We’re at the crossroads for our communities, country, and even the world, especially in the area of civil rights. We’re outraged at the potential for our government to rip apart our rights and consequently destroy our lives and the lives of those we hold dear. I feel you in your outrage and am proud to see so many friends recently go out to exercise our right to protest. And it’s incredible to see the energy behind it. But where do we go from here? Through direct action on an everyday basis in ways that employ our principles of democracy in four areas: representatives, media, social norms, and community.
There is precedent for this line of thought. I recently spoke with an acquaintance, a black man on the older side who’d been very involved in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. He even stood not far behind Dr. Martin Luther King during the famous “I have a dream” speech. I asked him for his advice on how to best create a productive movement. He said that protests and marches are very good at calling attention to a problem. And that once the attention and energy is there, further protests do little and can even weaken a movement. He noted that the areas in which we need to act next and directly toward include elected representatives and media, which unsurprisingly are areas where we have much to protest about. Additionally, research in evolutionary psychology and group dynamics, a field I worked in formally, shows that proactively establishing good social norms and building our communities are effective ways to prevent forces like the government from disrupting our rights, and they enrich our lives in the process.
I think we’ve done a great job calling attention to the problems, and any further protest would sound a lot like the unproductive complaining often found on social media. So here’s some concrete action we can take going forward:
1: Get represented by our representatives
How many of you know who your political representatives are and in what areas they hold influence in? I’m just as guilty as you are if you don’t know. But you can look them up and contact them. Show up to their town halls. Tell them about the things that matter to you. Tell them about the bills you’d like for them to support or reject. It’s their job to listen to us, and we can’t blame them for coming to us once every four years when we only actively interact with them on election day.
2: Restore news in our news media
We might complain that the media is biased or inaccurate or not reporting relevant news, but media companies are business and business has not been good to them with the rise of the internet. We used to pay for news and journalism and now we have an expectation that it should be free. So is it surprising that we get what we pay for? Can we blame them for harnessing junk news or the loudmouths that get them ratings and readership? We need to support good journalism and the dying local press, including in financial ways. We need to directly contact media companies about stories we think ought to be covered or feel were glossed over. We need to share good journalism the drives at the complexity and nuances of a given issue, instead of reposting pieces that play on “us vs them” or appeal solely to produce an emotional response.
3: Establish good social norms
Social norms play a strong role in our day to day lives and our ability to wield (or be wielded by) political power. If we make it normal and ever present through everyday actions that we respect the rights of a woman and exert consequences on those that behave otherwise, then it’ll be very difficult for any political entity to change that. On the flip side, if we regularly stand on the sidelines as a complainer, despite having good intentions, it’ll be easy for insidious forces to divide us and push their rules on us. So for whatever rights you consider important, make it clear through regular action. Express yourself creatively on the streets. Speak well of friends that come from different races, places, religions, sexual orientations, and perspectives. And act boldly but kindly when someone tries to step on that.
4: Build our communities
I’m a boots on a ground and practical type of person, so while I keep an eye on activity going on with the faraway government, I’m more interested in what’s going on in front of me in my communities. This is where day-to-day life is most visible and where we have direct control and impact. What are you building and contributing towards each week? Are you sharing an art with friends? Are you teaching something valuable to others? Are you putting your time and money towards something you’re proud to be a part of? Not everyone has the privilege to contribute in every way, but those that can do more ought to because we’re all in this together.
With regard to the latter two, I feel fortunate to be part of communities that exemplify these principles, especially the skating community. We are humans from different backgrounds and places. We respect one another and express ourselves in creative and diverse ways. We don’t just look after each other; we stand up for one another when someone acts unfairly. With that in mind, I remain optimistic that we can embrace these ideals in our everyday lives. The inertia and drive is here. Now it’s time to act.