Productive Engagement in Trump’s America: Local Community Activism

As a follow up to yesterday’s post of action items organized around The Personal Is Political, here is part two on our series regarding productive engagement in Trump’s America.  Again, the idea here is that we actually need to roll up our sleeves and get to fixing things.  Think of it this way, the silver lining of this — much like any adversity — can be that it serves as the inspiration for us to become more involved and better people.  

Today will have action items organized around Local Community Activism.  And Wednesday will have action items organized around National Action.

Local Community Activism


volunteerThe racists, xenophobes, misogynists and generally hateful people who are emboldened by the election are not hesitating to demonstrate their beliefs in tangible, physical ways.  They are, through their actions, attempting to define who we are and what our communities should look like.  They are acting to say who is accepted and who is unwelcome.  Expressing horror and dismay in response is not enough.

We need to turn our conviction into action, and we need to do it in our own communities.  If you don’t know what volunteer options there are in your area, there are a range of options that can help find your volunteering fit.  For example, the webpage can identify both community organizations and charitable events coming up in your general area.  In addition, the webpage also provides information based on volunteer needs, action opportunities, and events.  A simple google search with terms like “community organizations” and your town name or general area will yield a list of options to contact directly.

At the same time, larger national organizations frequently have state and local chapters — or are looking for people to start those local chapters up.  If you’re most concerned about threats to our civil liberties (for example, Trump’s most recent threat to revoke the citizenship of those who engage in constitutionally-protected protest speech) or about his threats to use draconian and discriminatory criminal justice policies, seek out the ACLU’s local chapters.  If you’re most concerned about what Trump’s America will mean for women’s access to health services, consider Planned Parenthood’s local volunteer needs.  If you’re horrified by the xenophobic rhetoric and the promises to register, ban, track or expel those of the Muslim faith, absolutely reach out to the Council on American-Islamic Relations to see how you can help in one of their local chapters.

Wherever you help, set either weekly, monthly or quarterly amounts of time that you are going to allot to volunteering in advance.  Then hold yourself to that promise.  Otherwise, life so easily gets in the way and volunteering falls to the wayside.

Coalition Build Across Difference.  

wineLet me begin this with something I truly enjoyed reading before the election but that took on special meaning for me in the weeks after it.  This article published in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the Women Wage Peace movement in Israel.  In short, Jewish and Arab women from Palestine and Israel have joined together by the thousands to demand something better than the promises of endless war and conflict that political leaders are offering.  However intractable the divides in our country might seem right now, consider how deeply felt those divides must have seemed to the women of Israel and Palestine, who have lost so many loved ones to the violence.  And then consider this:

Amal Abou Ramadan, a Muslim teacher and single mother from Jaffa, was one of those shaken by the bloodshed. She recounts how Jewish and Arab neighbors stopped speaking to each other, but also of how – during a siren warning of incoming rockets – she found herself comforting a Jewish woman, a complete stranger, on the street.  “She was crying and shouting, she needed someone to hold her, so I did,” she says. “I didn’t know her, but it didn’t matter. We are all brothers and sisters.”

Amal Abou Ramadan subsequently became one of the regional leaders of the movement.

I share this because a perspective like this can be empowering.  In comparison, there is nothing remotely impossible about our ability to build coalitions across difference in our own neighborhoods which are not besieged by incoming rockets.  This is not to dismiss or minimize the pain and betrayal that so many of us felt and continue to feel when we think about colleagues, neighbors, friends and family who voted in a man who openly denigrated so many of us.  That pain is real.  But we can work through it because we can (and must) envision a future where subsequent elections resolve very differently.

How do you start coalitions across difference?  Start small.  For example, something as light as a book club can have outsized effect.  This article goes into the whys and gives some guidelines on how to pick some of your first books.  But there is no need to over-intellectualize it.  Figure out how many people you want to have in your group and what kinds of different perspectives you are hoping to build bridges between.  Ask around through friends or do things like post at local coffee shops or libraries.  Commit to developing a reading list that will challenge folks on all sides and to approaching the reading and the discussing with open minds.  Obviously, provide food and (where appropriate) libations.  Everything works better over shared snacks.  In that same vein, you could consider dinner clubs, although using supper conversation to address the work of perspective sharing and bridge building may feel too exposing and personal for some.

Or simply find a project in your community that is a-politicized but that will allow you to start making connections with neighbors you might otherwise not hang out with.  I guarantee that the community project to build a playground for special needs kids in my hometown drew a fair share of Trump, Clinton and abstaining voters, but I also guarantee that friendships across difference were made.  If you enter such projects mindfully, and then maintain those relationships to take on additional projects and have increasingly more sensitive conversations, you’re well on your way to building the bridges needed for coalitions across difference to thrive.

Speak Up.  Speak Out.

Here’s where you put all that self-education from yesterday’s The Personal Is Political into use.  You thought it was just for those nice, private difficult conversations with people you already know?  Nope!

We know that the ways in which we consume news and social media posts can distort our perspectives of what our neighbors think and feel.  But it also can mean that the random person at the bank or the post office or the grocery store thinks that you are 100% on board with everything Trump is laying out for this country.  It’s on each of us to make sure there can be no question about where we stand.

T-shirts and bumper stickers are a fine start, but real speech is needed.  If you overhear someone praising a policy or political position that you find morally repugnant or deeply problematic, respectfully but firmly speak up to offer your own view.  The time to give others passes on hateful or authoritarian speech has long passed.  If you see someone harassing someone else, step in.  This video gives some helpful tips on how.

Finally, speak broadly through published writing.  This organization gives very helpful guidelines on how to get to writing opinion pieces for publication.  If you church publishes letters or opinion pieces in a newsletter, write into it.  If your business or industry has a trade publication or listserve, write into that.  Write op-eds for your local newspaper.  We’ve seen that there will be more than enough problematic things to keep all of us writing non-stop, but don’t overtax yourself.  Instead, set an actual number of written pieces you’re going to submit and then hold yourself to it.  Maybe it is one per issue you care about.  Maybe it is one per publication you have in mind.  Maybe it is one per quarter.  But whatever it is, make sure that you’re taking the time to speak up and speak out.

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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