The more I’ve shaken off the gloom of the past two months, the more comfortable I’m becoming with my decision to re-engage. That there would be an appetite out there for political activism, I didn’t doubt. Trump’s election and inauguration has, at least temporarily, shifted the usual tone of the social media sphere away from its usual between-elections ephemera in a way usually reserved for national tragedies: mass shootings, terror attacks, war, etc.
As with the aftermath of those events, people take to social media. In between sending thoughts and prayers, the occasional promise of engagement is made, but seldom followed through on. Despite having spent most of my life studying, working in, or following politics, I understand that the default setting for most Americans, most people I know is “ugh, no thanks.”
To be sure, the kind of sustained, long-term political activism that I think is called for by this new era of American politics is decidedly not for everybody. There’s already status updates expressing dismay at the politicization of Facebook. There’s a longing to return to the days where family photos and stop-motion recipes ruled the social media landscape. And that’s fine. For the majority of my life, politics was a focus, but they were also somewhat coincidental. The beauty of our system is that it can, by and large, run itself. The reason so many trusted in our institutions to protect us from a President like Donald Trump was that they always had.
Well, they didn’t. And while the media continues to struggle to find their voice in the age of “alternative facts,” we have, for the first time, an era dawning in which citizen participation in government – in being educated about government – is no longer a luxury.
If you’re still squeamish about discussing current events, if you prefer to live in your bubble and tune out the world, if you think that the world is still large enough that the reverberations of 2016 won’t rattle your door, that’s your prerogative. But if you’ve ever felt even a twinge of activism in yourself, if you’ve ever been waiting for a reason to pay attention, if you’ve ever told yourself when push came to shove, you would act – now is your time to do so.
I wanted to take the opposite approach. I wanted to spend the next four years keeping my roof wet while America burned. But this isn’t a PoliSci simulation. This is real life. People are going to get hurt. If I don’t speak out now, why did I bother doing it when the stakes were much lower?
Instead, I’m more convinced than ever than what is required is the exact opposite. I’ve always arched a skeptical eyebrow at the right’s co-opting of revolutionary America in their messaging during the Obama administration. The Tricorn hats, the Gadsden flags – it was just silly imagery of a time that wasn’t nearly as enlightened in practice at it was in the gauzy memories of the “patriots” that aped it.
But there was a group at the dawn of our nation’s history that I think liberals can look to now for guidance as to where we go from here. In 1772, Sam Adams helped found the Committees of Correspondence. The saw, in the light of escalating British tyranny over the colonies, a need for collective resistance. In practice their importance was as a way to coordinate a response to England – to communicate among the colonies a way to resist. They did this by disseminating hand-written letters, by courier, from the main cities to the rural areas of the colonies. They were, in a sense, the first talking points.
This is what we need now. Protest fails when it gets bogged down in the weeds. Anti-war protests were large, but they lacked a clear plan to shift public opinion. Occupy Wall Street got attention, but was bogged down by a lack of leadership and an unclear agenda. We need focus. We need to speak in one voice, and to recognize that none of our pet projects have a chance in hell as long as we continue to ignore local elections, stay at home during midterms, and as long as Donald Trump is president.
So, at the risk of another failure, I’m going to invite you – all of you – for one last time to speak out. To stay engaged. To use Facebook and social media however the hell you please, regardless of the comfort of your friends and family. Making others comfortable is how we got here. And one last time, I’m going to offer this platform to anyone who wants to use it to speak out and share whatever you have to say. Social media is an excellent tool, but there are some things that don’t fit in a status update box.
If you’re interested, please let me know. If you’re not, find a way that you are comfortable with to tell your story. If not now, when?