I was a ball of outrage the day after the Presidential election, but an 82-year old woman put me in my place: “When was the last time you called your local councilman? Who is your city comptroller? Who is serving on your school board?” My answers were “never”, “I have no idea”, and “what’s a school board?” Normally, her questions might have gone in one ear and out the other, but I had to consider the source – Dolores Huerta. In the half hour that I watched her speak at a conference, she not only turned my ideas of what it means to be an activist completely around, she also showed me a “fatal” flaw in my thinking.
If you haven’t heard of Huerta before, you are not alone (I hadn’t). But once you know of her and watch her, it’ll be hard for you to forget her. In the 1960’s, Huerta and her colleague, Cesar Chavez, organized a handful of poverty-stricken and disenfranchised grape farm workers and turned them into a nationally recognized movement that convinced 14 million Americans to stop buying grapes in support of the farmers’ rights to unionize, improve their working conditions, and initiate unemployment and healthcare benefits. Huerta achieved all of this without any negotiating experience AND while raising 7 children. She has continued to fight every day of her life for everybody’s rights to equal treatment under the law. As you learn more about her, you’ll realize that she is one of the most influential, but also least talked about activists of our time. For example, you know Obama’s famous slogan “Yes We Can”? Well, that came from Huerta. What I love about her is that she feels like a sweet little grandmother, but, as Obama said when he was giving her the Medal of Freedom, “Dolores don’t play.”
Huerta inspired me to get out of my “I don’t know what to do/the world is ending” panic bubble and start thinking about the ways I could get meaningfully involved in the democratic process again. She made me realize that whenever I think or say a something like “they should…” , that there is no THEY, there is just me. After I saw Huerta speak, I decided I would make a commitment to doing at least one thing every week to help me feel more informed, more engaged, and more active. Whether you are a Trump supporter or not (and I am not), getting more involved in democracy at grassroots, city, state, and National levels are precious rights that too many of us don’t get involved in, protect, or take advantage of. For me, 2017 is the year that changes once and for all. I wanted to give a little list of my actions below, many of them inspired by Huerta, in the hopes that it’ll help any of you out there who are feeling stuck in the “I don’t know what to do/the world is ending” panic bubble today (the day Trump officially takes office).
- I signed up to my friend’s Daily Action Newsletter, that gives daily information on how best to use your energy in a given day, whether it’s calling a Congressman, writing a letter, donating to a cause, or getting better informed about an issue I wouldn’t otherwise know much about.
- I really hate calling Congress people (it’s so awkward!), but I’ve started doing it more. It’s uncomfortable for about 30-60 seconds and then it’s over. Calls don’t tend to take much more than that cause they want to get you off the phone. Call your Congressman/woman when something matters to you or an issue you feel strongly about is coming for a vote. Congress people want to me re-elected THEY ARE SCARED OF DISAPPOINTING YOU, so leverage the f**k out of that.
- I read two books about “the other side” in the hopes I could better understand their point of view and reality: Strangers In Their Own Land and Hill Billy Elegy. I got some really interesting insights that’ll have helped me to see where the progressive messaging missed the mark.
- I found a conservative Republican woman I could have a focused conversation with (around food and food policy) and interviewed her.
- I signed up to conservative outlets in my Twitter feed to see how they are covering stories of the day. I also signed up for a Republican roundtable podcast, Ricochet, so that I am not in my media bubble. This is also important for me so I can fully understand their rationale and the conversations they are having.
- I went to two protests with a friend (one for NODAPl and another in support of the ACA).
- I removed all my money from my banks because they are funding projects that degrade the environment, like the North Dakota Pipeline, and moved it to Amalgamated Bank (the first bank to fully divest from fossil fuels).
- I attended my first ever precinct meeting. This is a very effective way for anyone to get involved in the democratic process at the grassroots level. These meetings happen once a month for my community board, take just 90 minutes or so, and are the most immediate way to establish a direct line of contact with your local and Congressional representatives, as well as as get to know your local police force from chief on down. Precinct meetings is how to get involved in initiatives in your neighborhood from voting to things like bike lanes, zoning, green spaces, etc. You can find out your precinct by googling your neighborhood name and the word “precinct”. Once you have your precinct number, you can find out when your local meetings are happening by Googling your precinct number and the word “meeting” (as in “32 precinct meeting”).
As we face the next four years, we have to remember that there is no “THEY” that will get more involved and take care of it all – There is just you. Or as Obama has said, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Any time you think or start a sentence with “they should…” or hear someone say that, please stop them or yourself and turn the question around “What can YOU or I do to make a difference with this thing I am talking about right now/today?” You don’t have to be a full time activist like Huerta, you don’t even have to know what the next step is (I usually don’t)! Just do a little something today, and then tomorrow, and then the day after that to support something you believe in and care about – stay involved. That is how we build the wave of resistance. If Huerta can turn about 11 people into 14 million, so can we. YES WE CAN.