One of the most common complaints we hear with becoming involved in politics is not knowing what to do next. There have been countless sites created over the past year for the sole purpose of getting Americans like us engaged in politics (many of them have been compiled by ConSpot here). These resources are great for getting started, but they usually don’t help you contextualize things at the local level. Once you call your Senator, attend several protests, and form your #resistance group, figuring out what to do next is incredibly frustrating. Many of the people we know are facing burnout because they are just lost on how to proceed.
Well, the answer (like everything in life) comes from figuring out what the hell you specifically want to do in the resistance movement. This is difficult, not only due to existential angst, but because government is extremely hard to navigate. Anyone that has attempted to browse a government website, apply for a permit, or file their taxes knows how byzantine it all can be. In order to avoid burnout you need to figure out what you want, what resources are available to you, and how you will be able to use those resources to achieve your intended goals.
STEP ONE - FINDING YOURSELF
Let's assume you have none of these things worked out (Note: if you are a kickass networker skip to Step 4.). How do you limit yourself to just one subject? There will be some speakers that have an epic activist origin story. According to them, they were living their lives until, one day, the stars and planets aligned, the clouds parted, their Chakras synchronized, and they realized that one thing that they wanted to do in life. That's great for them, but to quote the incomparable Sweet Brown “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That.” Donald Trump is doing awful stuff today. You might not have a year to go find yourself.
To the vast majority of people, there is a cheat for #findingyourself. For ourselves, we didn’t have a Eureka moment where we discovered who we were in an instant. It came from two concepts - research and trial & error (Yes, you can do research on finding yourself). Here at ConSpot we kept a log, and on this log we noted every subject that intensely motivated us - emphasis on the word intense. It’s our belief that everyone has a default emotion that they fall back on. Maybe you're insanely optimistic, and you get giddy about certain things. Maybe that’s depression. For us, it’s anger. There are injustices in the world that sometimes fill us with so much rage that we physically cannot standup from our cubicles.
For the longest time, whenever we felt angry about a political topic, we would write it down. We noticed several patterns after a while, and from there it was pretty easy to see what motivated us. In our case, it was about how we consume news. Maybe you're passionate about a particular issue, like abortion, or an abstract one, like political polarization. Perhaps you detest a conservative representative in your district. Maybe you're frustrated about how coordinated (or not) the resistance movement is in your town or region. Perhaps you are worried about the level of self care being practiced by fellow activists. It doesn’t have to be a polished idea. That will come later. You just have to care strongly about it.
STEP TWO - RESEARCH
Once you have your idea or ideas (no one expects you to care about only one thing), then it’s time for the research. What do you know about this topic? It’s okay if the answer is nothing. We will figure that out together! What you do know is not nearly as important as knowing what you don’t know. That sounds confusing, but put simply, you might not have the vocabulary or knowledge to adequately articulate your questions. As we said earlier, government is really complicated and the terminology and concepts it uses aren’t always intuitive. This means that you are going to have to do a little baseline research so that you can be an effective asker of questions.
Have you read the Wikipedia page(s) on this yet? That’s not sarcasm. We sometimes neglect to do so because of my intellectual pride. Take notes on any terms you don’t know and then Google them, too. The news site Vox has a great resource called Card Stacks which break down complex political topics for us laymen. The site Quora is also amazing for answering questions (unlike its ugly stepchild, Yahoo Answers -- just don’t). You should also try to follow groups on social media that specialize in your topic so you can stay up-to-date on current events. We have yet to find a list for every possible topic, but a professor at Merrimack College has compiled a Google Doc of Fake News sites. At a minimum, we would advise you avoid those.
STEP THREE - NETWORKING
The research step never ends (there is NEVER enough research), but once you know enough to ask people things, start networking with others that are into your topic. Many organizations will list events on Facebook. Check out Meetup, Eventbrite, and your local newspaper.
Talk about this newfound passion with literally everyone in your life.
Most people (who are not dicks) love when people are passionate about stuff. Some of the best leads come from friends that just want to help. If you are clear and open about your intentions, then help sometimes has a way of finding you.
When networking, take notes on as many RESOURCES as possible.
If none are given (weird), then ask. You are gathering information to see what is already being done in your area on this particular topic - books, articles, groups that you were unable to find, google docs, initiatives, manifestos, etc.
Also, make lots of friends.
STEP FOUR - SELF-ASSESSMENT
This is the step that most people don’t do. If you know the topic you want to take on, then you are going to have to figure out how you, personally, can contribute to it. This means doing two things: (1) an honest assessment of your skill-set; and (2) an honest assessment of your network.
What can you personally do for the cause? What resources do you have? Do you know multiple languages? Do you have extra space that can be used for meetings? Can you cook? Code? Plan events?
Take a look at the survey “How can I help?” to better orient yourself with this question.
Once you do, it's simply a matter of connecting yourself with existing groups in your area that need such skill-sets. For example, if you have experience in a call center, you could donate your time to an organization that needs phone banking.
If you are having trouble finding local groups, check out Indivisible.
Secondly, what do the people, communities and organizations in your network say about this issue? What is the position of your church, employer, college, high school, afterwork bowling team, favorite bar, or restaurant? Solicit the opinions of these entities and see where all of them stand. Do you have allies, or, for that matter, enemies in places you were unaware of? Is there a unified opinion? And if so, can you change it? For example, if you are a proponent of transgender rights, what is your employer’s stance on gender neutral bathrooms?
Make a list of all your networks and actively reach out to them to see where they stand.
The resistance groups you belong to might be doing a lot in the way of organizing from the outside, but working within an existing network is just as important.
If you can mobilize your existing networks to change their position(s), then it will go a long way in making an impact on your chosen issue.
These two approaches are not mutually exclusive, and you can be working from the outside with one network, and from the inside with another.
STEP FIVE - CREATE AN ACTION PLAN (or several)
At some point, you are going to have to map out your strategy. You have an issue, now what is your goal? Typically, we find goals break down into 5 overarching categories:
Changing a Policy - an entity changes their rules to favor an outcome that you want. This can come in the form of legislation or a company updating its internal policies (e.g. anti-harassment legislation).
Changing a Position - an entity changes its mind to a position you support (e.g. a company condemns Donald Trump’s immigration ban).
Providing a Resource - you are providing an entity with a resource it did not have before (e.g. providing homeless people with food, healthcare, etc.).
Raising Money - you want an entity to receive that cash monie$.
Winning an Election - you want an electoral body to be made up of a certain political composition (e.g. to switch to a democratic majority).
This sounds daunting, but the smaller you can break it down, the easier it will be to achieve. If, for example, you wanted to focus on providing healthcare to more people, then you might want to constrain your efforts to a more manageable locality such as your town, neighborhood, or street. The smaller the scope, the better the results.
DO NOT TO WORK IN ISOLATION. If another group is working on this goal, then join them. While forming another group is tempting, it's a lot of work and can often be counterproductive.
STEP SIX - SUPPORT OTHER PEOPLE'S ACTIVISM
Listen, it’s great that you now have this project to work on (or several), but other people need your help too. How can you expect other people to help you, if you only stick to your small corner of activism?
Sign other people’s petitions. Spread their work on social medial (perhaps even cross-promote). Go to their events. And DONATE!!!
As it happens, ConSpot has a donation page. Check it out!
In order to avoid burnout, you need to find that one thing (or several things) that you are passionate about in the movement.
Once you figure that out, you have to do your best to discover as much information about said thing as possible: google it, ask your friends, go to events, and cold-call experts.
You then need to do a self assessment to see how you can personally contribute to this area of activism.
Do all of these things and you are well on your way to being an effective member of the resistance.