April 22nd, 2020, was Earth day. It was also supposed to be one of the most massive environmental protests in recent memory. Organizations such as the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion had been recruiting participants for months in the hope of convincing America, and the world, that we need to pass substantial environmental legislation like the Green New Deal.
Then the world got sick, and months of planning sputtered out. What was going to be a day involving tens of thousands of participants quickly turned into Zoom calls, email chains, and carefully planned, in-person demonstrations.
If you were on the sidelines of a political movement, then you might be frustrated by this new era of social distancing. Things looked like they were finally happening, and now we are all stuck in our homes.
From restaurants to banks, organizations all across the world have had to adapt to this new reality, and protestors are no different. Despite the social distancing, there is quite a bit happening among political groups all around the country and world, and they need you now more than ever.
1. Do Not Disconnect
Whatever you do, do not drift on autopilot. It might seem like there is nothing you can accomplish alone inside your home, but now is the time to pay more attention to what’s happening in the world, not less. This is the moment to get plugged in for multiple reasons.
For one, there is a lot to do.
It’s not like we were bored before this pandemic.
In regard to climate change and rising authoritarianism, 2020 was already going to be a challenging year for the world. We were facing a crisis BEFORE the COVID-19 pandemic pushed our global economy to a standstill. These problems have not gone away, and they will need people like us to solve them.
Maybe you are one of the privileged few who can afford to ride this thing out, but the majority of Americans cannot. The economy has slowed to a trickle, and unemployment and GDP are at crisis levels.
While Congress has passed some relief in the form of small business assistance, a lump cash transfer, and mortgage relief, the majority of our financial obligations are still very much in effect. Americans right now have to still pay their rent, hospital bills, and so much more, and many are having to do so without a job or while severely in debt.
Whether or not you have to pay for these things is a political question.
Congress is in the middle of debating another stimulus package, and what ends up inside that legislation is not a given. Our decisions at this moment will determine if millions of Americans can ride out the pandemic or if they will be stuck in debt for decades.
It will determine many of our economic futures.
We need people like you to be paying attention, and it’s not like you don’t have the time.
Before the pandemic, a common complaint with politics was that people didn’t have the time to figure out where to start. Politics was seen by many as overwhelming and time-consuming when they already had so much to worry about in their day-to-day lives.
That was before; now, all we have is time.
We are trapped inside our houses, apartments, tents, and cars for the foreseeable future, and there’s a lot of hours to kill. We are playing a lot of games and watching a lot of Netflix, and while that’s not inherently bad (I binged Tiger King too), a fraction of that energy could be used to figure out how you want to make the world better.
Don’t overwhelm yourself by exclusively consuming global and national news.
Make it personal. Take this time to figure out the complexities of ONE issue that you care about. It could be anything: maybe you hate a particular politician, love a specific park, or are worried that the global depression will destroy a business you care about.
Learn all you can about this issue:
- Read investigative articles about it
- Struggle through government websites
- Scrawl through online message boards
- Guffaw at Reddit
- Google it until you go through at least two pages of search results
- Talk to people. Even “important” people have surprisingly light schedules right now.
You will be surprised how quickly a plan starts to form once you simply have enough information.
2. Join a Political Organization
The other day I got a text from a group I volunteer for asking me if I wanted to lay down stencil drawings on the sidewalks of my city. It was one of the many ways this group has pivoted in the wake of the pandemic. People are paying more attention to their surroundings on socially-distant walks, and that includes the sidewalks.
Political movements HAVE NOT STOPPED organizing. They are still doing incredible work across the country and the world. They are endorsing candidates in local races, phone banking, pushing out email blasts, and orchestrating carefully-planned in-person demonstrations (or, if you are a conservative, ones that risk the well-being of people around you).
This is the time to sign up for more email lists, not less. We didn’t have the time before to do this simple sort of grunt work, but a lot of us do now. Spend an hour or so signing up for organizations that look cool, and then over the next couple of weeks, see which ones speak to you.
If you need help with where to start, then I personally recommend:
- The Tech Workers Coalition
- Extinction Rebellion
- Black Lives Matter
- There are a lot of other groups out there too!
Once you start signing up for some organizations, you’ll be surprised by how many awesome ones have been working in the background of your local community for years. Many of them are desperate for ongoing volunteers, and donating your time is useful for several reasons.
For one thing, that feeling of hopelessness can be mitigated by doing small, tangible actions on a regular basis.
Call it protest therapy.
I find that nothing is more empowering than getting off a Zoom call where you’ve just spent thirty minutes with your peers planning on how you are going to help out your local community.
That’s not a brag.
While volunteering can be a much-needed ego boost, it also helps with the fact that I have not been outside my apartment building in days. It’s stimulation that makes me feel like I am not powerless or alone.
Another reason why these organizations are useful is that they help you structure your thoughts on what we must do once this pandemic ends.
As much as we may want things to return to how things were before COVID-19 hit the world, they will not. Our economies and relationships have been forever altered by this issue, and not always in a good way. The Coronavirus gave the Trump administration the pretext to deport thousands of people. He also accomplished the one thing he has wanted to do since the start of his presidency: he has closed the US border.
Leaders around the world, especially authoritarian ones, have used this scary moment in history to push through their agendas. To help reverse some of these decisions, we will need people to start organizing en masse the moment restrictions lift.
Don’t take on the psychic weight of that battle alone. It will be easier and far more effective if you are connected to a larger movement or group.
3. Give Money
If you have the means (and not everyone does), then you should be making an effort to give away as much as you can. I don’t need to explain to you how devastating this recession is for the majority of Americans. Chances are you are experiencing this travesty in real-time.
People need money, and they are not getting it fast enough from their political leaders. States have buckled under the surge in unemployment claims. The number of Americans who have filed for such claims since the start of this crisis recently passed 26.5 million, which dwarves all the ones made during the entire 2008 Great Recession. The federal government is taking its time to pass a complete stimulus package. In truth, it’s doubtful a Republican-controlled Senate will ever push for a package that covers genuinely everyone.
The definition of who needs help has become far more expansive, and this reality is too overwhelming to take on all at once.
Make it personal.
Try to ensure that the people in your life are doing okay, even the ones you aren’t particularly close to. A lot of people are dealing with this situation cooped-up and alone. They aren’t going to turn away your Zoom call request, and while talking about money is not the most fun conversation, it’s a necessary one.
Additionally, reach out to businesses that you love and see how they are doing. Some of them may have set up a Kickstarter, Patreon page, or some other crowdsourcing site to keep them afloat during the pandemic. A movie theater I love has launched a Patreon page, and their regular posts are a personal highlight of my week.
General funds have also been set up by organizations across the country. For example, in my city, the nonprofit No Justice, No Pride, has set up a general fund for sex workers in the DC area.
There is no shortage of people asking for money, and a couple of dollars can go a long way.
I am writing this at the beginning of self-quarantine. I have not seen anyone in days, and I have days left on my countdown. I have started to avoid news that makes me feel enraged (people like Pod Save America, CNN, etc.) because, personally, I know that if I spent my days getting hourly updates of the news, then I would burn out pretty quickly.
It’s been said that activism is a marathon, not a sprint.
Well, now it’s a crawl.
I have started to place a lot of energy on making sure that what I do is narrowly tailored for maximum impact. I still consume news, especially locals news, but I do so from sources that make me feel informed — not angry and powerless.
I do not consume it religiously, and I have stopped regularly checking the Coronavirus infection numbers (seriously stop). I am connected to local and national advocacy groups that I trust will inform me if something breaking happens that needs my urgent attention. I also join regular Zoom calls from organizers who tell me what small actions I can make that day or week.
On a monthly basis, I donate to several groups, predominantly local ones, ranging from a national nonprofit, to a local environmental organization, to a community movie theater. These are all small things, and yet despite the uncertainty happening with the world, they make me feel great about the future.
You might not be able to help the millions of Americans suffering from this pandemic, but you can become an invaluable resource for your small corner of the world.