For weeks, feeling like a small cog in a big world, as I’ve absorbed the outpouring of tweets and network news about our nation’s challenges, I’ve wondered how to focus and weigh in, how to make a difference.
This past Sunday afternoon, I joined about 500 others in an What You Can Do Now 2017 Advocacy Training event, a day of activism and #resistance training organized by the Newton, Massachusetts Democrats.
The scene: Newton South High School Cafeteria, stripped of tables and warming stations, lined up with row after row of chairs. I came early for the keynote but all the seats were filled. I was fortunate to sit on the edge of a table, up front, to the right of the speakers. The visibility and sound were great!
The Keynote speakers: Jordan Berg Powers, MASS Alliance and Brian Barrish, Legislative Director and General Counsel in the Office of Massachusetts State Senate Majority Leader, Harriette Chandler.
Both men were incisive, spirited, knowledgeable, and filled with specifics on issues which they imparted with spirited, spunky, no nonsense “can do” language. In this and subsequent blogs, I will offer highlights taken from my notes and a transcript—
FOR NEW ACTIVISTS—IT’S NOT HOW YOU DO IT BUT HOW TO THINK
Stop labeling issues
- Lead with values and real people (underlines are mine)
- Make real the terrible things we see around us
- Policy has the power to destroy or create people’s loves
- “criminal; justice reform” vs. “decriminalizing poverty” or “no one should go to jail because they cannot pay a $50 fine.”
My Take: Be mindful. Focus on details, tell a story, use metaphor, allegory, a visual reference that shows understanding, embraces empathy, can stick.
Stop expecting your representatives to be leaders
- Their job: to get 51% of the vote in their next election
- Our job: building a progressive future
- By definition, a candidate cannot get so far out in front that they lose their followers.
- We will lead us and they will respond…or not get elected.
This was an eye opener— the idea that if an elected representative gets too far out in his/her vision and mandate, the voters will lose faith. Tone, the step by step shaping of a vision, in pragmatic terms gets my attention. I lean towards representatives who have a keen grasp of the English language and can paint a verbal picture that resonates with my values. I miss Barney Frank— his passion and sense of humor.
Expect to fail…and dig in
- 90% of this work is failure and anticlimactic wins.
- Wins just happen: there’s no parade, no balloons.
- Typically, there’s 10 years of work behind any major bill.
- The left spends a lot of time worrying about winning vs. trying and learning from doing.
- If the conversation is, “I don’t know if this will work,” WALK OUT OF THE ROOM.
My takeaway on this was huge! I felt enormously grateful for how these speakers encouraged empowerment of each individual to make a judgment and to sign onto causes, movements, ideas, in which there is engagement, passion and a belief in “can do.”
Be Brave and creative
- This fight will demand both. “We are going to see the things we love destroyed.”
A Hard Truth: Destructive decisions targeting the EPA, the environment, immigrant safety have been disheartening. This administration’s avarice for power fuels my #resist imperative.
Don’t be a “nattering nabob” of negativity
Don’t be this person: “That’s not going to work,” “you’re doing it wrong.”
- If someone’s being brave, encourage them!
- The litmus isn’t “will it work?” The litmus is, “Will it move the conversation?”
- If you think it’s not as effective as it could be, make it more.
Takeaway Warning: We all want to be accepted. In the back and forth discussion of political imperatives, new activists can be intimidated by strong, skeptic voices. Build a team with risk taking folks who are not afraid to speak truth to power—those folk who need to clean up their power over posturing.
Dig in on SOMETHING
- Find one thing you care about, and go deep
- There is always work to be done….websites, press releases, photos, op ed pieces, etc.
I am grateful to share what you can do now advocacy training. Comments re: what you care about, where you might go deep, are welcome. To be continued…
You are a positive role model and give an excellent push for activism to your readers.
I write with admiration and appreciation,
Thank you, Carol. I cut my eye teeth on the pioneer, Arthur Dunham’s lectures on Community Organization @ U. Mich. social work grad school. I never forgot his lessons.
Great energy and your message is sooooo important. And picking one thing to focus on is wonderful
advice. I’m working on that. Shjeila
Sheila, thank you for your comment. Please keep me posted on what calls out to you. Sorting out what appeals and feels right takes time and is so important to staying the course.
Faye, you are a good citizen and great example when it comes to activism. I hope I can find my place to participate in this maddening political scene. For now, I am leaving it to the investigative reporters…the real ones that is! Sally
Sally, so good to hear from you! I attend local meetings, but mainly participate through my blog and respond to petitions, make phone calls, write emails re: specific issues that call out to me. Good point about the investigate reporters…. they are really digging in these days…