“What I know for sure,” said Oprah Winfrey in her famous Golden Globes speech, “is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” We’ve seen abundant evidence of this in the astonishing strength of the #MeToo movement, which began with creating a safe space in which women (and a few harassed men) can share terrible truths they kept silent about for years. We saw it again in the wake of the Parkland shooting and during the March for Our Lives, as students spoke out about an ugly, uncomfortable reality: an entire generation of American children has grown up in fully justified fear of being shot in their own classrooms.
“The brave students of Parkland, Florida, who saw seventeen of their classmates and teachers murdered on Valentine’s Day, are doing something astonishing: courageous grieving—and a strategic counteroffensive in the twin fogs of disinformation and gunsmoke,” wrote Virginia Heffernan in Wired. “Their uprising provides a new model for all of us who live in two worlds: The real one, where the blood is, and the digital one, where the lies are.”
These lies are not mistakes or accidents but deliberate policy. Within an hour of the Parkland shooting, Twitter accounts — many of which were already under investigation for being the source of Russian meddling in the 2016 election — burst forth with hundreds of posts designed to inflame the gun debate. “Any news event — no matter how tragic — has become fodder to spread inflammatory messages in what is believed to be a far-reaching Russian disinformation campaign,” said a NY Times article by Sheera Frenkel and Daisume Wakabayashi. “The disinformation comes in various forms: conspiracy videos on YouTube, fake interest groups on Facebook, and armies of bot accounts that can hijack a topic or discussion on Twitter.”
Even more troubling are the lies deliberately spread from the Oval Office, where it has become commonplace to present falsehoods as “alternative facts,” to label scientific research findings as “fake news,” and to insist that opinion carries the same weight as evidence. In The Art of the Deal the man who would become America’s 45th president wrote, “Tell people a lie three times, they will believe anything.” As National Public Radio’s Brooke Gladstone explained in her book The Trouble with Reality, nowadays the president and his cronies seem bent on convincing us that “facts are disposable, confusing devices that do not serve you, that do not matter.”
But facts do matter. Just because 41% of Americans are convinced that dinosaurs and humans once roamed the earth together doesn’t make it so. (Spoiler alert: we arrived 59 million years after the last dinosaur died.) Back in the 1950s, having doctors appear in ads promoting the health benefits of cigarettes didn’t make tobacco any less deadly. And today, when disinformation seems to be spreading like this year’s flu bug, we need to be more vigilant than ever to protect ourselves from becoming infected by false, harmful narratives about the issues affecting our lives.
So how do we sort out fact from fiction? We start by considering the source. Which writers, websites, and media outlets have proven most reliable over time? Which have not? As we browse the Internet or scan the papers at the supermarket checkout counter, we’re wise to be skeptical about lurid tabloid headlines about a Parkland student being a paid agitator or the shooter being a far-left winger; turns out those claims are no more accurate than the ones about celebrities being abducted by aliens and having ET’s babies. When a fact tickles your falsehood radar, consult a nonpartisan citizen advocate resource such as FactCheck.org, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, and the Pulizer-winning PolitiFact.
When in doubt, go back to basics. Our nation was founded as a democracy in which the government is designed to serve the citizens. This year, many of us are honoring that heritage by working to register as many voters as possible, so we can all exercise our collective right to fire lawmakers who take blood money from the NRA and then suggest the solution involves children carrying bullet-proof backpacks and learning CPR. As one health professional put it, "I can confirm that performing CPR can't remove AR-15 bullets from a body. Get a clue." As for teachers carrying guns, how would you like to be a black teacher holding a firearm when the police show up in response to a school shooting? These so-called solutions are just ways of denying the harsh realities we face as a nation.
In challenging times, we need more truth, not less. Our ancestors knew they wouldn’t survive long if they insisted that winter was summer and planted crops in the wrong season. As CNN’s famous “Face Facts” ad points out, calling an apple a banana doesn’t make it a different kind of fruit. The Hawaiians like to say, “Never turn your back on the ocean,” a warning about the consequences of arrogance and disrespect. Those who ignore the truth, or worse, seek to suppress and distort it, may find a tsunami of reality sneaking up on them in ways they never expected. And anyone who thinks being extremely rich and powerful is enough to shield them from the consequences of their actions should ask Harvey Weinstein how that worked out for him.
When a friend recently asked me how she could get more involved in Resistance work, I promptly said, “Voter registration.”
“Great,” she said. “I’m in! Where do I start?”
“You—” And that’s when I realized I had absolutely no idea what to tell her.
I haven’t done voter registration in the USA in more than a decade; I’ve mostly been in Spain during elections, helping expats get out their absentee ballots. So I was stumped about where to send volunteers eager to register voters on the ground in the US during the run-up to November’s crucial midterms. Which organizations, I wondered, are proving most effective in organizing registration drives where they count most? Obviously, I would need some sage advice, so I turned to my most knowledgeable resource: Google.
And here’s what weeks of research turned up. While there are many terrific organizations mobilizing voter registration (and I’ll get to them in a moment), the nation’s biggest (300,000+ members and supporters in all 50 states) and most experienced (on the job since 1920) army of registrars is the League of Women Voters.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ll confess that my image of the League of Women Voters was based on various kindly, white-haired ladies who have handed me paper ballots at polling stations in every state I’ve ever lived in. I had the vague impression that in the off-season, they kept busy baking cookies, knitting, and playing with kittens. Boy, was I wrong!
The League of Women Voters was formed by hard-core suffragettes who led the 72-year campaign that won American women the right to vote in 1920. They formed the League to “finish the fight” by making sure women’s voices were heard in America’s political arena. The leaders decided to keep the League non-partisan to avoid becoming embroiled in the party politics of the day. But don’t be fooled into thinking that means they’re neutral. For 98 years League volunteers have championed progressive causes; today they’re fierce supporters of campaign finance reform, universal health care, abortion rights, climate change regulation, gun control, and gender equality; they are Women’s March partners and co-sponsors of the Women’s Convention.
Voter registration remains a cornerstone of their work, and they are extremely savvy about when, where, and how it can be done most effectively on a town-by-town basis throughout the entire country. In addition to holding registration drives, distributing educational materials on issues and candidates, and staffing polling booths, League activists helped achieve expanded early voting, automatic and online voter registration, and such courtroom victories as defeating North Carolina’s HB 589, which US League President Chris Carson, described as “a race-based, chilling attempt to silence the voices of eligible voters.” She added, “Politicians do not control our democracy; voters do.”
OK, the League has a sterling reputation. But what was my local chapter like?
Dropping by the Marin County League offices, the first person I chatted with was Annie Layzer, now in her eighties, a descendant of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and suffragist Lucretia Mott’s sister. “I joined the League on my 21st birthday, right after registering to vote,” she told me. “In my mind, the two rituals went together.” Six decades later Annie is carrying on the family's activist tradition, working on public education and voter access. When I asked about the full scope of the group’s activities, Marin League President V-Anne Chernock began telling me about projects involving issues including transportation, land use, housing, education, health, libraries, justice, international relations, and of course, voter services. I have to say, I am really into this stuff, but within fifteen minutes my brain was threatening to explode from trying to process all they’re doing.
And that’s when I knew the League of Women Voters would become a key element in the new directory I was preparing. RESIST! contains contact information for dozens of progressive organizations that are seeking volunteers right now. Can't decide which one sounds best? There's an easy, 3-step guide for getting started.
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY OF RESIST!
My 3-step starter plan includes joining the League of Women Voters and spending a single hour sitting at a card table in front of a local supermarket doing voter registration. Experienced League members know when, where, and how your time and effort will do the most good. And you may be surprised at how satisfying it is to help people strengthen our democracy by making sure their voices are heard at election time.
Once you’ve done that, chances are you’ll be eager to do more. There are many excellent groups working to protect voter access and get people to the polls. But that’s just the beginning. What are you most passionate about? Gun laws? Net neutrality? DACA? Freedom of the press? Police brutality against minorities? Birth control? Transgender bathroom policies? The Americans with Disabilities Act? The fact that global warming is threatening the world’s chocolate supply? There’s a group out there working on your priority issue right now, and they could really use your help.
And that goes for liberal strongholds as well as battleground states. I’m from deep blue California, but large swaths of my state are flaming red. For instance, while we have some of the most progressive gun laws in the country, I was appalled to discover how many California lawmakers take significant amounts of money from gun rights organizations led by the NRA. Each one of these politicians needs to be held accountable for the deaths of our schoolchildren. To find out which legislators in your state are beholden to the NRA, see Gun Rights: Money to Congress compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
WHO HAS ACCEPTED THE MOST MONEY FROM GUN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS?
Nowadays, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. Luckily, you're not alone. There are plenty of progressive activist organizations using savvy tactics and gaining victories in the ballot box and elsewhere.
I truly believe the numbers are on our side. If enough of us vote, we can hire better lawmakers than the ones we have now (admittedly a low bar) and pass legislation that helps Americans live safer, more humane, and more prosperous lives (dumping that ludicrous wall project alone will save us $21.6 billion). If you’re ready to lend a hand to build a better future, download this free guide and start exploring volunteer opportunities near you.
Done any interesting volunteer work lately? I'd love to hear more about it in the comments below.
When I popped into my local supermarket the other day, I noticed these magazines on the handy, impulse-item display rack at the check-out counter.
Yikes! Feeling a bit apocalyptic, are we?
I decided not to add these worst-case-scenario magazines to my reading list. Having seen my fair share of dystopian sci fi movies, I am fairly clear about what to expect — and about how long I’d last living in a global version of The Hunger Games (about five minutes, tops). But standing in that market, looking at those magazine covers, I began to think about the narratives we’re each constructing in our heads as we struggle to make sense of the shocking new abnormal.
“We don’t go into a state of shock when something big and bad happens; it has to be something big and bad that we do not yet understand,” wrote Naomi Klein in her bestseller No Is Not Enough. “When we find ourselves in that position, without a story, without our moorings, a great many people become vulnerable to authority figures telling us to fear one another and relinquish our rights.” To Klein, the story currently playing out on the nation’s big screen is more Wall Street than Hunger Games. “As this has been unfolding, it struck me that what’s happening in Washington is not the usual passing of the baton between parties. It’s a naked corporate takeover.”
Clearly Wall Street’s famous line “Greed is good” has become a mantra-run-amok in Washington. But that’s not the whole story. Slavery, and the belief in white supremacy that sustained it, are fundamental not just to our nation’s past but to its present, providing the painful context for everything from voter suppression to police brutality to Nazi rallies to sexual predators. We ignore this context at our peril. As philosopher George Santayana famously noted, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In the USA, our rearview mirror tends to be made of rose-colored glass. “Our problem as Americans is we actually hate history,” says educator Regie Gibson. “What we love is nostalgia.” As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes in their report Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, “We enjoy thinking about Thomas Jefferson proclaiming, ‘All men are created equal.’ But we are deeply troubled by the prospect of the enslaved woman Sally Hemings, who bore him six children, declaring, ‘Me too.’”
HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT AMERICAN SLAVERY?
TAKE THIS SHORT QUIZ FROM THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER.
The intersection of racism and misogyny is explored from diverse angles in Nasty Women, an anthology compiled by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding. Following an election in which 53% of white women voted for the current president while 94 percent of black women voted for his opponent, the authors discuss how American women can work to find common ground and forge unity. "Strong, thoughtful, and angry voices,” says Kirkus Reviews, “ring out for resistance, empathy, and solidarity,"
Such essays may inspire us, but what do we do with our passion for change?
Amanda Litman won’t hesitate to offer this suggestion: Run for Something, which is the name of her new book and her organization, which recruits and supports young, diverse progressives running for down-ballot office. Republicans, she points out, have spent years inserting themselves into seats on school boards, city councils, and every other decision-making body. Worse, legislators on both sides of the aisle have failed us so often, in such distasteful ways, that until recently, most progressives were aghast at the very idea of setting foot in the political quagmire. Which is one of the reasons that in 2016, more than 40% of state legislative races were uncontested. We’re just standing by and letting incumbents walk into office again and again. “Our elected officials are, by and large, a sea of old white men who don’t actually represent the diversity of this country,” Litman says. In brisk, no-nonsense style, she lays out the details of how to run a successful campaign (she’s worked on many). “There are half a million elected officials in the United States. Why can’t you be one of them?”
WINNERS IN 2017 ELECTIONS SHOW FRESH NEW FACES AMONG THE "SEA OF OLD WHITE MEN" WHO HAVE DOMINATED US POLITICS FOR SO LONG.
Not ready to run for office? To be honest, I’m not either. But a year ago, it became clear to me that I had to do something to help turn the tide of madness sweeping the country. I began meeting with leaders of progressive organizations and asking them what they were doing and whether there was hope for real change. These conversations were so inspiring they became a series of articles and videos, and sparked the idea for my new book, Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For. Doing my research, I’ve learned that while millions of Americans are highly motivated, many are struggling to find practical ways to do something genuinely useful for the cause. The book describes dozens of progressive organizations that are actively recruiting volunteers, and includes contact information so you can sign up with them right now.
What are you passionate about? What drives you most insane about this administration? Corporate greed, misogyny, racism, voter suppression, erosion of LGBTQ rights, gutting disability protections, ignoring the rule of law, efforts to undermine our belief in science and in truth itself ... or simply the knowledge that 45 holds the nuclear launch codes? Is Armageddon right around the corner, as those magazines in the supermarket suggest? I don’t think so. But then, I’ve been surprised a lot lately.
One thing I do know for sure: as progressives, we are numerous and strong enough to change the course of events in our country — but only if we show up and actively engage in the process. Books like these can inspire, motivate, and point us toward volunteer opportunities; the next step, the one that matters, is up to you. Whether you live in a red state, a blue state, or abroad, there is important work waiting for you — online, on the ground, or wherever you choose to take your stand.
“Hell hath no fury like 157 million women scorned,” read one woman’s sign.
“This episode of Black Mirror sucks,” said another, referring to the nightmarish sci fi TV series about hair-raising dystopian societies.
One of the pleasures of joining this year’s Women’s March in Oakland, California was seeing 50,000 people waving signs written with sharply pointed wit. The day was gorgeous, the crowd festive with bright pink pussyhats, outlandish costumes, puppets, bands, kids, and amusingly attired dogs. And underneath all the lighthearted fun was a deep, dark current of implacable outrage.
After a year of being bombarded with horrific headlines and boldfaced lies, it felt wonderfully cathartic to gather together and speak our collective truth to the world. But protests aren’t just about the feel-good moments; they're designed to bring about change. And they often do, but not always in the ways we expect. We start out hoping to affect the behavior of others — the president, our legislators, our neighbors — but in the end, we discover that the real transformation is taking place inside ourselves. Experiencing the collective energy of the crowd, knowing that marches like it are happening all around the world, brings home a powerful truth: we are not helpless. We don’t have to hunker down and wait for the nightmare to pass. We can get out of this episode of Black Mirror, if enough of us work together to change the channel.
But how do we do that, exactly? By signing online petitions? Calling legislators? Running for office? Posting witty memes on Facebook?
There are countless valid ways to work for change; right now, one of the most urgent is getting out the vote in 2018’s crucial mid-term elections.
Women’s March organizers named this the top priority. At their #PowerToThePolls rally held in Las Vegas the day after this year’s march, leaders set the goal of registering one million voters by November. "When we think about our influence and how many millions of people marched yesterday and last year,” said Women's March Co-chair Carmen Perez, “we know we are capable of grabbing Congress by the midterms and making sure our values are prioritized."
The once-simple process of voter registration has recently become more complicated thanks to strict new voter ID laws, passed by GOP lawmakers using mythical voter fraud to suppress turnout. A year ago, Kat Calvin discovered that 21 million eligible Americans, 92% of them non-whites, can’t register because they lack the required papers. She launched Spread the Vote to obtain the documents each individual needs, a complex effort involving visits to county records offices, endless paperwork, and $75 to $100 in fees, which are paid by donors and grants. It’s all worthwhile, she says, because she gets to help people like Marvin. An older African American whose health issues keep him in a wheelchair, Marvin needed an ID and didn't have a birth certificate because, as he put it, he was "born in an old Jim Crow town." When Kat told him she would take care of the paperwork, cover the nearly $100 in costs, and arrange wheelchair accessible transportation to the polls, Marvin cried.
Getting out the vote is the most direct way to affect a wide range of issues and shift the balance of power away from the white billionaire patriarchy. You can start by contacting one of these organizations, all of which are actively seeking volunteers right now.
League of Women Voters. Volunteers work year-round to register new voters and provide essential election information. To get involved, start by contacting your local chapter.
Rock the Vote. Engage young voters in the political process. Help them register, understand their voting rights, and join in actions to defend the democratic process.
Sister District Project. A community of volunteer teams across the country, Sister District works to win back state legislatures and fight for progressive issues. Volunteers handle get-out-the-vote drives, phone banks, social media, and more, working remotely or in local neighborhoods.
Spread the Vote. In regions where the poor and people of color are disenfranchised by stringent new voter ID laws, Spread the Vote helps people get the necessary paperwork to register and cast their ballots. Many volunteer jobs can be done remotely, others require a personal presence, some involve partnerships with progressive local organizations.
Swing Left. Swing districts are places where Republicans won by a thin margin. Swing Left is working to turn those red seats to blue ones. Volunteers register voters, staff phone banks, and more. Choose a district on the map to find out about that area’s specific needs and tasks.
Voter registration is vital, but there are many other ways to support progressive organizations, causes, and candidates. Marching through the streets of Oakland, I was struck by the diversity of the protesters and their issues: gender equality, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, #MeToo, gun control, and many more. One thing united the crowd: they were mad as hell and ready to take on the most powerful political machine on the planet — and win. I saw one guy with a placard saying, “I would really hate to be the man who pissed off all these women.” May 45 rue the day.
Ready to explore more options?
I’ve spent the last year researching progressive volunteer opportunities to include in my new book, Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For. I wrote this book to inspire and mobilize progressives and as a personal act of Resistance. I'm donating all revenues to Planned Parenthood, so every purchase is a small act of Resistance.
Questions or suggestions? Thoughts on the Women’s March? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. If you have favorite photos, post them on my Facebook page or email them to me at AmericanResisters@gmail.com.
Please note that I am not affiliated with or sponsored by any of the organizations mentioned here. They are included in hopes you find them useful in planning your own activism.
Ready for some good news? A friend just sent me this graphic showing which US cities are holding a Women’s March on the weekend of January 20/21, 2018.
I will always regret missing out on the 2017 Women’s March. That day, I had just arrived back in Seville, Spain, where I live for a portion of every year; it’s the home base from which I do my travel writing (now mostly on the back burner so I can work for the Resistance). At the time, our little expat community had no one in place to organize a protest, so I sat at my computer and watched the images roll in from around the world.
For me, it was stunning and profoundly thrilling to realize that there were five million of us — enough to mount a serious Resistance movement. That’s when I knew we wouldn’t have to hunker down for the duration; we have the capacity to stand up and take our shot at changing history. Nobody knows how many will be marching this year, but I can tell you one thing for sure: we have a lot more to be outraged about now.
If you're heading to this year’s Women’s March, you may be protesting for the first time in decades — or the first time ever. So I thought it might be helpful to pass along a few practical tips about street protesting. Some of these were handed down to me from my mother, who spent the sixties standing up for equality, justice, and peace; others I picked up during my long-ago days as a student protester at UC Berkeley and more recently as part of the American Resistance. Guidelines may vary, so be sure to check the website of the march in your city for specifics.
Choose a theme for your protest sign. You can march without one, of course; lots do. But protest signs are cathartic to create and add flair, drama, and fun to the occasion. What are you passionate about? Climate change? Black lives matter? Marriage equality? A woman's right to determine what happens to her own body?
Find some zingy wording. Nowadays I scroll through online photos of protest posters the way I used to flip through racks of greeting cards, just to enjoy the humor and creativity. Some of my faves are shown below. Want more inspiration? Check out my "What's Your Sign?" page here.
Make your poster. Get poster board or cardboard, nothing too dark or heavy; you may want two sheets, so you can do different wording on the front and back. Make the lettering very large, clear, and if possible spelled correctly. Worried about spacing? Use a computer to print out the words on a piece of paper roughly the shape of your board, then use that as a guide. Lightly pencil in guidelines and words, then fill in with markers or paint. You can simply carry the sign, but attaching it to a stick makes it easier to hold up high enough to be seen over people's heads and more comfortable to carry on longer marches. Use duct tape to attach the poster board to some sort of stick, such as a garden stake. If you are using a stick that feels splintery, cover the lower section with tape; make sure the tape is not too slick as you’ll want a firm grip. Guidelines for marches in some cities stipulate that you not use wooden, plastic, or metal sticks and advise making something from cardboard or rolled poster board instead.
Wear a pink pussyhat. Much has been written about this powerful symbol of the Women’s March and the Resistance movement. I’ve had friends and their knitting circles making batches for my Seville Resistance group all year. In the US, the Pussyhat Project has its members knitting like mad and is collecting hats for distribution to those marching. If you're a knitter, you probably already know they provide patterns and instructions so you can make your own. You can also order handmade pussyhats online from sites such as Etsy and Amazon. Not a hat person? Consider bright pink temporary hair dye. As the Pussyhat Project websites says, "The more we are seen, the more we are heard."
Dress for comfort and commentary. Practical shoes are a must, especially if your city has a long march route and/or you’ll have to park far away. There are wonderful Resistance t-shirts available online from sites such as Redbubble and Zazzle. Or you may want to go all out and make an even more visible statement in full costume. And don't pass up the opportunity to dress up your dog, too.
Bring a small bag with comforts and necessities. Depending on the weather and length of the march route, you may be glad of some water, snacks, an extra sweater, a scarf, an umbrella, a rain poncho, a packet of tissues, Handi Wipes, and/or other practical stuff. If your party includes kids or dogs, pack treats for them as well; Fido will appreciate a collapsible water dish, especially in warmer climates. In some cities, march organizers are asking people not to bring backpacks but say clear bags are OK.
Coordinate with others in your party. Marching is more fun with people you know. If you can’t arrive together, be sure to establish a specific rendezvous point. “I’ll meet you there” isn’t too practical if there are 20,000 people milling around over several acres of ground. Plan your parking, get there early, connect at the rendezvous, and agree where you’ll meet up later if you get separated. Make sure you have everyone’s cell phone number. If you’re bringing your dog, check that the tags have accurate contact information in the unlikely event Spot disappears in hot pursuit of a neighborhood cat.
Post photos and videos; livestream if possible. Social media offers countless immediate outlets for those great, funny, emotional moments you capture along the route. And it’s a wonderful way to reach out to those who couldn’t make it to the march and let them feel the excitement of the day.
Celebrate afterwards. Whether you’re marching solo, with a few friends, or as part of a big group, take a moment to appreciate what you’ve just done. Today you stood up for something that matters. And then think about how the commitment you’re feeling right now can carry over into further Resistance actions.
Ready to do more? I’ve compiled a list of high-impact, progressive organizations that are actively seeking volunteers right now. You can find this list in my new book, Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For. During the run-up to the Women’s March, I am offering the book at a deep discount (just 99 cents on Amazon Kindle) to get it distributed as widely as possible. All sales revenues go to Planned Parenthood in the name of anti-choice White House officials, so each purchase is a small act of Resistance.
Questions or suggestions? Thoughts on the Women’s March? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Please note that any products or resources mentioned here are not sponsored in any way; they’re included simply to make joining the Women’s March easier and a bit more fun.
I was recently chuckling over a podcast called “Children’s Letters to Satan, and Other Christmas Stories,” in which the New Yorker Radio Hour delves into the pile of letters written by kids who can’t spell Santa’s name correctly and mistakenly address their requests for holiday gifts to the Prince of Darkness. As someone who spends a ridiculous amount of time proofreading my own writing, I get an enormous kick out of discovering other people’s howlers in surprising places.
As a connoisseur of magnificent typos, I was charmed to receive an email recently from an American friend who wrote, “Needless to say [the president] has made us shutter in disbelief.” Yes, no doubt she meant “shudder,” but this spelling may be even more appropriate. Haven’t we all had moments during 2017 when we wanted to retreat indoors, slam the shutters closed, and hunker down behind a stout piece of furniture to wait for the political storm to pass?
If only we could. Unfortunately, if we all spend the next three years huddled under the bed eating Oreos (and yes, there are times that option seems mighty attractive), the situation is just going to get worse — and quite possibly last for seven years instead of three, with who knows what to follow.
Many people I know express outrage at current events and tell me they’d love to do something — if only they could figure out what. Blue state friends feel particularly stymied; what is the point, they ask, in calling legislators who are already voting in sympathy with the progressive agenda? I call this being paralyzed by Indivisible Syndrome. You may have heard of the Indivisible Guide — a terrific, savvy, grassroots organizing manual produced shortly after the election; many of us grabbed onto it like a life preserver from the Titanic. But calling our legislators and showing up at Town Hall meetings — while vital to the effort — aren’t the only way we can work to stop the madness. The administration is attacking our rights and freedoms on a hundred fronts at once, hoping we’ll be too shocked and overwhelmed to react appropriately to each one.
It’s a strategy that has worked well for some predators in the past.
You may have read the interview with businesswoman Jessica Leads in the New York Times, in which she described sitting next to a stranger in the first-class cabin of a flight to New York three decades ago. Forty-five minutes after takeoff, she recalled, her seatmate flipped up the armrest, grabbed her breasts, and attempted to slide his hands up her skirt. “He was like an octopus,” she said, “His hands were everywhere.” A month after the story ran, she watched her alleged attacker being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
Are we all getting the octopus treatment right now? You bet. The president’s hands are reaching everywhere, pulling the plug on climate control, whisking away health coverage for 13 million Americans, grabbing tax cuts for billionaires, giving hate groups the high sign, making insulting gestures to our allies, patting our enemies on the back, and waving off allegations of sexual misconduct from twenty women.
And what are we doing to stop all this? A tremendous amount, actually. There are organizations all over the country working hard to counteract the systematic dismantling of our way of life, our form of government, and our essential liberties. I have spent the last year interviewing Resistance leaders and researching progressive organizations actively seeking volunteers. I’ve collected all this information in my new book, Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For. What are you passionate about? Police brutality against minorities? The war on birth control? Transgender bathroom policies? The Americans with Disabilities Act? Refugees? Gun laws? The fact that global warming is threatening the world’s chocolate supply? There’s a group out there working on your priority issue right now, and they could use your help. Find them on Google, in my book, or wherever Resisters are gathered.
Last night Rich and I went to see the slightly cheesy but entertaining new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, and the character Rose summed it up nicely. “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” A little boy in our row leaned over and said loudly to his dad, “The good guys always win.” If only that were true! Unlike Hollywood endings, real life doesn’t come with any guarantees. Sometimes we think we’re writing letters to kindly old St. Nick and discover we’re pen pals with Beelzebub instead. But if we've learned anything from the cathartic #metoo movement, it’s that American women have far more power than we realized.
Collectively, we are armed, for the first time in history, with formidable economic power, education, professional work experience, political clout, and access to instant global communications. And we are prepared to use these resources to dismantle an outmoded patriarchal system that seeks to suppress us. We toppled Harvey Weinstein and dozens of other seemingly untouchable power brokers, and there’s no telling how high our reach can go.
Among the joys of travel are encounters with ordinary women living in extraordinary times who accomplish seemingly impossible things with minimal resources. Take the Kenyan village that Rich and I once visited on behalf of an American charity. Located close to ground zero of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the remote jungle village had lost half its men to disease, and most of the other males had departed to seek work, often disappearing forever. The women were left behind to figure out how to survive on their own.
The well-meaning charity gave them a bull, but — as the women later told us — that animal was of little use to them. The minute the charity’s representatives were gone, the village women sold the bull and bought a young cow to breed and provide milk. The milk money went to buy a sack of grain, which was sold off in smaller, more profitable quantities, with some held back to plant for themselves. With tremendous pride, they showed us their modest crops and small herd of cows. A calf was born during our stay in the village, and you can imagine how flattered Rich was to learn they’d named it after him.
On various assignments, Rich and I have spent time with Bosnian war widows, Salvadorian sewing collectives, and Kenyan women rescuing children from forced marriages to village elders. I've learned that in truly dire circumstances, it’s usually women who step up to do what needs to be done.
Now that my country is in dire political straits, I’m not surprised to find it’s our women who are mobilizing for action. A poll of 28,000 activists shows that 86 percent of those calling legislators are female, and 60 percent of those women are over the age of 46. Some 70% of people polled had participated in the Women’s March and/or travel ban protests, and 97% say they’re likely to protest publicly against the administration in the future.
These days, American women are everywhere, staging sit-ins, running for office, holding politicians accountable, registering voters, making the wheels of protest turn. I’ve spent the past year listening to Resisters, posting articles about their accomplishments, making videos about their work, and now writing a book called Women of the American Resistance.
Here’s what I’ve learned: It’s likely to take 11 million active resisters to achieve peaceful regime change in America. That’s based on research evaluating every major effort to overthrow or replace a government anywhere in the world since 1900. Non-violent civil resistance proved the most effective method, and no campaigns failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5 percent of the population. In the US, 3.5% means 11 million people — approximately twice the number who engaged in the 2017 Women’s March and one sixth of the 65,844,610 people who voted Democrat in the 2016 presidential race. Clearly 3.5% is an achievable goal; in fact, since nobody knows how many people are currently active in the Resistance, it’s quite possible we’ve mobilized more than that already. Or maybe we’re poised at 10,999,999 and just need one more person to get up off the couch and push us over the tipping point.
And that’s why the subtitle of my book is You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For.
This book was written for the millions of progressive sympathizers who remain on the sidelines, unable to envision a role for themselves in the struggle. They are outraged and agonized but simply can’t connect with a specific task that seems meaningful and high-impact. The goal of this book is to transform those sympathetic onlookers into activists.
The book shares remarkable stories of ordinary women who have found extraordinary ways to address the challenges facing our nation. And it provides descriptions and contact details to connect readers with dozens of organizations seeking volunteers for fieldwork, online activities, and administrative support in offices, law firms, and clinics. Yes, you can make a difference — and these organizations are standing by to help you figure out how.
Altering the course of the ship of state is never easy, and it's going to require all hands on deck, starting now. This can't wait for a more convenient time, or the excitement of the run-up to the 2020 election, or for some leader to come along and save us, like Prince Charming rescuing us from the tower. We need to rescue ourselves.
Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For is now available for preorder as a Kindle e-book. The initial deep discount of 99 cents for the Kindle edition will continue until after the Women's March, in honor of all those who are mobilizing.
This book is the result of more than my research into the post-election upheaval and conversations with progressives working for change. Writing the book drew on perspective I've gained in a lifetime of travel to places where people faced challenges we Americans can scarcely imagine — for instance spending nearly the entire twentieth century under the successive rule of tyrants from the Russian Empire, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union, as so much of Eastern Europe did.
A Bosnian women once told me that when the four-year Siege of Sarajevo broke out in 1992, she was utterly blindsided. “We were a modern European country,” she said. “It was literally unthinkable.” Progressive Americans cannot claim that we don't see trouble coming from the current administration. The question is, what are we prepared to do about it?
Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For
Publication date: January 5, 2018
Formats: Paperback and Kindle
All revenues from book sales: Donated to Planned Parenthood
This post is an excerpt from my new book, Women of the American Resistance, which will be published in January 2018.
If you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve probably already enjoyed a good chuckle watching this video of California Congresswoman Maxine Waters in her legendary run-in with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
To dodge her question about why he hadn’t responded to her letter to him regarding the president’s ties to Russia, Mnuchin launched into a tap dance of meaningless verbiage, no doubt hoping to run out the clock so Waters would lose the rest of her opportunity to speak. Invoking House procedural rules, a stony-faced Waters kept repeating, “Reclaiming my time” until he was forced to yield the floor to her. It was a marvelous moment that instantly went viral, launching countless news stories, memes, and t-shirts, to say nothing of Mykal Kilgore’s now-famous gospel music video.
“Reclaiming my time” has become a catchphrase among Resisters who resonate with Waters’ sharp criticism of the current Republican administration. Millennials speak of her fondly as “Auntie Maxine” and praise her for “throwing shade,” a phrase that puzzled Waters at first. “I had to ask my grandchildren, ‘What does it mean? I threw shade?’” she said. (Translation: it’s black and Latino gay slang that means a public expression of contempt.)
Actress Rose McGowan speaks at the Women's Convention, her first public appearance after alleging that Harvey Weinstein raped her in 1997. Her theme: "I have been slut-shamed, I've been harassed, I am you."
Reclaiming Our Time at the Women's Convention
In October of 2017, the phrase “Reclaiming Our Time” became the theme of the Women’s Convention in Detroit, organized by the leaders of the Women’s March, attended by 4,000 people, and featuring a list of remarkable speakers, including Waters.
“In the halls of this convention,” wrote Monica Davey in the New York Times, “which at times had the mood of a raucous campaign rally, women were tackling a broad and sprawling list of issues, including Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, threats to the environment, mass incarceration, reproductive rights, workplace rules, the accessibility of child care, treatment of immigrants, protections for transgender people and more… Yet for all the disparate topics at this meeting, one thread ran through them all: opposition to the [new] administration and a pointed focus on elections next year.”
One of the co-organizers of the convention, EMILY’s List, is tackling the election issue head on. Founded in 1985, the organization takes its name from the acronym “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” a reference to the financial backing it provides to female, pro-choice Democratic candidates. “EMILY's List wins elections,” says their website. “Since our founding, we have helped elect over 100 pro-choice Democratic women to the House, 23 to the Senate, 12 to governors' seats, and hundreds of women to state and local office. EMILY's List has also become one of the largest financial resources for minority women seeking federal office.” Since the 2016 election more than 20,000 women have reached out to EMILY’s List to explore the idea of running for office — a giant leap forward from the 920 who’d contacted them in the previous two years.
"This is unprecedented,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List and one of the speakers at the Women’s Convention. “Women continue stepping up and demanding to be at the decision-making table – here in Michigan and in every other state across the country. This is a surge of grassroots energy unlike anything we've ever seen. We've spent more than 30 years preparing for this kind of moment, and we're ready to channel this energy into wins for women up and down the ballot, not just in 2018 but for the years and generations to come … I want every woman who's ever wondered whether she can really make a difference to know that she's not alone. They are part of a wave of now more than 20,000 women getting ready to run and change the face of politics. We at EMILY's List and our community of over five million members have your back."
Financing a campaign can be especially challenging for non-white female candidates. “Black women are one of the most active political constituencies in the nation, yet they are severely underrepresented in federal, state, and local government, according to a new study,” reported Theodore Johnson of MSNBC in 2014. “Within the black community, women make up over 52% of the population, represent nearly 60% of the electorate, and turn out to vote at a rate nearly 10% higher than men.”
The Democratic party is "too male, too pale, too stale," said Letitia James, public advocate for the City of New York, when she spoke at the Women's Convention.
At the Women’s Convention, “the wide-ranging discussion frequently turned to criticism of the Democratic party, and how it can better support black women voters and black women candidates,” wrote Catherine Pearson in the Huffington Post. “Panelists called the party ‘out of touch’ and said it would not be enough to simply replace white male legislators with white women. ‘The Democratic party is too male,’ said Letitia James, public advocate for the City of New York and the first woman of color to hold citywide office in the city. ‘It’s too pale and too stale.’”
I haven’t heard Waters comment directly on James’s remark, but I suspect she’d agree. “With a prominent platform and a withering side-eye,” wrote Christina Cauterucci in Slate, “Waters has embodied the unadulterated rage and indignation many have felt watching incompetent white men try to drive America off a xenophobic cliff … While Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer make chummy jokes about pens, Waters has loudly refused to legitimize [the president’s] leadership, calling him a “so-called president” in an interview with the Associated Press. ‘I don't see myself meeting with him, sitting down with him, believing anything he would say, or even respecting anything he would say,’ she continued.” And that, my friends, is throwing shade.