Way back on inauguration day, Raquel and I (Ali) attended an event hosted by Huffington Post, Bustle and Bold, called Watch Us Run. It was way better and more proactive than sitting around thinking about our descent into fascism. At the very moment that President Trump took his oath of office, we were screaming “NOOOOO” with Michael Moore.
When my grandchildren ask where we were when our life became a Star Wars rip-off, I’ll be able to tell them that.
We learned some actual, actionable things at Watch Us Run, stuff that doesn’t have an expiration date even though we’re writing about it long after it happened. And we want to share that actionable stuff with you right now.
1. There Are Organizations That Will Help You Run For Office
Ali: You, yes, specifically you. A lot of representatives were there from those organizations that day. Aisha Moody-Mills of the Victory Fund, who I’ve seen before at Lesbians Who Tech, pointed out that gay candidates actually have a higher success rate than their straight counterparts. Perhaps it’s because they’ve thought and rethought and strategized before jumping in.
She acknowledges that women, the LGBT community and people of color endure a different level of scrutiny when running for public office, but that it shouldn’t stop you if you believe strongly in democracy and you think you can make a difference. She also said representation matters at every level of government, which is an opinion I share. So don’t forget your local positions. And check out the Victory Fund to find ways to get involved, donate or get some campaign training.
Raquel: Absolutely, local positions. We can rebuild this into what we want to see from the ground up. Running for office seems scary! But it’s not any scarier than trying to get anything done: what you need is knowledge, networks, and planning. It’s also a vital and powerful way to be involved in your own community, where you’re best suited to represent your community’s needs just by nature of being a part of it.
And remember: if tons and tons of mediocre white men stumble their way into it, you can too.
2. Don’t Wait to Feel Brave, Don’t See Losing as Failure
Ali: This is something I struggle with. I often wait until I feel ready to do something, whether it’s write my book or apply to graduate school or anything in my professional life ever. I am seriously considering running for local office in the near future, and I keep coming up with reasons not to do it. My internet presence is one of those reasons. My fear of failure is another. But as Christine Quinn said, “Don’t wait to feel courageous to run because it’s never going to happen.”
She also reframed failure a little—it’s not necessarily about winning, it’s about running. The simple act of your campaign could push an issue to the forefront that you care about. You can start a conversation that wasn’t happening. Sandra Fluke of Emerge California and reproductive justice advocacy fame assured us, “You’ll get called names and it doesn’t matter that much.” The bravery doesn’t matter, the backlash doesn’t matter. What matters is the service, the issue you care about.
Raq: This was huge for me as well, and I think it applies across the board. I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life, and because of that I’ve kept from doing things out of fear that I wouldn’t do them well. But the reality is, the only way to do something well is to do it really badly a lot first. If you don’t win the spot in your first run for office, you still learned a ton about how to navigate your local government, how to run a campaign, how to build networks. You’ll get to talk to people who care deeply about the same things you do, and refine your arguments against the people who want to stop you.
And when I say this applies across the board, I also want to say that this is more a statement about going for the things that matter to you and learning from whatever happens, whether that’s volunteering, activism, applying for a job that scares you. Your queer learning, and queer success—whatever that looks like—is also queer resistance.
3. Pay Attention to Your State
Ali: It wasn’t just one person that talked about this. It came up over and over and over again. We’re all paying attention to the federal government and that’s good. We can’t look away right now. But as the current administration begins to dismantle our federal government, we need to be reliant on our state policies and politicians. States will lead the country as we repair after this administration—if a single state can figure out how to implement a beneficial policy, it might trickle up, so to speak.
That’s what happened with Massachusetts and health care. Plus if we’re strengthening our politicians at a state level, we groom the future. Right now, the Democratic Party has been focusing so much on the national stage that there’s a dearth of new, young political talent. Focusing at a state level can change that.
Raq: +1000 Ali! Working at the state level will also help you cut your teeth on campaigning or activism or whatever you’re working at, figuring out the most successful ways of achieving impact on the national level without biting off more than you can chew.
As a Texan, I’ve had to learn how to fight a losing battle—battle after battle—and do it because it’s vitally important. (Thanks to my friend Hannah Smothers for saying this more eloquently here). You learn a lot from that, and it will help build you and your community up for winning the war.
4. Admit That The Other Side Is Really Good At This
Ali: This is directly from Michael Moore and I’m already starting to see this admission in my spaces. The very presence of the Indivisible Guide, which breaks down Tea Party organizational tactics for use by the Herbal Tea Party (us), is an admission that they’re winning for a reason. Now, of course, some of that reason is harassment and gerrymandering. We will not use those tactics. Nor will we farm our youth for free labor at the expense of their education. But I do often see a dismissal of the other side’s strategy as well as their bigotry and poor policy proposals.
We can both think that they’re pushing policy rooted in hatred, xenophobia and an economic fantasy land AND also learn from them and engage with them on their terms. Basically what we’ve got going on right now is the Democrats and Republicans made an agreement to sit down in a house and play a board game. The Republicans got tired of it and set fire to the house; the Democrats are still trying to play the board game while the walls burn around them. We need to look at what they’re doing and engage with it.
Raq: Yes. Advertisers know how to target people down to their chocolate preferences, and the other side used that to their advantage. Yes, we hold ourselves to a higher ethical standard, but we should also be using these technologies and techniques to mobilize, change minds, and help our people.
Also, I am so ready to annoy the hell out of every single senator and representative and alt-right leader I can get my hands on. Honestly, this took a lot of the pressure off of calling, showing up, etc.—I don’t have to worry anymore about making them like me, or about building such an eloquent, rational statement that everyone immediately changes their minds. There are places for that (like publishing on Autostraddle), but that’s not what works here! What works here is being the squeakiest wheel, and I am going to shout louder, longer, harder, and more irritatingly than every racist and homophobe and asshole in the state.
5. Use Humor
Ali: This is another one from Michael Moore, but a lot of the actors and writers echoed it as well. This administration is particularly needled by humor. We’ve seen the simple act of Melissa McCarthy portraying Sean Spicer throw the administration into a small tailspin. It’s so difficult to find the funny right now, but we gotta. That’s how horrid ideologies are fought. It’s the poets and the satirists.
Raq: I’ve been saying for awhile that satire has lost its bite for me—everything they could say has been out-absurded by the reality. But now it’s time to take that on and do it better. It’s time to take that back. Humor is so powerful. It can completely disarm a dangerous situation; it can humanize people you hadn’t thought of. It has the power to make people pause, and can deliver information, even criticism, to people and places that would never otherwise listen. There’s a reason the best courts had jesters, and the best jesters were the ones that could change a tyrannical king’s mind through a joke.
We have a winner pic.twitter.com/oM5WKh7VCI
— Omar C. Jadwat (@OmarJadwat) February 4, 2017
A perfect example of using humor to humanize while rebuking.
Another great point, made by Michael Moore: Trump hates being made fun of. His skin is so thin, he is distracted by almost any unfavorable portrayal. By the numbers at the inauguration. By SNL skits. By The Apprentice’s ratings. He’s so desperate to be popular, to be liked. Let’s show him just how much he isn’t, and then get shit done while he’s whining about it on Twitter.
6. Be Voracious In Your Media Consumption
Ali: Read everything from everywhere. Watch things you might not normally. Almost everyone said to be diverse and aggressive with your art, journalism and story experiences. Again, this isn’t something only one person said. But there was a media panel, and everyone agreed: reading and listening to experiences that are not you own makes you smarter and more empathetic. If you’re going to exist in the time of Trump, those are two things that we need from everyone. It’s something we especially need of those who are running for office.
Raq: I’ll be honest with y’all: I’m finding this hard right now. I’ve just about shut my media consumption down completely. But soon the time to take care of myself will end, and the time to reemerge and be vigilant will come.
Reading local papers is vital to get a truer read of a place: one woman on the media panel mentioned how the only person in her circles who wasn’t flabbergasted by Clinton’s loss was a woman reporting locally on the ground in Pennsylvania.
Reading novels and essays from the people who have done this before: I recently saw the film I Am Not Your Negro, and it made me want to read everything James Baldwin’s written.
Reading poetry, fiction, comics: fill your heart with a diversity of stories, and strengthen yourself with beauty.
7. Set Our Sights on the Hyde Amendment
Ali: We were privileged to close the day with a conversation between Ashley Judd and Representative Lee from Oakland. Lee did not attend the inauguration and chose to spend the day with us instead. One very astute woman asked, we’ve got all these people, you showed up for us, what’s one thing we can do to show up for you. And Representative Lee responded by saying she’s had the Hyde Amendment in her sights for years.
The Hyde Amendment, if you don’t know, is a legislative provision that basically bars federal funding for use in abortion, except to save the life of a woman or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Given the administration just reinstated the global gag rule, we might not get very far on this. But Representative Lee asked, and we should try. We should add it to our list. We should see where our own Representatives stand on it. Just because it doesn’t seem possible right now doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a try. First off, one never knows. Second off, supposing we have another Presidential election and this isn’t the start of a coup, this won’t last forever. We need to think short term and long term. The Hyde Amendment has got to go.
Raq: Yes, the Hyde Amendment has got to go. There’s so much going on, that it can have the effect of diverting and distracting our energies. Before we know it, things are put in place that take years to change back. Right now, everything feels like a lot of defensive parries, but we also need to be on the offense for what we need, want, and deserve.
8. Children Want to Help; Let’s Help Them
Ali: A girl, about fifth grade I’d guess, stood up and asked a question. What can us kids do, she asked, with curfews and school and limited resources. I didn’t like everyone’s response. They seemed to forget that children are really powerful. The panel in question seemed to settle on “pick your issue and get your school to make a resolution.” But honestly, children can call their representatives too, with a nice little tag line of “I will be able to vote in x number of years.”
A few of us found her after, to give our own answers. I gave her one. I told her to get really good at writing. You’d think, I said, that everyone can do it. But they can’t. A lot of people are really bad at it, actually. And being able to structure your ideas and explain them to other people, to be persuasive, is a really valuable skill when other people have more power than you. So practice writing every day, I said. Do the other things that everyone else advised, but become a good writer as well.
It was a good reminder. Our children aren’t only watching, like the campaign ads said. They’re forming their own opinions and ready to fight. And they should be encouraged, helped wherever we can. I often forget how much children pick up given that I don’t have any of my own. But time makes you bolder, children get older, etc. etc. These kids will be running the show in a decade. Let’s help them get started now.
Raq: Ali, I love that. If I start thinking about some of the most eloquent and badass people affecting culture right now, I think: Teen Vogue. Rookie Magazine. Malala Yousafzai got the Nobel prize before she’d have been able to vote.
Our resistance right now is two-fold: change the insides, and build structures of power and support on the outside. Children have voices that will be privileged by those on the inside, and they are already used to figuring out the world and making it work for themselves outside of the structures they can’t be in (yet). I think there’s something we can learn from them, too.