If 2016 was a year when most of us were accused of keeping cozy in our partisan bubbles, then the New Year is as good a time as any to reflect upon how we can reengage in politics. It’s prompted my own reflection too.
In the spirit of the season, here are a few New Year’s resolutions we should all consider adopting in 2017.
1. Attend at least one protest or rally
Instead of watching activism play out on social media, or judging it by what you see of it in the media, get out and participate. Organizers and protesters will usually share why they’re so motivated and passionate about their causes, in hopes of bringing other people into the fold. If you support their positions, then attending may help you connect with kindred spirits. But if you’re still unsure of how you feel or have questions, it’s also possible to just be present and listen, without giving a tacit endorsement or derailing the event. Then, take what you’ve learned and reflect on it, or share it with trusted conversation partners.
2. Follow social media accounts across the political spectrum
You may not always agree with what’s shared, but it could prove beneficial to understanding how others arrive at different conclusions on the issues, if only to help you articulate your own positions with more nuance and precision. Perhaps someone else will raise a point that you hadn’t considered addressing, or will introduce you to new frameworks or sources of information. You might even change your mind.
3. Read at least one book a month written by a writer from a marginalized group
By and large the publishing world still prioritizes the voices of white men; everyone else has to rally harder to have their voice incorporated, or for their work to be seen as valuable. At the beginning of 2016, various writers vowed to not read books by men. Other writers felt that action missed the point—that the goal could be better achieved by seamlessly including works from underrepresented groups into our reading lists and discussing them as we would any other. Bottom line: seek out voices you wouldn’t otherwise encounter. It’s important to be intentional about that commitment.
4. Financially support the news publications you read most
Look. Trump and his surrogates have launched an all-out assault on any news outlet that’s dared to report on him in an honest and/or critical way—from the Gray Lady to the likes of Teen Vogue. Now more than ever, we need to support outlets that speak truth to power and comfort the afflicted. If you’re able, take advantage of the many subscription specials being marketed online. If you can’t spare the funds, show your support by openly praising and sharing the work. You can even consider supporting journalists that are unionizing or attempting to get a contract signed. (Hint: the Reader is among that bunch.)
5. Diversify your sources of news
No, this doesn’t mean reading Breitbart. (That’s propaganda, not vetted, verified news.) But there’s a danger in relying too heavily on one or two outlets to make sense of a wide, complex world. Mix up your reads of news briefs from CNN and NBC with longer reads from the New Yorker or the Atlantic. Maybe even throw a few well-reputed and widely cited blogs into the mix, like SCOTUSblog.
6. Take some of those intense Facebook debates offline
Of all the lengthy back-and-forths I’ve had in the comments section of status messages and news articles, few of them have changed my thinking or drawn me closer to the people I know. But when I have some of those same conversations over drinks, dinner, or even Skype, it opens up a different avenue for connection. I like sensing people’s body language and discerning the tone in their voice when they’re expressing their viewpoints. Those are the conversations I remember most—and the ones I usually feel better walking away from.
7. Call or write your elected officials before big votes or after major news breaks
Believe it or not, politicians pay attention when their constituents light up their phone lines. When they know you’re paying close attention, they’ll think even more carefully before they act. Trump’s White House appointments prompted scores of people to call their elected officials and ask them to block the nominations; they openly encouraged others to do the same on social media. And this kind of concerted effort should become part of our regular routine, both on the national and local levels. Call the district office first and, if you can’t get through, leave a voice mail or press zero to get to an operator. A Google spreadsheet called “We’re His Problem Now” that recently circulated on Twitter offers a step-by-step guide to calling your congressional rep.
Organizations that serve the most vulnerable people are potentially facing deep cuts to their bottom lines—especially nonprofits that rely on government funding. While money matters, a helping hand can sometimes do just as much as a donation. Consider volunteering your skills and expertise to nonprofits that would otherwise have to pay for those services. It may not feel like much of a sacrifice, but even a few hours can go a long way to help those who need it most. v