We’ve all heard, by now, of the rash of racist or sexist or Islamophobic incidents that broke out across the country the day after the election. To my dismay, I learned that there were two that happened where I went to college; someone wrote “TRUMP!’ in huge letters on the door to the prayer room at the engineering college, and later that day, a student taunted three high-school-age girls in an elevator by repeatedly using the n-word and saying “I can say whatever I want now because Trump won”.
I heard about it through a friend’s Facebook post, and initially shook my head. Then had the urge to write a letter. Then realized – I know a lot of other alums through Facebook. And they know other alums. What if we all signed that letter? I announced my intent on Facebook, tagged all the alums I knew, and urged them to tell me if they wanted to sign it too. And sure enough, a bunch of them “liked” my post, and one even tagged a whole bunch of other people right away.
But…that was it, for most of them. I only got eight other people to join me, out of about twenty who learned about it. And I’m grateful to those who joined me, but…it’s still not what I was hoping.
We have all gotten used to an automated way to participate in community now. We’re on Facebook instead of catching up over coffee or on the phone. We “share this picture of the Vietnam Memorial” to support veterans rather than actually pitching in at the VFW. We sign online petitions rather than paper ones.
There are those who would say that the Internet makes it easy to participate in the civic discussion – but that’s the thing, it’s made it too easy. Or rather, too easy to feel like we did something. It’s too easy to change your avatar to a picture of a cartoon character or the Eiffel Tower, or to say “Je Suis Charlie”, or share the photo meme that scolds you that “I bet only 2% of the people who see this will share this photo of a German Shepard because no one cares!” And so most of us click share and maybe type something, and then go on with our day – without expending even the few extra seconds of second thought to realize that sharing a photo of a German Shepard on the internet has absolutely no currency in the real world.
And right now, that kind of slacktivism isn’t going to cut it. Real world impact is going to take real world action. Especially now.
The good news, though – it won’t necessarily require that much impact. Most of us opt for this kind of Facebook activism because the problems seem so big and outside the reach of an individual person. But according to a former Congressional staffer, who went online with advice on Twitter a few days ago, all it takes is phone calls. And you don’t even have to pay long distance to call Washington – the district office is not only just fine, it may be even better. And really, this is what you sent them to office to do – represent you. And the way they figure out how to represent you is if you tell them.
While I was still waiting for incoming signatures, I got into a text exchange with a friend (I’ll spare her name). We briefly talked about going to the Womens’ March on Washington the day after Election Day, but a couple of bad experiences at marches had me a little uneasy, and she confessed she was only thinking of it out of a need to do something. It was early in the morning, and we both had work to get to, so we left it at that.
Then a couple hours later she texted me again. She announced she was about to make a phone call to her state legislature about an issue that was affecting her business. Then five minutes later, another text – they’d told her it was a federal issue. So she was going to make more calls. She called her representative, both her Senators, and a couple other places. And then most likely hyperventilated and had some wine because she hates using the phone, almost as much as she hates drawing attention to herself (I was in her wedding party, and before the processional I was trying to get her to sing “Chantilly Lace” with me to stave off a panic attack).
This was an enormous act of courage, and I told her so. It was also a constituent exercising her right with the most effective means possible and demanding her right to be represented by the people in power. But – it was also just three phone calls. That was all.
It is time to raise the bar on “the least we can do” and get back to real activism.