Breaking the Rules and Building a Movement

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about. ~Angela Schwindt

There are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something. ~Thomas Edison

We learn a lot as we get older.

We learn how to stay in our own lane, for example. Sometimes we learn that lesson by being coaxed into it. Sometimes we learn it by being hit broadside. But in any case, soon enough along our own life’s road we learn where the boundaries are, and how and why to stay within them. When we’re asked about those boundaries later (say, when we have an inquisitive five-year-old at our heels) the already-memorized response is: “that’s just the way things are.”

“That’s just the way things are.”

That’s so comfortable. It’s also dangerous.

Thinking back over the last two years, I’m struck by how many times I’ve met with seasoned political experts and consultants who were eager to learn more about “the Resistance.” And seizing upon that opportunity, I’d suggest they try some new approaches to voter engagement – admittedly unconventional but backed by data and evidence. And more often than not I would see a look of annoyance flash across their face, or hear a nervous laugh while they waved off the suggestion with: “oh – well – that’s not how we do things.”

My response? “How’s that worked out for you so far?”

Suffice it to say, my response has not gone over particularly well.

The truth is, we’re used to the rules. It’s comfortable to rest our backs up against those boundaries and to believe that’s our only option. Believing another option exists requires that we expend the effort to figure out what that might be, after all – and it’s easier to just trot along the already-trodden path than to cut a new one. It’s also quite calming to know what the next step should be… And soothing to believe that if everything goes into the toilet, you did everything anyone could have expected you to do: you followed the rules.

But here’s the problem: the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore. The old boundaries don’t seem so solid.

If we didn’t believe it before, we’re seeing it play out in real time through the rise of an entirely new movement, led by people who are used to testing boundaries.

Because they’re teenagers.

Teenagers are in a sort of sweet spot. They have a generally good sense for what the rules are. But their main job at this point in their lives is to push those boundaries. To drive outside the lanes. To color outside the lines. To see how fast this baby will drive, if we open it up…

But teenagers are not the only people who can test those boundaries.

Teenagers are not the only ones who can decide to go a completely different way – to try something entirely new and radical and crazy.

We did that, too, after the 2016 election.

But now you look around and see that the radical has become the ordinary. Calling your congressperson seems so … common. But do you remember that first call that you made? Do you remember explaining how government works to your friends and fellow activists – perhaps by sharing Wait, How Does Government Work, Again? – for which I am eternally grateful. Do you remember that floundering, fluttery feeling that we all had just right after the bottom fell out of reality and we were searching for our footing?

Now fast-forward a year and a half, and the activist organizations that catapulted onto the scene with action items and frenetic we-must-save-the-country energy have CEOs and digital strategies and budgets.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, of course. They’re the adult versions of the creatures we created in post-election 2016.

But there was a freshness, a nimbleness, an irreverence that we had when we were young.

And we’re seeing that energy now with the Parkland teenagers. They move like an amoeba, changing with the mood and the daily Fox tirade. They are media savvy, tech assured, and they have the passion that comes from being at the wrong end of an AR-15.

We owe a lot to them already, and I think we’re going to owe them even more before this is all over.

So as we watch them achieve what just three months ago seemed legislatively impossible, let’s take those achievements for what they are: proof that with passion and heart we can cut brand new paths across terrain that right now seems impassible. We did that back in the early months of 2016. They’re doing it now. We can do it again, in the months ahead.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to test some boundaries.

Let’s get to work.


Congress is on vacation until April 9, so your congresscritters may be hosting some events in your state/area. Check in with your local offices for their schedules, or check the Town Hall Project.

Tuesday: Oppose American Pravda

Over the weekend, Deadspin released a chilling video of local television anchors reading the same script – a script that parrots Donald Trump’s attacks on media and fake news. Those anchors work at local affiliates owned by conservative Sinclair broadcasting, which after a major media purchase is completed will be able to reach more than 3/4 of the American public.

Polls show that more Americans trust their local news stations than national outlets. With a President that consistently feeds into the notion that national news is “fake,” more and more t.v. watchers will rely upon their local affiliates.

Sinclair-owned affiliates must air what Sinclair tells them they must air, including segments featuring ousted white house “advisor” Seb Gorka and “terrorism watch” updates. And that viewing public will believe it is watching regular a-political ABC/CBS/NBC local news, when it’s parroting Sinclair conservative talking points.

What can we do? Information is power, so inform your friends and neighbors about what local television stations are owned by Sinclair Broadcasting. You can find a list here. But then call your Senators and congressman/woman and let them know that we’re concerned about this turn of events, and ask what they plan to do to protect the free press.

Wednesday: Oppose Concealed Carry

One of the most troubling pieces of gun legislation is HR 28 – otherwise known as concealed carry reciprocity. It essentially means creates a race to the bottom – those states with the weakest gun laws would set the laws for the entire nation.

Here’s an excellent description of this “race to the bottom”:

Currently, each state has its own rules about the legal requirements for who can carry concealed firearms and which carry permits, if any, they honor from other states. But under federally-mandated concealed carry reciprocity, states such as Maryland, which has opted to allow law enforcement discretion in issuing concealed carry permits and safety training requirements for permit holders, would be required to honor a permit granted by states such as Utah, which grants permits without discretion or safety tests, even to out-of-state residents. … In addition, the bill would allow residents from the 12 states where there are no requirements whatsoever for legal gun owners to carry concealed firearms to carry concealed guns in the other 38 states that normally require permits.

Here’s the really crazy part: this bill has already passed the House. It’s imperative that we contact our Senators (particularly those with an R behind their name) to urge them to vote against concealed carry reciprocity.

Note that HR 28 is currently in the judiciary committee. See the membership here.

Script: Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling because like everyone else in America, I’m fed up with the National Rifle Association setting the legislative agenda for our country. I was shocked to learn that Concealed Carry Reciprocity was passed in the House of Representatives, and I’m eager to ensure that Senator ____ opposes that legislation. What is his/her stance on the bill? What is he/she doing to stop it? What is he/she doing to ensure the safety of the people in our state?

Thursday: Tell Your Senators – Just Say No to Nielson

There are some troubling confirmations that will be coming up when the Senate returns from recess. Today we’ll talk about Howard Nielson – tune in next week for some more confirmations to oppose! (I’ll bet you can guess which ones!)

Howard Nielson is a favorite NRA lawyer; he’s been tapped to be a United States District Court judge, which is a lifetime appointment. This appointment is a gift to the NRA, which is yet another reason to oppose his nomination, but the Alliance for Justice has done a great job listing out all of the terrible-awfuls in his resume. Ugh.

Script: Hi, my name is _____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling to ask the Senator to oppose the nomination of Howard Nielson for an appointment to the United States District Court for the District of Utah. He has “fought efforts to ensure equality in education for people of color; has advocated against regulating greenhouse gases; has frequently litigated against the Affordable Care Act; and has defended severe burdens on women’s exercise of their reproductive rights.” He has no place in a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

Friday: Color (Sew or Knit) Outside the Lines

Maybe you’re one of those folks that feels the stress melt away when you get out your sewing machine, or your yarn, or your colored pencils and washi tape. Use that to your advantage!! Here are a few places that can benefit from your talents:

  • Moms Demand Action’s Mothers Dream Quilt brings quilters together to create beautiful quilts that “symbolize the human toll of gun violence in America, as well as mothers’ shared commitment to making our country safer for our children.” Go here to learn how you can host a quilting event in your area.
  • Of course, you can use your coloring/crafting superpower to help any number of candidates at There, you’ll receive addresses of potential voters and talking points to include on a postcard. Then you can design your own postcard or use one that’s already made. (They also have great templates!) This is a great evening/downtime activity that makes a big difference in turnout. And just imagine the faces of the voters that get your beautiful cards!
  • Put your scrapbooking talents to good use. Contact your favorite activist club and help them put together a scrapbook of their endorsed candidates, special interests, ballot measures – whatever is a particular interest area for them. They can shoot a video of the book you’ve put together and post to social media.
  • Take inspiration from the Welcome Blanket Gatherings and knit, crochet, or sew a blanket to be given to local refugees, immigrants, or the unhoused in your community.
  • Need a creative outlet that’s for your eyes only? Color to your heart’s delight with inspiring pages designed by nasty women for nasty women.
  • Or take a less inspirational, but no less cathartic, path with Not My F*cking President. Hilarious!!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.


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