions are heightened and beliefs are strong, calling someone a “stupid liberal” or “xenophobe” may be a reflex. Finley suggested learning to control it. “When you demonize the other person you diminish your ability to expand your movement.” Instead of putting the person on the defensive, Finley suggested making them feel like, as Americans, we are all on the same team. Try saying, “I hear that’s how you see things but that’s not how I see it. We need to go forward creating a just society…Can you join me in fighting for a society that’s fair to everyone?” It makes the person feel heard and keeps the dialogue open.
Narrow Your Focus
Let’s face it: People are angry about multiple issues these days, but Finley said trying to campaign against all of them isn’t nearly as productive as honing in on one aspect of one issue. That doesn’t mean ignoring other legislation you object to, though. “You can join other protests around singular issues or other campaigns but if it’s too diffused you can’t get anywhere.”
Think Past the Protest
Protests, especially ones like the global Women’s Marches, can be highly visible and publicized and a way for people to get in contact with like-minded individuals. But Finley believes it’s what happens after that matters most. “For those people who are concerned about what’s going on right now and want to make their voices known, they need to be focused on organizing a campaign.” Whether you’re concerned about health care or immigration, strategize ways to continue to fight for change.
Finley said the first step is to create a group of people who can work together, whether it’s friends, fellow protestors or people you find on MeetUp or MoveOn. Begin gathering facts on a topic you are concerned about, such as potentially unconstitutional aspects of a law, educate the public about it and think about ways to be heard by lawmakers.
When it comes to contacting lawmakers and politicians, Finley said to start by using the traditional means: phone calls, letters and e-mails. “If they don’t work, you have to have a backup plan. Some people have gone to [an elected officials’] office and stayed there until someone was willing to meet with them…Some are calling their legislatures and asking for a town hall meeting where they can listen to large groups of people. I think that’s great. Legislatures should listen to their constituents.”
A Word About Your Facebook Feed…
If you are using Facebook to organize and find people to campaign with, Finley said by all means, keep doing that. But simply venting and fighting with friends isn’t producing meaningful change. “People may need a place to vent but I’m not sure it should be in the public arena. When you’re doing a movement, you have to think strategically. Just venting is emotional. It’s not a strategy.” Try using the first 10 minutes of a strategy meeting to allow people to get anything off their chests, then work towards finding solutions.
Do What You Can
Not everyone is going to be able to attend protests or join groups, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play a role in fighting for a more just society. Finley recommended standing up at a PTA meeting if people are talking about bathroom policies for transgender students or teaching children to accept people of all religions.
Those who are able to commit major time to a cause may begin to suffer from burnout. Finley said to host monthly or weekly potluck dinners with friends, which remind people of the good in the world, and not to be afraid to take a break if you are worn out or a child is sick. This is where strength in numbers comes in: “If you’re part of a group, you have a space for someone to say, ‘She’s taking a break. I’ll pick up some of her slack.’”