[This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces February 2017 on the topic of “Resistance, Activism, & Self-Care” hosted this month by The Asexual Agenda (click link for more info on what a “blogging carnival” is and to see previous topics)]
Frustrated by recent political actions and inspired by the Women’s March, a wonderful group of folks came together to hold an 8 hour conference this past weekend called the Rise Up – Texas Action Event in Austin, TX to talk about current issues, ways to take action, and to exchanged some ideas and best practices for resistance and activism. I was able to attend this event so I’ll be sharing my 6 take-aways from this conference for my Carnival of Aces submission.
Take-away #1: Pick ONE
I don’t know of anyone who can run two marathons at the same time. It’s just not humanly possible.
This is going to be hard because there are so many issues to care about, but real change takes time. If you want to have enough energy to commit to resistance and activism every day of your life on top of just simply living your daily life (home, family, work, school, etc…), you’re going to have pick ONE thing you really care about, put your blinders on and trust somebody else to take action on the other issues. This doesn’t mean you can’t care about other issues. This doesn’t mean you can’t support other causes through donations or demonstrations. This doesn’t mean you can’t change your cause later on. Picking one issue and sticking to it is just a “best practice” that many activists recommend to keep from burning out.
Take-away #2: What can you do?
Now that you’ve picked the issue you want to commit to, make a list of skills you bring to the cause. I bring writing. It’s easier for me to whip up a letter to my congresspersons or write up a phone-call script than to organize other people or host events. Someone who is artistic or can draw might want to design a poster or logo to bring attention to their cause. Reach out to local organizations that support your cause and ask them what they need. Can you organize a school or campus event? Can you organize a march or protest? Do you know someone with these skills who would be willing to work with you on your cause?
*Another best practice: If you’re going to host an event three things you’ll want to provide to get more people to attend are food, transportation, and child care. The food and transportation is pretty self explanatory, but there are a lot of parents out there who want to get involved but can’t because they have children under the age of 10 and nobody to watch them for an hour or two.
Take-away #3: How to stop a bully.
I’m sure we’ve all seen school anti-bullying PSAs where they show a kid getting picked on in an very 90s tvshow kind of way and the video encourages students to “stand up” to the bully and use clever quips to point out the error of their ways. Please don’t do that. There is something you can do, however, if you ever come across someone harassing another person. Both of the speakers on this section of the conference were experts on domestic violence and violence prevention. Words and harassment are a form of violence, but it’s not often thought about as such.
One of our speakers (a Muslim woman) talked about how she was grocery shopping and while in the checkout line a man in front of her turns around and starts yelling and cussing at her in front of her children. I was naturally horrified by the story, but the most horrific part was nobody at the time did anything about it. It’s not necessary the bystanders’ faults that they didn’t do anything; It’s a natural reaction to freeze in that situation and hope that someone else will do something. I can’t say for sure I would have been able to act in that particular incident, but since attending the conference I feel more confident that if I ever do witness something like that I’m better prepared now to act.
Here are the steps you can take to make sure you’re not just a bystander if you see someone being verbally harassed:
- Self-talk yourself into it: “That person needs my help!” Realize that someone is in trouble and you can do something about it. We have an innate drive to help others so first you need to tap into that protective instinct.
- Focus on the “target”: Our speakers used very specific language when they went over the scenario. The bully was the “aggressor” and the person they were harassing was the “target” NOT “victim”. When you insert yourself into the situation you don’t want to look at the aggressor at all. All your attention should be completely focused on the target. The quote our speakers used to make this point was, “I’m going to ignore you so hard you’ll start to doubt your own existence.“
- Use body language to shift the power dynamic: Do NOT turn your back on the aggressor. Do not threaten or engage the aggressor in any way. Do not escalate the situation. You’ll want to stand next to the target to show support. Use body language to show confidence. Remember, the target is probably dying of embarrassment at this point because they’ve been made a public spectacle. Your goal is to calmly remove them from the situation with as little drama as possible.
- Deescalate and distract: You’ll want to insert yourself into the situation calmly and carefully. Be friendly to the target. Distract the target and remove them from the aggressor’s line of sight using distractions like, “Oh, there you are. Sorry, I’m late.” “Excuse me, can you show me where you found X?” “Excuse me, can you give me directions to X”.
- Motivate the crowd to help you: Before you insert yourself into the situation, look around for back up. Who is watching with looks of shock and horror? Give them jobs to do. “Can you find a manager?” “Can you go call security?” “Can you help me help this person?” Remember, you’re main goal is to calmly remove the target from the situation and you don’t want to engage or acknowledge the aggressor AT ALL. If you can get other people to help you, move the target to the center of your group so they’re protected and out of the aggressor’s line of sight.
- Continue to support the target: Once they’re out of the situation make sure the target is okay. “I’m sorry that happened, are you okay? Do you need help? Is there someone you can call?” Whatever you do, don’t make the situation about you, “Ah, man, that sucked- like this one time I-” Make sure to ask them first before calling the police unless you think the situation is too dangerous to be handled without law enforcement.
What if you’re the target? Use step four to get someone to help you. Ignore the aggressor and leave immediately. Get help if you need it. Your safety is a priority. Don’t insert yourself into a situation you don’t think you can handle. If there are weapons involved or too many people for you to handle, call the police.
Take-away #4: Panel Highlights
After the anti-harassment part the conference had a panel segment that included a spectrum of diverse speakers. They talked about how to support persons with disabilities, immigrants, LGBTQ+, and how to use conflict for positive changes. Most of my take-aways came from the speaker on LGBTQ+ issues because he talked about state laws that would affect me directly. The speaker was the parent of a nonbinary transgender person. I was SO excited when I heard this. I’m not out to my parents so it was uplifting to me to see a parent care about transgender issues and take action for the transgender community.
The two things that stood out to me the most from all the speakers was “ask first” and “legislation matters”. Both the advocate for persons with disabilities and the immigrant speaker brought of the point that if you just jump right in and try to help without asking what people actually need, you might actually cause more problems. Treat them like people, not victims. To support persons with disabilities, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ you need to get the legislation involved. Are they able to get the healthcare they need? Are there policies in place to protect them? What current policies are in danger of being repealed?
This is why you’ll want to only stick with one issue because you’ll need to spend time researching legislation and tracking bills. Which brings me to the next take-away,
Take-away #5: Local Legislation
Are you paying attention to what’s happening in your local communities and districts? I don’t live in San Antonio, but my family and I have jobs in the city so what happens in San Antonio city politics affects us too. You make a bigger impact on your day to day life by voting and participating in local elections for sheriffs, judges, and city council officials. A lot of the time people will focus on national elections and forget that their vote counts the most at home.
Fortunately Texas makes it really easy to track who’s who and what legislation is in the works. There’s even a website that tracks legislation for me.
Texas bills I’m currently keeping a VERY close eye on are:
- S.B. 6 aka. The infamous “Bathroom” bill.
- S.B. 242 A bill that would REQUIRE teachers or counselors who to tell the parents “any general knowledge regarding the parent’s child possessed by an employee of a school district” which is legal speak for, if a school employee knows that a child is gay or transgender they HAVE to tell the parents or risk losing their job. I have sooooo many problems with this. I’m 27 and I’m not out to my parents. I would hate for that choice to be taken away from a child. What if the child is in a domestic abuse situation? Anything they told a “trusted adult” at school would have to be told to the parents by law. That’s freaking dangerous! I really hope this bill dies in committee.
Once you have chosen a piece of legislation to attack there are a couple things you can do.
1) Write/Call your representative and let them know where you stand on this issue. Every contact you make is tallied and put in records. I’ve heard email is less effective, but it’s also tallied and it makes it easier for the staffers to sort through. When you write and call you’ll want to seem like a calm, rational person. Be polite, be brief, and get to the point. Say who you are, where you’re from (so they can tally that information), say briefly what you’re writing/calling about, why it matters, “thank you, have a nice day”. Try to keep it to one page if written and under 15 minutes if it’s a phone call.
2) You can testify. This step is a major commitment and you have to jump through a bunch of hoops to make it happen, but you can testify before your legislators with a quick two minute speech of why you are for or against the legislation. 15 seconds of those two minutes are your introduction, so time goes by a lot faster than you think. If you’re going to testify just get to the point and get to it quickly. “Hi my name is…I’m from district X….I’m against S.B. #….because…. thank you for your time.” and done.
Have reasonable expectations when it comes to dealing with legislators. You’re not going to get the results you want immediately. Real change takes time. If a bad law passes, then take steps to oppose it. If a legislator does something you approve of, let them know too! Send “thank you” cards to people you know are making a difference. Those get tallied too!
If you decide not to take any legislation related action, that’s okay! It’s a lot of work, so at the very least stay informed on one issue that matters most to you. I sure as heck don’t have a law degree so I have to rely on trusted sources to keep me informed on what’s happening in my legislator with regards to my main issue.
For other issues I care about, but don’t have enough time and energy for personally I instead support and donate to the ACLU and other organizations I trust like plannedparenthood.org, reproductiverights.org, nrdc.org, refugeerights.org, naacpldf.org, thetrevorproject.org, maldef.org, propublica.org, and adl.org.
Take-away #6: It’s a commitment, but don’t let it drain you
When it comes to taking action, anything is 100% better than nothing, but don’t compare your efforts to the efforts of others. It’s all about what you can and are able to do for the long term everyday.
I read boring law speak, write letters, and call politicians with filled voicemails. I follow along, reblog, retweet, and quote social media. Occasionally, I’ll give up a work day or a day off to go protest or demonstrate. I can’t do the protests all the time because it drains me. Someone else might not be able to do the social media side because it drains them, but they can organize, socialize and network. The last speaker made the point to do what “fills you up”, not what drains you. That’s part of the self-care aspect of resistance and activism.
For me the conference was very draining. It was worth it, but it’s not something I can do everyday or even every other week. I love the protest postcards, though. I can fill out five postcards on my lunch break to five different people everyday. I could draft a letter in my sleep. Phone calls are a little harder (I get nervous), but as long as I have a script I can read from I’m willing to make 2-3 phone calls every week.
TL:DR– We all want to do are part, but we all have lives too. The key is to make resistance and activism part of our lives and part of our routine. 1) Pick ONE thing you can devote your time and energy to. 2) Think about what you can do every day to support your cause and prepare for the long run. 3) Support the targets of injustice. 4) But be sure to ask first how to help. Don’t just assume. 5) Keep an eye out for legislation that helps or hurts your cause and stay informed. 6) When it comes to resistance and activism do what “fills” you, not what drains you. It’s going to take time and you want to be fresh and ready every step of the way.