It seemed like a good idea at the time.
My husband and I loaded our run-down rental car and headed to the Catskills. After the holidays, we needed an escape — a weekend to ourselves, absent of obligation.
After navigating the hectic streets of Manhattan, we both took a deep breath. Finally, we felt some peace.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, our social media feeds filled with news about the inauguration. There were touching tributes to Barack Obama, endless memes about then President-elect Donald Trump and murmurs of the upcoming Women’s March. It made me feel validated in my decision to go upstate. There seemed to be no better time to escape, and tune out the internet. The world seemed sad and angry, and I didn’t want to be a part of it.
We hit the road on Inauguration Day. As we drove, my husband kept me up to date on the important things — the quippy signs protesters held, Trump’s Twitter background (which was from Obama’s inauguration), and the awkward exchanges between Melania Trump and Michelle Obama. I couldn’t wait to reach a service-free zone, deep in the woods, where none of this information could reach us.
Friday quickly turned to Saturday and the tone of the world changed. Every time I opened Instagram or Facebook or visited a news website, my eyes flooded with images of the Women’s March. I’d never seen anything like it. People of all shapes, sizes and cultures came together and began to fight back, peacefully and beautifully. The more I looked, the more empty I felt. How could I have been so selfish? How did I miss the gravity of this day? How can I sit here, doing nothing?
I’ve always done my best to stay informed, but it suddenly struck me how behind I was. Sure, I’ve had strong convictions when it comes to politics, but I’d never taken action. My conflict-averse introverted side drove me to fight and feel with my heart, but not with my words and body.
Missing the Women’s March made me feel ashamed. But it also made me wonder: what actually makes a difference? Though millions of people had marched, what was the impact?
In the days since, I’ve watched closely. I’ve read the countless comments defending our rights, and our Constitution. I’ve also read replies arguing that shouting on the internet isn’t action. Put your money where your mouth is, they say. Or in this case, your effort.
I’ve signed petitions, donated to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, liked every inspiring Facebook post I’ve seen, researched organizations to volunteer at and joined numerous groups to keep me up to date on why, how, where and when I also can take action. But is it working?
Though there have been glimmers of hope, it wasn’t until yesterday that I felt equipped with the knowledge I needed to feel like, and become, an activist.
A friend of mine posted advice from a congressional staffer on effective advocacy. In summary, it said:
- You should NOT be bothering with online petitions or emailing.
- The best thing you can do to be heard is to have face-to-face time. Go to town halls. Go to local offices. When you go, ask questions. A lot of them. And push for answers.
- But in-person events don't happen every day. So, the absolute most important thing that people should be doing is calling.
- Calls are what people in Congress pay attention to. Every day, the senior staff and the senator get a report of the three most-called-about topics for that day and exactly how many people said what about each of those topics. Historically, Republican callers have outnumbered Democratic callers, often at a ratio of 11:1.
Merriam-Webster defines activism as, “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.”
Direct vigorous action.
Though posting on social networks is certainly helpful, and has certainly informed and inspired me, it isn’t enough. It’s a start, but only a start.
To drive the change we want to see in the world, we have to act, and act vigorously. That means marching not once, but several times, and for several different reasons. It means calling, and volunteering and fighting. It means finding your voice and using it.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I will no longer be silent.
Photo credit: Kristen Bartoloni