Over the past eight years, American politics has given us a political party who has told us that they weren’t particularly in the mood to give healthcare to 9/11 first responders, created laws that were intended to lower the African-American turnout in elections (which was something explicitly stated by some officials) as they simultaneously argued about the historical irrelevance of section 5 of the the Voting Rights Act, repeatedly attempted to rid 20 million Americans of their health care (which would cause thousands to die), refused to hold hearings for a Supreme Court nominee, advocated for the right to refuse service to gay couples as well as the right to refuse those identifying as transgender the ability to use the bathroom, and more. It has also given us Donald Trump, whose incoming administration has already produced widespread concern.
Given what the GOP has told us about itself, and given the positions taken by the incoming administration, it doesn’t seem impossible to think that one should argue something equally sharp in return — that if Jason Chaffetz is more interested in threatening the head of the Office Of Congressional Ethics than in even attempting to show a modicum of interest in Trump’s active violation of the Emoluments Clause, we should respond by calling for the dissolution of the entire GOP — and it would also seem reasonable to plan out for every possible fear that’s arisen. But I think those two points are each missing something crucial.
The medium by which these fears are expressed aren’t a substitute for genuine engagement, for one. Jeb Bush has engaged with education, and the results are genuinely interesting. And it’s important to know that if — for instance — the Affordable Care Act is repealed, there are places some people can immediately go to try and mitigate the damage, like GoodRX, NeedyMeds, Healthfinder, and elsewhere. It’s good to know that there’s an ‘Indivisible Guide’ out there, or a newsletter like ‘Resist,’ or a shelf in City Lights in San Francisco that’s explicitly dedicated to the coming political moment.
But there’s a difference between engagement and scholastically (or even semi-scholastically) informed fear. And we are currently swamped with both fear and what strikes me as engagement that could do with more forms of targeted measurement — that is, a better sense of goals we need to reach and how close we are (or could be) to meeting them.
Consider all the examples of scholastically informed fear you’ve seen since the election and how often they operate free from the context of “And here’s what you can do about that” (and while it isn’t the job of a journalist to do that, the gap exists): for a time, a decent swath of Twitter seemed to be semi-convinced that Obama would be the historical analogue of a Black Republican Senator elected before the dismantling of Reconstruction, but that doesn’t have to be the case if we successfully protest voter suppression and support great candidates; appointing Generals to the cabinet will not automatically result in a coup, especially if our institutions and sense of democratic structure remains strong; and Trump will not end the world in a nuclear arms race, even if it means revisiting the Truman-era debate of the chain of command with regard as to who controls the arsenal and why.
It’s indicative of the nature of the arena of our debate that Slate can create a ‘year of outrage’ that’s quickly forgotten, that Jon Ronson can write a whole book about the internet and shame that’s dismissed for not being attentive enough to women and somehow reflecting a subconscious racial anxiety (and not as a forerunner to the anti-semitic campaign waged against anyone Jewish often in the President Elect’s name), and that — while we won’t follow Lindy West’s example and quit certain parts of the web — we still feel like we need to create a ‘self care’ bot.
Beyond protests, an engaged citizenry, and heeding the warnings Obama outlined in his Farewell Address, one thing that will be needed in the face of the coming administration will be temporary parallel structures.
Here’s what I mean by that: if — and this is just one example of many — the Affordable Care Act gets repealed and no replacement is offered, it won’t be enough to say that you’ve contributed to your community by passing along a webpage that featured cheap alternatives; you’ll need to find a way to measure what you’re doing to make things better, as well as encourage other institutions (perhaps at the local governmental level) to help fill that gap.
There are other examples already cropping up, too, and that should continue. More attention is deserved. Consider 100 Days Of Us, a project based out of Pittsburgh, PA that will hand out $5,000 grants to proposals aimed at making the city better, which includes building housing for the homeless in the city’s interstitial spaces, helping ex-convicts find work in local restaurants, painting portraits of immigrants and refugees, addressing youth violence, increasing the voting turnout in 2018, recruiting more women into the political process, and more.
Or consider the fact that — through The Good Traveler Project — you can buy carbon credits when you fly out of Austin, but that there are only two airports in the country that seem to have this policy. Consider the fact that — as of 2009, per the CIA — there are 15,095 airports in the United States. Compare how flights in the United States environmentally fare when compared with flights in Europe. Consider the fact that this is an opportunity waiting to happen, waiting for phone calls and action taken at weekly organizing sessions that can be as filled with as much diversionary fun as one might like (though not too much; there’s work to do.)
Or consider the Chicago Community Bond Fund, who “... pay bond for people charged with crimes in Cook County, engage in education about the role of bond in the criminal legal system, and advocate for the abolition of money bond [and] support individuals whose communities who have been impacted by structural violence and whose bonds are completely out of proportion with their ability to pay.”
There is a difference between action and sustained action, and what I’m trying to say here is that it’s more than okay for there to be a gap between the urgent rhetoric attached to news stories or the kind of rhetoric we hear from activists and the everyday. What I’m trying to say is — the time to act is now, and that you can take your time.