i lift my lamp

In these difficult times, many are wondering what they can do to combat the rise of hatred, bigotry, and selfishness in America. In times like this, it is common to wonder what difference one person can possibly make in the face of such an ominous wave roaring swiftly across the land.

The following guide is meant not as an exhaustive list of ways to be involved, but as a thought experiment to help you identify your optimal role in this struggle. It is phrased as a series of questions, a sort of “Choose Your Own Adventure” of resistance. There are no right answers or wrong answers. There are no roles that are more or less important. Many of us don’t know how we might get involved, and this list of questions is just designed to help you find your own path forward.

You matter. You can make a difference.

  • Do you want to help?
    • No.
    •  Yes.
      • Do you have assets? 
        • Yes. Assets come in many forms, and each is important to opposing injustice. Are your assets material, physical, professional, or emotional?
          • Material. Are your material assets money, shelter, transportation or other?
            • Money. Money is essential in this fight because the forces of hatred are well-funded, but money isn’t everything. Money will be necessary for legal battles, to support protesters who need food and relief from the weather, to support local and national candidates who are working to oppose the erosion of civil liberties and the exploitation of marginalized communities, and to support charities that are doing important work on behalf of those who are victimized by this administration. Donations are great, and if you can make donations, please consider doing so. The causes are numerous: women’s rights, immigrant rights, protection of targeted racial minorities, religious freedom, transgender rights, gay rights, and rights for the poor and financially insecure. Do your homework about how these organizations function, and where your money is going. Charity Navigator is a great tool for learning more about public charities. However, remember that with financial security comes a level of security that other members of our society do not enjoy. Being arrested for protesting or taking part in civil disobedience is expensive, and not a luxury that some people enjoy. Particularly, people of color and transgender people face a disproportionate likelihood of encountering violence in society, and protesting or engaging in civil disobedience likely only increases that risk. But these communities are also regularly financially marginalized. Using your relative financial security to help other less-secure members of this movement is a way to ensure our collective success. Projects like The Safety Pin Box help people who have relative privilege both give back, uplift, and become engaged as allies.
            • Shelter. If you have a home, especially a home that has room for another person, consider lending it out to an activist who needs a safe place to be. In a time where immigrants, as well as religious, racial, gender and sexual minorities are genuinely concerned for their safety, access to safe and stable housing is vital. Whether it is for a night during a major protest in your city or for six months while you help a person stay safe in an ever more uncertain time, sharing your shelter with another can be an act of resistance that might save a life. Remember: this doesn’t have to be as scary as letting a stranger live with you. Even in the era of AirBnB, that isn’t something most people are comfortable with. But you probably know someone who is personally targeted by the actions of this administration. Ask around. Make sure your friends and family know that you are a safe person to talk to.
            • Transportation. If you have reliable transportation, that may be a luxury that others, especially those in low-income or rural communities, do not have. Driving individuals to the DMV to have their license renewed is an act of revolution in a country where voter ID laws are being used to suppress the minority vote all across the country. Running errands for protesters, picking up and dropping off protesters who are exposed to the weather, or even just giving them a place to sit and relax and either warm up or cool down, are all ways that access to transportation is crucial. Volunteer with an organization that drives progressive voters to the polls to ensure high turnout among those who care about marginalized groups in our society.
            • Other. Take stock of what you have. Whatever you have is useful, in some way,  in the fight against the rise of extremism in America. Approach this question with an open mind. Do you have a house but aren’t comfortable having people stay there? Volunteer to host meetings for local activist groups. Do you have money but are concerned about donating it to a giant nebulous organization that might spend it all on stamps to mail letters back to you asking for more money? Then donate directly to local charities and organizations. Ask them what they need, ask them what would help and give them those things. In-kind donations are always welcome if they are done thoughtfully. Just because NPR wants your old car, truck or boat doesn’t mean that a local charity has the capacity to resell a vehicle efficiently. Don’t burden organizations and activists with your help. Instead, ask and listen and act accordingly.
          • Physical. Can you do strenuous or light physical activity or none at all?
            • Strenuous. Protest, because not everyone can. Help organizations that need physical labor. Walk door to door talking to people about the negative impacts these policies are having on people here in America and around the world. Shoe leather is still a valuable asset, but one that too few people feel empowered to use. Local organizations, both political and charitable, would love to have you stand up for their cause.
            • Light. Not everyone can protest or go door-to-door. That’s okay! Phone banking, letter writing, and clerical tasks are also vital. Are you a champion envelope licker? Then ask which organization needs a volunteer to lick all their envelopes. Are you able to do repetitive physical tasks? Mass mailings and phone banking are totally your thing. Even something as simple as showing up once a week to make the office coffee helps an activist organization run more efficiently.
            • None. Some people are not physically able to take part in activism, and that’s okay too! Whether you are homebound or just not physically able to take part in direct action or advocacy, you can still be involved in some other way.
          • Professional. Are your professional skills or assets related to the legal, medical, educational, informational, or communications fields or to one not listed?
            • Legal. If you are a lawyer, this is kind of an all-hands moment. Whether you get involved by counseling people pro-bono to help them navigate the tightening noose of legal discrimination in America, or get involved as a legal observer at protests around the country, this is your moment. Not every lawyer in America is going to be suing the Trump Administration over its policies. Impact litigation is a tiny slice of what lawyers can do to make a difference. Volunteer to talk to friends, family, and community organizations about what they need to do to get their legal house in order. Gay couples facing the possibility of state-sanctioned discrimination on religious grounds should absolutely still have Power of Attorney for one another, as well as a designation of Medical Proxy or a Living Will, in addition to a traditional will. Either help them draft those documents or point them to a DIY resource. Transgender people will need help obtaining accurate documentation. Help them navigate this system. Poor people, minorities and others at risk of discrimination or state action against them need to understand their legal rights and their risks. Immigrants need to understand their status, what it entails, and what actions may or may not be prudent in times such as these. Should they choose to travel abroad and interact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, someone needs to be on the lookout to ensure that their exit from or entry into America is not unjustly hampered. This doesn’t mean you have to file a habeas petition, but just being an extra set of eyes and ears for people who can sound the alarm and notify the experts is an invaluable asset in a time like this.
            • Medical. If you have medical training of any type, attend protests and be prepared to be a first-responder. If you can train others in basic first aid or in CPR, do that. Volunteer for organizations that go into marginalized communities and provide medical assistance. Your skills are needed, and you are uniquely positioned to use them.
            • Educational. Are you a teacher? Work to overcome the obstacles that society has placed in front of some eager students. Volunteer to tutor students. Volunteer to teach an English class to immigrants. Volunteer to mentor a single student. Fight misinformation wherever you see it. Fight the rising tide of extremism among young people by correcting bigoted thinking and exposing your students to a multitude of perspectives as well as peer-reviewed science. Teach them history, and show them the terrifying parallels between what is happening today and what has happened elsewhere. Ensure that they are ready to take up the torch for the next generation, and ensure that extremism has no chance to take hold among them.
            • Informational. Are you a librarian or a journalist? Fight fire with laser cannons from the moon. You are it. You are the last line of defense between us and “alternative facts.” Be ruthless in your search for the truth, and share the truth with everyone you can. Guard us against fake news, and fight misinformation at every turn. Keep track of what is happening, because many of us will be unable to catalog this series of events in a meaningful way. Even after 10 days of actions by the Trump Administration, it has become hard to recall all the terrifying, illegal and unjust things they have done. There will be more, and keeping careful track of them is key to ensuring that they are temporary and dealt with quickly.
            • Communications. Are you a designer? We need signs. We need slogans. We need chants and messages that spread messages of love and peace in a time of darkness and fear. If you are in communications of any type, or have an aptitude for it, consider putting your energy toward messaging. Are you a writer? Write. Keep writing. Write even when nobody is reading. Tell stories that make people think, and tell stories that challenge the dominant narratives of hatred and xenophobia. Tell stories that challenge us to be better. And shut down the voices in your life that are telling you to stop telling these stories. Start a blog, start a Twitter stream to keep track of one part of the fight. Create something. Add your voice to the chorus that will eventually drown out hatred and intolerance.
            • One not listed. We all have skills. Language skills will be vital to ensure that those who do not speak English are given due process, or that their stories are told. Organizational skills will be essential to keeping up momentum in the face of fascism.
          • Emotional. Are your emotional skills listening, sharing, supporting or helping people navigate difficult times?
            • Listening. Right now there is a lot to listen for, and many people are not emotionally able stay aware of everything that is happening or they risk shutting down. If you are someone who can continue to listen, someone who can keep their ears to the ground and their eyes wide open, please do so and remember that to observe injustice is one of the key parts of holding those responsible accountable.
            • Sharing. Do you have a story that you can share with others to help them through this time? Have you been personally touched by these events? Speak about it. Tell people so that they will understand your story. Start a blog. Start a Twitter feed. Ask to speak to community groups. Do not let your story, or the message of this movement be washed away in the rising tide of hatred. No story is too small or insignificant.
            • Supporting or Helping. This is a trying time. Many will be harmed by these policies and they need our support and healing. Many more activists will be demoralized, because this is not going to be a fight that ends quickly. Support each other. Lend a hand to those who need it, and keep an eye out for those who may need a little extra strength. Being the shoulder to cry on, the ear to listen, and the friend who is there when it all seems too, too terrible, is a gift that we must give one another. Self care is important, but because no person is an island, sometimes we need each other. Be there when someone needs you.
    • No. Not everyone has assets to share, and that’s okay! One of the most important things to remember is that you can only give of what you have. And there are so many other ways to give. Do you have time?
      • Yes. Some aspects of this movement require time and energy, rather than dollars and cents. Can you help organize a community group or community events?
        • Help organize a group.
          • Find a group. There is no shortage of groups out there, and they each need people who are good with organizing. Whether you can organize a group of interns or volunteers or you can organize a filing cabinet, your skills will be put to use. And if the first group you find can’t use your particular skills: DO NOT GIVE UP. There will be another that is desperately searching for someone just like you. Organization doesn’t need to be a major commitment, but it does need doing. And often overworked staffers have a list of things they need to do, eventually, after all the fires are put out. But right now everything is on fire, and there isn’t an extinguisher large enough to get in front of these things. So help keep things from falling apart by doing the scutwork that nobody else has time to do.
          • Start a group. Talk to friends and neighbors. Begin small and then get big or stay small and be independent. Find a common passion or a common cause and rally together. Have a dinner party of like-minded people. Introduce your progressive friends to one another. Plan a fundraiser. Plan a protest. Plan a demonstration. Sit down and write letters together.
        • Help organize events. Whether you’re organizing the Women’s March, a demonstration in front of your local congressional representative’s office, an act of civil disobedience, a voter registration drive, a fundraiser, or a party to celebrate victory, there will be many events over the next few years that will need to be organized. Organizing events doesn’t require much specific expertise, but it is a skill that some people have and others don’t. Do you understand how to secure local permits for protesting? Are you willing to spearhead a clean-up effort after a major event? Can you organize a small group of people who want to be involved in a larger event? Whatever level of organization you can take on, that’s the right level of involvement for you. Many people either can’t or won’t attend major events. If you thrive on big gatherings and making sure they go off without a hitch, volunteer your time.
      • No. Most people have huge demands on their times, and many risk losing their jobs if they take time off of work. Do not be disheartened if you cannot participate due to a lack of time. There are still many ways to be involved that don’t take a lot of time. Do you have a platform?
        • Yes. Platforms come in many forms. Today, internet activism can be accomplished by simply clicking the mouse. But there are several other types of platforms for you to help spread the word about the injustices being experienced in America today. Do you use the Internet, the telephone, snail mail, or talk to people in person? Are you in a leadership position in any capacity?
          • Internet. Nearly everyone has Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media presence. Use that platform for good and not for evil. Be careful what you share. In an era of misinformation, know how to spot fake news. In an era where people are targeted based on their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, avoid outing people in public ways that might be searched by someone with nefarious aims. And once you’re done being a careful steward of your online platform, think about how you can best use it. A public forum serves a lot of purposes: It can educate others. It can lend a voice of support. It can combat hatred. It can challenge bigotry. It can demonstrate solidarity. Many people are afraid to speak out online because of the repercussions it could have in daily life. That is a reasonable concern. If you are not in a position to speak out online in a safe way, find another platform for advocacy. Be aware that internet advocacy may not be enough. We need people speaking out online, but we also need people doing a million other things. This list is primarily aimed at combating “slacktivism:” the idea that hitting like or ranting on Facebook is enough. It isn’t. If it is all you can do, then great. But before you declare that there isn’t anything else you could possibly contribute, consider some of the other questions in this guide.
          • Phone. Your phone is a powerful tool that can be used to achieve amazing things. First, know your rights. Then find ways to use your phone. Its primary purpose is communication, so using it to call legislators is a fundamental way to get involved. Indivisible has great resources for how to be an effective legislative advocate. But your phone is also a tool that can be used to document and combat injustice. Have it powered up and ready to go. Have an extra battery pack if you are going into a dangerous situation. Have space for recording. Know how features like Facebook Live work. Using apps like ACLU’s Mobile Justice app are a great way to ensure that a safe copy of a recording gets into friendly hands.
          • Mail. The mail is totally underrated. Sitting down to write a letter to a member of congress as a constituent is an important way to have your voice heard. While staffers may be swamped with phone calls and overrun with emails, the mail system – slow as it may be – ensures that someone sits down to open and read your letter. Important, as well, though maybe a little less low-tech, is to submit op-eds to your local newspaper explaining your position on the injustices that the Trump Administration is responsible for. Local newspapers enjoy a much higher degree of trust than do national media outlets, and think about the people in your life who read the local newspaper. Are they Millennial voters? Probably not. They are older voters who tend to live in a conservative bubble. Burst. That. Bubble.
          • Person-to-Person. Talk to people. This is probably one of the hardest things to do. It’s difficult to have difficult conversations, but we have to have them if we’re going to convince some huge number of other Americans to stop hating people just because they’re different. Talk to people about who you know who is impacted by these things. Speak up, speak out. The old slogan from ACT UP is as relevant as ever: Silence Equals Death. Remember that when you would rather just block or ignore your crazy uncle rather than sit down with him and explain why racism, sexism, homophobia and religious intolerance have no place in America. Again, this is not a tactic that will work for everyone. Some people may find themselves in genuine danger when trying to confront hatred. Do not jeopardize your safety to do this.
          • Leadership position. Are you in a position of leadership? Are you an employer? Explain to them where you stand on this issue. Protect your employees with policies that affirm their dignity and protect them; even if you don’t plan to discriminate against them, let them know by offering them greater protection than is required by law. Pay them a living wage. Ensure that their healthcare is covered. Make sure that they know you support them and that you know what they’re going through. Are you a community leader of some sort? Speak out to your group and encourage them to get involved. Do not equivocate. As they say: if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Choose and pursue justice in your own personal sphere of influence.
        • No. Not everyone is comfortable publicly advocating for certain issues. More importantly, many people in marginalized communities may be putting themselves at great risk by advocating publicly for certain ideals. If you are afraid to speak up, make sure that you are basing the decision to stay quiet on genuine safety concerns. Making another person uncomfortable or making a personal or family relationship awkward is probably not a great excuse for not talking about injustice. If, in the end, you are not comfortable trying to use your influence to gain support for justice in America, there are still other ways that you can contribute. Do you have an imagination?
          • Yes. Today we are faced with new and scary challenges to fairness and equality in America. It is going to take creative thinking to overcome these obstacles and to safeguard justice in America. You have ideas to contribute. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the American South to the White Rose resistance movement in Nazi Germany to the Singing Revolution in the Baltic states, those resisting injustice have always found creative ways to counter and drive oppressive regimes into failure. The militarization of policing in America means that protesters and demonstrators must be careful and creative with how they show dissent. Put on your thinking cap and get to work designing actions that will highlight the peaceful and nonviolent nature of our movement while corroding the veneer of legitimacy that the regime currently enjoys.

 

Remember: You Matter. You can make a difference.

**This post will be updated periodically to include different ways that you can help. If you can think of anything that has been left out, or know of a tool or site that might help people get connected to the type of activism that is right for them, please feel free to send it along.

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