Your Difference: How to Get Started as an Activist

Your Difference is a series by that focuses on supporting people in their activism. Today’s post is for people who have decided that they want to make a difference, but aren’t sure how to go about it.

If you haven’t been politically active before, and you aren’t quite sure what to do beyond voting, it would be easy to get overwhelmed by everything happening right now. But despair is never the right answer: it lets people like Donald Trump off the hook way too easily.

So here are some ideas that should help you carve your own path.

First, let’s talk about what motivates you.

Step One: What is your quest?
One way to combat the feeling of being overwhelmed is by making a conscious choice to focus on one main issue. This is where most of your energy will go.

There are millions of us around the country who are doing the same thing as you – working to make a difference – and each of us is going to have a different focus. Where you lead, they will follow, and where they lead, you will follow.

The key to making this strategy work is to be a part of a network of people with similar values but different passions. You go to their rallies; they contact Senators when you need action on a piece of terrible legislation.

Let me give you an example: My main issue is citizen engagement, so I took on this website. That’s my main focus, and I put most of my volunteering time into it.

However, I care deeply about a lot of other things – the right to bodily autonomy, marriage equality, health care access, etc. – so I have identified other people I can trust who prioritize those efforts. I’ve sent emails to our Congresspeople when one person had talking points about a Cabinet nominee, gone to a rally in support of the ACA, written about a bad local ordinance, and marched for women’s rights. And that’s just the last two weeks.

There’s no way I could keep track of all the truly horrifying people getting rammed through the Senate confirmation process, and what’s going on in healthcare access, and the local Assembly’s shenanigans. But I’ve been able to be active on all of those issues by working with others.

So, it’s OK for you to focus on one thing. Just watch for opportunities to help out with other things that matter, and you’ll be able to expand your impact without burning out.

Step Two: This is partisan work
Alaska is full of people who are proudly non-partisan. I was one of them until January, 2016, when I joined the Democratic Party so that I could caucus for Bernie Sanders.

So when I say that your second step should be joining the Democratic Party and getting involved with Tongass Democrats, it’s because becoming a Democrat made a difference for me. It’s where I found my network.

Our system is built around having two parties, and yeah, maybe that’s not ideal. In fact, you might even want to break the system and build something better. But can you guarantee that when the system is broken, it’ll get rebuilt better?

Before you write this off as me being cynical, let me show you something that matters quite a lot:


The pink boxes are Republican majorities. All that pink is the reason Alaska has a budget deficit, why our University system is getting strangled, and why we don’t have a plan for what to do after oil. It’s a threat to religious freedom, voter enfranchisement, and access to healthcare.

And it will change if we people on the Left can work together. The best way for us to work together in our current system is to be Democrats.

Elections matter. In fact, people are literally going to die as a result of the the most recent election.

So take a deep breath and try to come to terms with the idea that joining a party isn’t resigning yourself to the status quo – it’s working with other people to change it.

We really are Stronger Together.

Step Three: Engage!
Once you’ve taken those first two steps, you have started writing your own adventure. Here are some resources to help you brainstorm some of the practicalities:

Ultimately, you will need to figure out for yourself how you are going to navigate the moral, logical, and practical realities of political activism.

And, you know what?

You’re going to do a great job of it.

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