Saturday was extraordinary.
“Extraordinary” can be an
overused word, but in this case, it lives up to its billing. Millions of people around the world turned out to oppose a president’s agenda and stand up for the rights of women, racial and religious minorities, LGBTQ people, the disabled and anyone now living in fear of being treated as a toss-away human or worse under the new administration. There was even a protest in Antarctica. Antarctica!
After months of waking each morning with the feeling that a physical weight was pressing us all into the dirt, I found myself wanting to hug everyone I met on and around the Boston Common on Saturday.
We cheered on the T platform when the MBTA backed a special train into the station just to bring us downtown.
We comforted one another when women shed tears over loved ones who are threatened by the words and actions of others in the current climate.
We emerged at the top of Charles Street to the sight of a packed Common and saw strength in our numbers.
We reclaimed power with countless, hand-knitted pussy hats and ingenious signs.
We knew we could make a difference, not only because we were a single, giant mass of protestors, but because we were only one of many committed to the same cause.
We left, still jubilant. Then, on the T out of Boston, a woman I didn’t know asked me, “Now what?”
It’s a fine question, and I’ve heard it quite a few times since Saturday. The protests that day excelled at firing up the troops – that’s what these things are for – but were short on detailed plans of action.
It’s important to capture the momentum from Saturday before it fades. As a former congressional staffer and public policy advocate, I assure you there are numerous steps you can take right now to channel your energy into action even though future battles have yet to be defined:
Contact your senators and member of Congress. In New Hampshire, your national representatives are Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and your member of Congress is Ann McLane Kuster or Carol Shea-Porter. Call and email them with your views on pending issues and upcoming votes or nominations.
“But they agree with me.” We’re lucky. Our national representatives do agree with the principles supported by protesters on Saturday. But keep track of individual votes and issues. Also, voicing your positive support does make a difference, especially if you’re thinking about possible tough votes in the future or if you want your representative to stick her neck out and take a leadership stance on an issue. In those cases, she’ll need to know that lots of her constituents are with her. Plus, elected officials rarely hear, “Thank you.” They’ll remember it when they do.
What issue is most important to you? Is it the environment? Voting rights? Fighting racism? The First Amendment? LGBTQ rights? Reproductive choice? There are so many options. Pick one (or two, or three), and find an organization that works on that issue. Call up the organization and ask how to donate and/or how you can volunteer your time to help them in the coming battles. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, go to the next step:
Form your own group. Space prevents me from going into detail here, but form your own, local group of activists to work on one or more issues in the days to come. A group of former congressional staffers has put out an excellent guide outlining how to do this; you can find that guide at indivisibleguide.com.
Work for midterm congressional and senatorial elections starts now. Call your local Democratic Party office and ask them how to get involved. If there’s no such thing in your district, call your state Democratic Party office and ask for assistance in starting an organization in your district.
Moderate Republicans and independents – you, too! I know there are moderate Republicans out there who marched on Saturday and who don’t agree with the direction this administration is taking. I’ve talked with some of you. We may disagree on many issues, but we agree on love of country and the Constitution, individual rights and numerous other human values. You have a tougher organizational road in front of you, but it’s essential that you travel it. We need you. Your country needs you. Let’s work together where we can. Independents: If you don’t want to pick a party, see the above bullet point about picking an issue or two.
Don’t forget state and local politics. In New Hampshire, the GOP now controls the executive and the legislative bodies, and they’re introducing and voting on controversial legislation at a rapid pace. Activism matters here, too.
Consider running for office. Is the state of our nation keeping you up at night? Is this all you can think about, especially since the election? Consider going all in. Think about running for elected office yourself. Change begins locally and that’s often the best place to start.
Last tip: Don’t call elected officials who don’t represent you. If you can’t vote for their re-election, they don’t care. As a last resort, if you’ve done everything else and have time on your hands, then sure, go ahead and make a quick call to the offices of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But those calls are less effective than the actions listed above.
The momentum from Saturday’s marches can propel us forward in our fight to stand up for our country and its citizens if we make sure not to let it dissipate. Simply writing this column has energized me anew because it’s the first action I’ve taken since Saturday.
What will your next act be?
(Tracy Hahn-Burkett of Bow is a writer and former civil rights and civil liberties public policy advocate.)