Donald Trump won the 2016 US Presidential election a few hours ago. Since then, the most common thing I've heard from my friends is: "Now what? What can I do now?" They are, like me, disgusted by the bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia that Trump represents. My answer: organize. And I don't necessarily mean start a new nonprofit. There are plenty of those doing great work already, which is good, because that means you don't have to start from scratch. I'm talking about something bigger. There are millions of people in this country who want it to be safe for women, safe for queer folks, and safe for people with darker skin. There is more love than hate. The hard part has always been channeling it to create change. And we have a new pattern for that, modeled after groups like Occupy and BlackLivesMatter.
Let's say you're organizing a demonstration, or trying to get some legislation passed. Traditionally, you'd notify your mailing list, talk to strangers on the street, and maybe even make cold calls. But these methods are incredibly wasteful. First, they waste time and resources, because most of the people you talk to won't be able/willing to help with your particular issue, and the ones who are willing to help will be lucky to recognize the issue as one they care about while they're wading through all the other emails, petitions, and calls they get. More importantly, these one-time impersonal interactions don't build relationships. Much of the success of Occupy and BlackLivesMatter has been due to their focus on building relationships, both between people and between organizations.
So what's the big deal about relationships? If you think about your friends, you know who might be interested in helping with a particular issue. And if you want to work on an issue, it's a lot easier to get involved if one of your friends already is. You can spend less time dealing with spam email blasts and more time making change. And more generally, our personal relationships have a huge influence on our world-view and our culture. By engaging in activism through meaningful personal connections, we learn to understand different perspectives and bake our principles into our daily lives and habits. And as people participate in different groups, those values and skills become part of a larger activist culture. And that kind of culture-building can be a powerful force to counteract the dangerous political polarization facing the US. And of course, working on things you care about with friends is fun, and fun is an excellent motivator.
So what does it look like in practice? On top of traditional activism, it looks like meeting regularly with small groups of people who have some common ground (i.e., affinity groups). It's even better if the groups are also diverse in some ways. So for example: people who all live in the same city but work on different issues, or people who work on the same issue but in different formal organizations. On top of the meetings, you can add a mailing list, or an ongoing Google Hangout, or a group message in Signal. When each person is part of multiple groups, skills and ideas quickly spread across the entire activist ecosystem, and it's easy to signal boost a call (or offer) for help to a very large group of people who will actually act on it. If you contact a couple people, and each of them contacts a couple more, and so on, the number of people you reach grows (literally) exponentially. So activism doesn't always have to be about taking steps towards a specific plan, it's sometimes more useful to build a network that allows you to mobilize resources when and where they're needed.