Your Difference: the long haul

Democrats, Progressives, decent human beings with basic empathy for others – whatever we call ourselves, the near future is going to be difficult.

We have already seen it in the details of the TrumpCare proposals; the confirmation of DeVos, Sessions, Pruitt, etc.; and with the proliferation of unAmerican, unpatriotic, and immoral policies coming out of D.C. these days.

Abnormal is the new normal
The Trump Presidency is not normal, and it’s not going to get that way.

There are activists who have kept up the good fight for decades, and they already know how to keep going through bad times.

But I’m not one of them: I’m new to this, and sometimes it’s hard to look at the road in front of me.

Today’s post is a list of some of the things that have been helping me get back to the phone, the computer, and the streets as the occasion requires. Maybe there is something here that will be useful to you, too.

Sheer, unadulterated stubbornness
I’ll just come out and admit it: I’m stubborn. Know who else was stubborn? Every activist that ever made a difference.

Here are some activists whose stubbornness I admire: Malala Yousafzai and Eleanor Roosevelt.

For at least two years, things are going to be tough: Republicans effectively control two of our three branches of national government. Statewide, they have a major advantage in the Senate, and only a slim minority in the House.

Maybe they have the ability to get what they want, but it doesn’t have to be easy. There’s a term “political capital,” described thusly by Wikipedia:

A politician gains political capital by winning elections, pursuing policies that have public support, achieving success with initiatives, and performing favors for other politicians.

… In addition, it can be wasted, typically by failed attempts to promote unpopular policies that are not central to a politician’s agenda. 

I figure that the more they spend on one issue, the less they have for another, and so I take heart from the fact that any time they try to take a bite out of our civilization, I am a part (however small) of the pushback forcing them to use up some of that capital.

Seeking out inspiration
There’s no way I’m going to be as amazing as Malala or Eleanor, but I don’t need to be. Change is helped along by men and women of great courage and deeds, but I think that we ordinary people are its true creators.

For example, I heard an interview with Winton Marsalis the other day in which he discussed why he would have been willing to perform at Trump’s inauguration. I couldn’t find the link, but here is an article about it.

What stuck with me from the interview was this story about Mr. Marsalis’ great uncle:

The heated discussion invoked nostalgia in Marsalis, who said he started thinking about his great uncle born in 1883 in rural Louisiana. His uncle would show up at the polls for every election, even though he was always turned away. Marsalis once asked his uncle why he continued to show up year after year to face the humiliation, to which his uncle answered, “Make people cheat you to your face, son.”

Now, thank goodness, most of us do not have it nearly as bad as Mr. Marsalis’ great uncle. Nevertheless, I find myself thinking of the steel in his spine that kept him heading back and insisting that he was worthy, even in the face of scorn and the very real potential for violence.

I take courage from this ordinary man’s persistence: if he could do that, I tell my self, well surely I can do this.

Finding my people
Last fall I felt a deep, fundamental fear that our democracy was in jeopardy. I contacted the Tongass Democrats looking for a way to make a difference, and here I am at the website doing my small part.

It was all very serious.

I expected to be given work; I didn’t expect to find friends. I came to the party expecting a dreary slog, and I found people whose company I enjoyed tremendously. People who made me laugh and gave me hope.

I have found that meaningful work is even more satisfying when I can do it with friends.

Perseverance, time, and energy: like everyone, my supply of these things is limited and variable. I monitor how I’m feeling and make an effort to keep up with self-care: getting enough sleep, reserving specific times for myself and my family, seeking inspiration, etc.

By far the most important act of self-care in my life, however, is saying the word “No.”

There are many important things out there that I could do well. I could probably even do several of them at once, for a while. However, I know that I cannot do more than one thing for years at a time.

I would burn out, which would not help anyone, and so I say no to anything that commits me for more than a few hours.

So, show up for a brainstorming session? Yep, I can probably do that. Follow up on that session by taking on a project? Nope, not even if it’s something I really love and want to do.

How are you doing?
In the last four months, I’ve spoken with a lot of people who are politically engaged for the first time in their lives. Like me, they are seeking out the groups that will help them make a difference. Some of them are now involved with Tongass Democrats, and others have found nonpartisan groups like Juneau People for Peace and Justice or Veterans for Peace.

What about you? Are you feeling energized and engaged, or are things feeling pretty overwhelming right now? Have you found a way of being involved, either individually or as a part of a group?

Let me know in the comments below – and if you have any suggestions for the rest of us, leave them there too!

– Mary

Your Difference is a series by that focuses on supporting people in their activism. 

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