(This article was written by, and is printed with permission from, Freya H., a regular commenter here, and a regular commenter and poster on Care2, and highly valued at both places.)
I attended the Women’s Congress in Detroit, MI, in late October, and I am glad that I went. I
learned a lot about numerous issues, as well as what citizens can do to make their voices
heard, and did some serious networking. Now is a dark time for women – indeed, for everybody
who is not a white, straight, rich male U.S. citizen – in this country thanks to the Trump regime
and a Republican-dominated Congress. Conservative forces seek to divide and conquer by
separating the struggles of women, blacks, unions, Latinos, the LGBTQ community,
immigrants and so on. The purpose of the Women’s Congress was, obviously, to focus on what
issues affect women, and how to handle them; however, much of what was discussed applies
to everybody who does not benefit from this country’s current regime.
Each morning featured inspiring speakers, followed by breakout sessions focusing on different
issues: immigration, reproductive rights, mass incarceration, police brutality, how to get more
women elected to office, fighting sexual assault, opposing the gun lobby, getting youth
involved, et cetera. I attended several sessions that I felt would expose me to people with
whom I could network, and give me information and ideas I could bring back to Atlanta.
Michigan, like Georgia, has a major problem with gerrymandering. Fortunately, I met several
women who are deeply involved in that fight. I talked with many women, some leaders and
organizers, some rank-and-file activists, all involved in various issues. From both presenters
and those I met I gathered not just contacts and names of organizations but also tips and
suggestions. I contributed to a couple of the sessions, and even got a couple ideas that may
work. Meanwhile, the crock pot of my mind is still simmering and mixing what I took away from
the convention, so my role is just getting started.
Even before the Congress was over, many attendees were looking forward to the next one.
Indeed, this Congress was merely a beginning, a springboard to get activism and action going,
to make nationwide connections between local organizations so we can share ideas and
experiences. We are in for a long, hard fight that will take the efforts of many. Perseverance
always pays off in the end.
One strategy mentioned in several talks is storytelling. This makes an important issue personal
because people will think about how some law or policy could affect them, or their loved ones,
or their friends, or their neighborhood. Realizing that one has a personal stake in who
represents us in government at all levels, and what sort of laws get passed, motivates people
to contact their legislators, promote petitions, take part in demonstrations, and most
importantly, to vote. Doug Jones’ upset victory in Alabama shows just what happens when
progressives go to the polls in large numbers.
Another thing I learned is, regardless of the issue, you need to get face-to-face with people.
Social media are helpful, but they don’t work by themselves because you need to get personal
in order to build relationships. You should surround yourself with subject matter experts and let
them guide you. Don’t assume that the people around you know all these problems you are
fighting exist. Listen to others in order to lead, build creative solutions, and “lean in.”
Here is what else I took away from presentations at the convention:
Hyperlocal Activism: How to Create Successful Neighborhood Groups
Political activism should focus as much on local as on national races; indeed, it is better to start
small. If you have 10 interested people, you can probably get a meeting with your state
representative or senator. Find out where your legislators stand on issues so you can can
prepare your questions. When you have a meeting with a legislator, focus on just one issue and
ask for just one task.
Have Post-It brainstorming sessions. The Action Network has a helpful tool for planning events, letter campaigns and fundraisers. You can sign up for a free account, then click on the “Start Organizing” button in the right top corner.
Attend the meetings of other activist groups to get ideas and contacts. Tell your contacts about
upcoming actions so you can get more people involved. If you are on Meetup, use the hashtag
#Resist to find out if there is a group near you, or a Huddle from the Women’s March. If you
have a Facebook account, use it to keep in touch with people and organizations. Yahoo Groups
and GroupsIO are useful too. Once you get an action network established, it will grow.
To get youth involved, talk to civics clubs at high schools. Learn what progressive-minded clubs
are at your local colleges. Parents in your network may have kids who are approaching, or have
reached, voting age. Make activism a family affair by getting the next generation involved.
This is What Democracy Looks Like! Engaging New Voters in 2018
New voters are not just young, white, middle class Millennials. They include blacks, Hispanics/
Latinos/Chicanos, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and new citizens. Let young
people lead their way by asking what issues concern them. Explain why it’s restrictive to have a
picture ID, and work on breaking down other barriers to voting. Close the disconnects between
population segments. Coalitions cross many divides, including race, age, religion, gender
identity and immigration status.
Millennials consume information on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other on-line sources. The
Internet has rewritten the rules of political engagement. To get more people voting, we need to
communicate in a way that resonates with our intended audience. Focus on issues that concern
them: technology, student debt, self employment, gig economy, net neutrality. Tell stories to
engage the imagination and make issues personal. Such stories are sometimes known as
“anecdata.” Encourage people to imagine the better future we can effect by getting politically
active and actually voting.
Know what goes on with candidates. During the 2016 election, Democrats did not target black
voters in red states, and that bit them in the arse. To return Democrats to their Progressive
roots, get involved in the party. We need the totality of the Progressive base.
Go to trusted sources and find out what their issues are. Campaign headquarters should hire
local community organizers to their staffs because these people know the area better than the
usual consultant cadre. Democrats need to hire better and more diverse people if they really
want to win. After all, the winners are the ones who make policy.
An example issue is the fight for the ERA. Right now this amendment needs only two more states to pass it. The deadline is not in the law – we still have time to make it part of the Constitution.
The Power of Networking
Look for supporting forces outside of your normal zone. Don’t just sympathize with other
organizations – equalize with them. Food is a great organizer, so host potlucks as activities to
facilitate connection-making and cross-pollination. Have business cards to give out. Listening is
more important than talking – good listeners make great leaders.
High-impact organizations partner with other organizations through collaboration, coalition
building and making partnerships. An effective organization works outside itself for more impact.
Put flexibility in the organization and its message – tailor message to different groups and sorts
of groups. Communicate frequently, offer supportive messages for other organizations, and
cooperate on projects. Share leadership by consulting and learning from each other. Joint
programs can often get government or NGO grants together.
Barriers to coalition building include egos and leaders. Remember that it’s about the CAUSE,
not you. Some non-profits want to hold on to vision of their founder(s), who may actually have
been interested in joining coalitions.
Some coalitions like to have a Memorandum of Understanding. This is a legal document
between organizations, and is not necessary but nice to have. Because it is binding, not all
groups will be willing to sign one.
Civic Engagement with Legislature
You can find your state representatives and senators on-line. Look for town hall meetings and
coffee hours when they are willing to meet with constituents. Do not focus on just state
representatives – include county and city officials, as well as school boards.
Many legislators have Facebook accounts, so you can find them that way; however, beware of
“Fakebook” pages that purport to be from these people but have incorrect information. Doublecheck
with your targeted official what is his/her actual site. Some reps post upcoming events on
their Facebook pages. When you learn of such an event, get the word out so others will attend –
the more, the merrier.
Call and schedule a meeting; be aware that you may meet with staff rather than the actual rep.
Write down your questions ahead of time while thinking about what is your main point. Follow up
after the meeting, and don’t get frustrated by a lack of response. The best way to communicate
is the means you prefer. When writing a response or follow-up note, though, remember that
perfect is the enemy of good enough. Your message doesn’t have to be over-polished in order
for you to make your point.
Look up current bills for your state, city or county to see if any of them pique your interest. Seek
organizations in your state that do this on their websites. Double-check bill numbers, as these
Organizations are good for getting large numbers of people to respond. A caucus is really just a
club, so it does not have any real power; however, there is strength in numbers, and members
of a caucus are interested in political activism. One activity to get people involved and bring
attention to an issue is a postcard-writing party. Use eye-catching postcards, especially ones
that are specific to a district, city or state – or the specific issue. Don’t use mass e-mails, as they
tend to be ignored.
Testifying at Committee, for or against a bill, is a great way to get your voice heard. Become a
regular observer of such hearings before testifying so you can get a feel for what goes on and
get some ideas about the proper way to present your side. You may be able to watch such
committees on-line. One need not be an expert on the subject matter, just someone with a story
germane to the bill. Remember, ordinary citizens are the strongest lobbying group!
Contact members of the committee the bill is in if you have a story. Find at least one person who
is interested in your cause, and look for true progressives. Work with groups of legislators to
add depth to legislation – this provides a wider venue to share your story. Visit the legislature’s
website and contact reps to learn best way to access legislative info for political entity.
Committee chairs have a lot of power in some states, so research whether this is true for yours.
Find out if you can get alerts by text messages or Twitter so you can jump on an issue quickly.
Learn what your state’s legislative hashtags are. Bills can mutate into something very different
from what they originally were, so be vigilant! Watch out for lame-duck legislation in states that
have term limits.
Red State Organizing
You need to be under the radar by design because you are working in dangerous areas. Don’t
lead with radical ideas – instead, start out with your more moderate positions. For example,
instead of talking about abortion or even birth control, talk about miscarriage management.
Listen to find your place of commonality in communities. Get to know people and keep your
radical isms hidden. Informal gatherings are great for networking. The value of social capital in
rural America is hard to replace. When a local government issues a list of agenda items, find
some that resonate with you and sit with conservatives on those matters. Words that describe a
successful campaign include: sufficient, timely, strategic, compelling, economic, accessible,
inspiring, creative, empowering, inclusive, necessary, fun and sustainable.
Activist Kits are activism made easy and digestible. Have a different theme each month: climate
change, public breast feeding, etc. Get the disaffected registered to vote. Write letters to the
editor. Have a feminine hygiene drive for the homeless. If you can, link a science fair to the
March for Science in order to engage students. Many people are afraid to speak up, but may
feel safer if they know others feel as they do.
Research people you want to connect with via networking. Be careful how you frame yourself to
reach others so you don’t turn off potential allies. People from blue areas can help progressives
in red areas. We need to stop the trickle of bad ideas, so we must NEVER get complacent.
We have to start talking to others. There is always place of commonality, so find it and stay
there. It is more important to be heard than to be right. Social change takes a long time – as the
old saw goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so dig in and be patient. Start with humor if you can,
and never lead with any heavy stuff. Don’t have changing someone as the goal, instead aim to
connect. Don’t put yourself in any situation where you feel threatened.
Reach out to people who are not on the top of your traditional ally list. Identify an action in a red
state that may get Progressives to come out of the woodwork. You can get action kits from
ActivateUs. Photograph an appropriate ActivateUs action kit, then send it to five non-active people and ask them to join.
Divest from the War Economy
Currently the US is actively bombing seven countries. 60% of the US budget is for defense; one
estimate says we will spend $2 billion every day on war in 2018. The #1 US export is weapons,
and Saudi Arabia is the #1 importer of American-made weapons, which they are using to kill
civilians in Yemen and Syria. Lockheed Martin supports the Gaza genocide by arming Zionist
extremists. A lot of so-called foreign aid doesn’t really help countries devastated by war or
disaster. Destabilization from the US causes corruption and facilitates the rise of dictators.
The war economy is a culture of slavery, exploitation, colonialism and territorial dispossession,
with no institutional accountability. The infamous Military Industrial Complex is a legacy of all
this. While defense contractor CEOs get richer and richer, numerous veterans have difficulty
getting access to physical and psychological therapy they desperately need. Thousands of them
are homeless, and on average, 23 veterans commit suicide every day.
Some 30,000 private contractors are doing the work of the military. One dirty trick defense
contractors use is to scatter the production of their weapons over many communities. This
makes more city and county governments beholden to them, and easier for them to sway voters
and legislators to support more defense spending.
So – how do we divest from the killers and transition to a local peace economy? We need to shift
values to cooperation, reciprocity and accountability. We do this with intersectional coalition
building. We regard other people and organizations as accomplices rather than allies. We make
space instead of taking it up. We rebuild the anti-war movement by encouraging universities,
churches and foundations to divest from defense contractors. We push for more spending on
Americore, FEMAcore and Seniorcore. We figure out how to hold Blackwater and their ilk
accountable for their actions. We ask veterans what military service did to them and how it
continues to affect them. Never underestimate the power of testimony and tribunals – remember
that personal stories have more sway than statistics.
Sustainable Publishing: Giving Voice to Women Writers Who Will Make the World a Better Place
Women writers are often overlooked by the major presses, but not by the small ones. One
example is Green Writers Press. M. Jackson and Janisse Ray are among its authors.
Unlike the big houses, small presses collaborate with authors. If you want to write, start local.
Nonfiction can be easier to promote than fiction. The media need to make more noise against
fossil fuels, racism, and other problems we face. We need fact-based media to counter “fake
news” and propaganda.
Editor’s can’t publish what they can’t see, so get your stuff in the pipeline. Put it out there and
The Role of Cities in Protecting Reproductive Freedom
Local action makes tangible progress. The election of Trump has encouraged more anti-choice
violence because antis are emboldened.
Clinics are fighting every day, and need help from communities. Ask clinic personnel what is
most beneficial to them. Talk with police officers, tell them to protect clinics and truly represent
the community. Contact city councils and demand that laws protecting clinics be enforced. Tell
them that anti-choice activists bother both people and businesses in the neighborhood by
disrupting the peace and creating a hostile environment. Psychologists say that the presence of
anti-choice protesters is stressful and harms both care providers and patients. Point out that
there are ordinances against noise outside all medical facilities.
Many phony “clinics” are receiving government funds. Harp on the fact that they provide
inaccurate information, which may harm the health of girls and women. Get wise to the dirty
tricks that faux clinics use, such as hiring retired nurses, to look legitimate.
Support women who have had abortions – assure them that having the procedure is not the end
of the world. In the telling of abortion stories, antis have rhetoric, but defenders of reproductive
freedom have truth. Create a safe space and find your allies in organizations and local
governments. Find, or help create, a council of women health providers.
The state of Colorado and the city of St. Louis give all who ask long-term birth control. Show
how this saves cities and states money by reducing dependence on welfare and food stamps,
and allowing women to work so they can pay taxes instead of having to take from taxpayers.
Building a New Vision for Safety to Overcome Mass Incarceration
Every year this country spends 80 billion dollars on incarceration. Of the 100 million who have
records, half are women. The incarceration rate for women is increasing. Mass incarceration
results in community instability, and depletes resources that communities need for public safety.
If incarceration depletes resources, why is it done? Why are there so many legal barriers to
The broader the movement against mass incarceration, the more likely it will meet with success.
The law can become a weapon to establish freedom and justice. We need to put public safety
first and reach out to victims of crime. Communities that are most harmed are least helped
because victims have little or no resources or support for their trauma. This undermines public
safety. All should be seen and heard. Ordinary people can make a difference – for example,
California Propositions 47 and 57 came from the voters, not the legislature.
What if prosecutors were concerned with public safety, and cops listened to crime victims? We
need to invest in healing, education, job training and mental health. Our current punitive system
is harmful. We need to counter the traditional “Tough on Crime” rhetoric and show how three-strikes
laws and mandatory minimums do more harm than good.
The majority of prisoners are people of color, but most guards are white and most prisons are in
“white” areas. Inhumane treatment and racism are rampant, but residents nearby don’t know
this. We should gather stories from inmates on the brutality they suffered, and make it clear that
most people are locked up for minor, non-violent offenses.
We need to provide released convicts with the resources they need to recover, including drug
treatment and diversions. Those who have loved ones locked up are less likely to be civically
engaged and more likely to be depressed, so we need to let them know they are not forgotten.
We must address the concerns and needs of all involved in order to mobilize them and find
Freya’s Care2 news page is HERE. After she gets the article up there, I’ll update with a direct link.