So it’s been a month since Inauguration Day and the Women’s March on Washington. Yeesh. It feels more like a year. In the first few weeks post-Inauguration, I burned myself out. I was marching every weekend, calling my senators every chance I got, and staring at Twitter every waking moment. I’ve been politically engaged and active in electoral politics for as long as I can remember, but I’m new to activism, and have found myself unsure how to be effective since the Women’s March. Something had to change, so I reached out to a friend to get some advice on activism.
Meet Sarah Clements
Sarah Clements first got involved with gun control activism after her town, Newtown, CT, experienced a shooting in 2012. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sarah took part in her first march, the March on Washington for Gun Control, in January of 2013. From there she began to organize among her peers, do grassroots lobbying, and become an advocate for gun control. I got to know Sarah last summer when we went to the Democratic National Convention together, and she is one of the most incredible people I know.
On pacing yourself
The most important thing to recognize is that this is a marathon and not a spring. Everything feels urgent right now but we have to sustain ourselves because this isn’t going to end soon. No matter where you’re at personally, you can’t thrust your all into this. The first rule in organizing is to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.
On welcoming newcomers to the world of activism
For a lot of my friends and for people who are new to activism, it’s a new normal, and I understand how that shift can rock your world a little bit. I want to respect that, because if organizers ridicule people you’ve come late to the party, then we’re not going to get anywhere.
I understand the sense of responsibility and urgency that comes with this work, but that can subconsciously push aside the need for self care, sleep, and eating well. You have to remember that you’re not the only person fighting this. You need to see yourself as part of a collective, and not as the only person in your community who’s going to save everything.
On worst case scenarios
This sounds alarmist and scary, but prepare for the worst. Read the warning signs. This is not a time to be vulnerable. Make sure your finances are in order, because one thing you don’t want to have right now is massive crippling debt. Figure out who can support you, give you bail, literally take you in and house you.
On what you can do to make a difference
Call elected officials every day. Make it something you do no matter where you are. Writing letters doesn’t really do anything – making phone calls is so much more effective. Keep a pair of sneakers at your desk so you can go out and march at a moment’s notice.
Activism To Do List
So now that we’ve figured out the basics, are you ready for an activism to-do list?
As Sarah said, calling your representatives is the most effective action you can do. When you’re ready to pick up the phone, check out The 65. The 65 started out as a Google Doc with instructions to help you get in touch with your representatives. It became so popular that there’s now a whole website dedicated to explaining step-by-step how to call your representatives and make your voice heard, with call scripts ‘for over a dozen issues in the progressive agenda‘, and weekly calls to action.
If you’re short on time (though I’d like to emphasize that making a call can take just a couple minutes), donate. I’ve set up recurring monthly donations with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood. Pick an issue that’s important to you and commit to giving a little every month, even if it’s just $5. Another way to support the resistance with your wallet? Subscribe to The Washington Post, The New York Times, or another solid journalism institution. David Farenthold at The Washington Post has been responsible for breaking some of the biggest Trump news, and it costs just $9.99/month to subscribe, support his work, and stay in the loop.
Do you have more free time than disposable income? Start volunteering. It’s not a traditional election year, but you can still volunteer on a campaign. For example, if you live in Atlanta, there’s a special election in the GA-06 to replace Tom Price. (I’m supporting Jon Ossof, but research your options!) Support a woman’s right to choose? Volunteer as an escort at abortion clinics. Are you a lawyer? You can volunteer with the ACLU and help support those being affected by Trump’s travel ban Executive Order(s).
- Run for Office
So I’m a little hesitant to suggest this, but running for office is the last, life changing, opportunity for activism. Why am I hesitant to suggest running for office? Because I know too many people who aren’t even qualified to be dogcatcher, but want to run for office because it’s the most high profile form of activism. But if you have what it takes, and you’re in it for the right reasons, you should absolutely consider running for office. EMILY’s List is specifically committed to training strong female candidates to run for office at all levels of the ballot. Find out more here.
I don’t know about you, but I feel a little bit more ready to tackle activism now. I know I won’t be on Sarah’s level any time soon, but at least I have a better idea of how to stand up and fight back without burning myself out.
NOTE: For more great activism ideas, follow Sarah Clements on Twitter at @sfclem!
How are you practicing activism in your community? Share your tips below!