Productive Engagement in Trump’s America: The Personal Is Political

I’m back!  As the world did not magically right itself while I stepped away, it seems that we’re all going to have to buckle down and figure out how to move forward in these uncertain, troubling, and often downright scary times.  Look, I’m still mourning too.  There are times when the enormity of what has happened stops me in my tracks and I find my eyes filled with tears and a vise constricting my chest.  But all the nice things we’ve written to and for one another on social media won’t mean a damn thing if we don’t pick ourselves up and focus our collective energies on actually fixing this mess.  So, without further ado, here is a collection of ideas for productive engagement in Trump’s America, some of which have been culled from the veritable flood of similar pieces floating about.

Today will have action items organized around the Personal Is Political — some things you, yourself, can and should do.  Tomorrow will have action items organized around Local Community Activism.  And Wednesday will have action items organized around National Action.

The Personal Is Political

Stay Informed.

I know the constant feed of terrible things can be depressing.  I know there are real incentives for turning away and turning it off.  It can get to be too much.  And it is important to pay attention to self-care.*  BUT.  That has to be tempered with a recognition that those of our fellow Americans who are most directly in the line of fire, whose identity(ies) make them the targets of hate and aggression, don’t have the option to take time off (nor should they have to in order to feel safe).  So, stay informed on what is happening in communities across the country.  As the wonderfully complicating author Kiese Laymon once wrote, “There is a price to pay … for harboring a warped innocence.”

You should keep up with news coverage of the more overt, political and governmental implications of the Trump Administration and its moves.  But you should also keep up with information regarding how women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, and people of other faiths are being targeted in this new, frightening Trump’s America.  The best clearinghouse for this info of which I’m currently aware is Shaun King, a reporter at the NY Daily News.  Shaun King often gets reports directly from victims of racist, sexist, xenophobic attacks that may not get much local or national news coverage.  For example, on November 19, he published photos and information about a young black boy attacked and injured by white children taunting him and his sister after being emboldened in Trump’s America.

He also writes regularly on police brutality and acts as a check on inaccurate reporting on the Right that may otherwise be fueling misperceptions in those homes that supported Trump.  King is also coordinating with the nonpartisan group Ushahidi to track hate crimes in the wake of the election.**

Diversify Your Feeds and Your Reads.  

booksIt is important that you hear regularly from voices outside your immediate and obvious circles.  For many of us, that means purposefully seeking out voices from people with different racial and ethnic backgrounds and people with different religious beliefs and sexual orientations.  Why?  Our identities shape so much of our perspective and experience.  If you only listen to and talk with people who live very similar lives to you, you lose out on much of the nuance necessary to be involved in a truly nuanced, intersectional movement.  We can’t be leaving any of our brothers and sisters behind; the stakes are too high in the coming years.  You need to know — not just know of, but really know — who you are fighting for and with and what solutions those in need identify as necessary.  Otherwise, we’ll all just muck things up further, what with the road to hell being paved with those good intentions and all.

And this extends to include perspectives of folks who lead lives different from those of us who live in cities — rural America is a big place and the needs there are sometimes distinct and sometimes overlapping with the needs in urban America.  Working on political and policy solutions for a State that has both very urban and very VERY rural environments drove that point home for me.  Things like drug addiction, inadequate housing and mental health services, education failures, and job stagnancy may need different solutions than ones that will work in the cities.

So get to it.  There are plenty of lists and organizations out there that can provide a good start for diversifying your feeds, even when seeking out thinkers in a different place on the political spectrum.  And when you find voices that are particularly helpful — a concept distinct from “particularly reaffirming” or “particularly accessible” — encourage others you know to check them out.  Social media can be a powerful tool if used purposefully.

But also, read books by people who are different than you.  Books can provide invaluable insight into the lessons and inspirations we can draw from those who’ve come before us.  Here, for example, is a list of some books sure to help you fortify your resolve in the coming years.  But those books that are works of art, that are fiction, are also important; they are windows into worlds and experiences to which you wouldn’t otherwise have access.  Research has shown that reading fiction increases your ability to understand the perspectives and emotions of others and generally improves your empathy — something we are going to need plenty of in the coming years. More relevant to our current circumstances, fiction is incredibly successful at getting us to build connections across difference.  As Jonathan Gottschall, an English professor who has written a book about the significance of storytelling to the human race, explains fiction can actually be a tool for social good:

Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds. . . . In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence.

Have Difficult Conversations Often.

productive-engagementAs I’ve previously written about, we need to be prepared to have difficult conversations with our family, friends, and acquaintances about what is going on in this country.  However, this isn’t a one time, over-the-holiday-meal pitch.  This is a shift in how we think about how our responsibilities to our fellow men and women play out in the private sphere.  There is plenty out there for you to read about the dangers of normalizing a Trump Administration.  On an individual level, what this means is that we cannot behave as though what Trump is promising to do (with respect to civil rights, civil liberties, the environment, and both domestic and international governance norms) is merely “as run-of-the-mill politics” that politeness dictates we leave alone. Keeping these difficult conversations about what you’re concerned about and why at the forefront of your interactions is vitally important.

But it is important that we each find ways to have the conversations in a manner than encourages discourse and understanding (on both sides), rather than just devolves to two sides poking their fingers in their ears and otherwise yelling out their points into the ether.  For some, this will take persistence.  For others, it will require deep breaths and patience.  For all, it will require really listening to the other side, beyond the buzz words, to the heart of what they are communicating or at least trying to communicate.  And remember, if you don’t go into these conversations with a renewable assumption of good-faith, then we’re not likely to get very far.  But also remember, these discourses across difference are possible and powerful.  So keep at it.  You’ll get better with time and practice.


But also, protect your digital self.  Because as Joseph Heller once advised, “just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”  These times call for a doubling down on our dystopian fiction and a health dose of paranoia.

** While the Southern Poverty Law Center is also a good source for tracking hate crimes, it is my experience that King provides a clearer, more direct feed of what is happening on the ground in communities across the country.

Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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