“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.