How Regular Americans are Taking Control

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes. ~Fred Rogers

The government can do all sorts of terrible things, but it cannot make you into a terrible person. You always have the choice to be good, to be helpful, to look out for others, to honor your values. You can try to do the best you can even in very trying circumstances. ~Sarah Kendzior

Lately it feels like we’re whirling out of control, doesn’t it?

Last weekend we heard more news confirming the existential threat that is Trump-Russia. It’s jarring to hear a former Chief of the Counterintelligence Section of the Justice Department call the current President of the United States a clear and present danger. But that’s what happened – just last night.

It’s almost unbelievable.

Meanwhile, the GOP is affably chugging along with Trump’s demands for a vanity wall – that concrete-and-steel-slatted fig leaf that doesn’t quite cover his Russian corruption.

And the government has shut down.

Actually, it’s been shut down for more than three weeks now.

So while our country reels from the implications of Trump’s Putin affair, 800,000 federal workers are in financial limbo.

Three weeks without being paid takes a toll. Type 1 diabetics are rationing insulin because they can’t afford the $300 copay.

Tough choices are being made between car payments and houses, utilities and credit cards. People are taking out loans, racking up credit card bills, begging for bartender shifts and old babysitting jobs.

Federal workers who are considered “essential” have to keep showing up for work – unpaid. Some prison employees in California asked to sleep in the prison parking lot because they’re running out of money for gas to go back and forth.

And people who are food insecure just got more insecure. Notices went out to SNAP (which used to be known as food stamps) beneficiaries that they will receive February’s allotment in January. It’s unclear what will happen in March. They’re told to plan well, and make the funding stretch.

And they’re reminded that they can always go to a food pantry.

A whole lot more people have more month than money, and there’s no end in sight.

So, yeah. From whichever direction you look, it looks like our world is out of control.

But in the midst of it all, something amazing is happening.

Restaurants are giving out free food to federal workers. Pet store owners are giving away free pet food, or giving customers the ability to pay with “IOU”s and promises. Museums are offering free admissionVeterinarians are giving free pet checkups. Hair salons are giving free cuts and styles.

Jose Andres, a chef and restaurateur who is well known for his relief efforts feeding Puerto Rico for weeks after Hurricane Maria (you may remember him from our feature on him here), will be opening a relief kitchen for federal employees mere steps from the White House and the Capitol.

“I believe it’s an emergency,” he said to the Washington Post. “I believe these people are going to be suffering, and we are a food relief organization.”

In the midst of their worst, we’re seeing our best.

It reminded me of something Sarah Kendzior, a St. Louis-based author, co-host of Gaslit Nation podcast and expert on authoritarian regimes, said recently:

The government can do all sorts of terrible things, but it cannot make you into a terrible person. You always have the choice to be good, to be helpful, to look out for others, to honor your values. You can try to do the best you can even in very trying circumstances.

Right now our country is roiling. Our government is thrashing about harming fellow Americans while we struggle to keep up with what’s happening around us.

It’s hard to feel steady, or confident, or assured of anything.

But in this sh*tstorm, it’s reassuring to know that you have control over some things.

You have complete control over how good you are.

You have complete control over how helpful you are.

You can decide for yourself just how much you look out for others.

You decide for yourself to what extent you live your values.

You decide every day what things you’ll do, what actions you’ll take, what effort you’ll exert to help right the ship.

So in these uncontrollable times, remember the control that you do have.

And take it with both hands.

Let’s get to work.

Psst: Want to read more stories about companies and people inspiring others, and just generally doing great stuff? Head over to the “inspiration from good deeds,” and “inspiring companies and people” categories in the “What You Can Find Around Here” menu on the right of this page.


Tuesday: No Pass for Deripaska

On Friday we learned the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation on Trump (which we all sortof expected, but it’s still bonkers to see it in print). On Saturday, we learned that Trump concealed and destroyed notes from his meetings with Putin and instructed the interpreter not to tell anyone what had transpired. Again, shocking but not surprising. Monday night we learned Trump has repeatedly asked to get out of NATO.

Then last night, a former leader of the counterintelligence unit of the Justice Department called Trump a clear and present danger to the United States because of his actions with regard to Putin and the Russian Federation.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is lifting sanctions on companies associated with … Russia! (You cannot make this stuff up.) The companies at issue are related to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with clear and strong ties to Putin. He’s also directly implicated in the Russian election interference operation. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort owed Deripaska millions of dollars; Manafort offered Deripaska briefings on the campaign. Manafort’s right-hand Russian had interactions with Deripaska’s people, and there are e-mails to that effect.

So why the h-e-double-hockeysticks is the Trump administration looking to lift sanctions on Deripaska’s companies? They haven’t been able to give a convincing non-corrupt answer.

But, shockingly, on this issue we Democrats have a bit of power – even in the Senate where we are not the majority party. The legislation that levied the Russian sanctions in the first place was written to allow the minority leader of the Senate to challenge and veto any sanctions lifting that’s done by the administration.

It’s almost like they were worried something like this would happen when they drafted it…

So today, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will force a vote to keep the sanctions against Deripaska’s companies in place. Call your Senators – especially Republicans – this morning and tell them to vote to keep the sanctions in place. Word on the street is that some GOP Senators are already waivering.

Let’s give them the political cover they need to do the right thing by jamming their phone lines.

Script: Hi, my name is _____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling to ask the Senator to vote to keep the Russian sanctions in place. Removing sanctions on Russian companies owned by an oligarch implicated in the 2016 election interference is, honestly, ridiculous. This is not the time to be loosening sanctions on Russia. With more and more questions being asked as to whether this administration is more loyal to Russian or American interests, why on earth would the Senator allow the administration to loosen sanctions that he/she voted to levy on Russia in the first place?

Wednesday: Call on the Senate to Reopen the Government

I hate to recycle an action, but unfortunately we haven’t moved much from where we were last week regarding the shutdown. What that means is that we need to AMP UP the pressure on our Republican Senators.

We need to do two things here. First, we need to make sure that our Senators know that we are watching and we see who is holding things back. Pressure on Republican Senators should mention McConnell’s refusal to bring the bills to the floor, and show your education on this issue.

Second, we need to make sure that our fellow Americans see that we have their backs. Times are tight even without the shutdown, and these folks don’t deserve to be left high and dry.

Call, fax (ResistBot is still the bomb), tag them in Facebook and Twitter posts, send them snail mail, go visit their offices, bring their staff shutdown s’mores – whatever tickles your fancy.

Bonus points awarded for creativity. Don’t forget to send photos to news organizations!

Thursday: Help Our Fellow Americans Out

Now’s when we need to sit back and think creatively about how we can help the federal workers (and the people who rely upon federal workers’ spending) among us.

If you’re a business owner, this might be an easy action to conceptualize – provide a discount, a free service, or hire a federal employee until the shutdown ends. Spread the word on social media, and you’ve done something fantastic for people in your community.

But if you’re not a business owner it might seem hard to find a way to pitch in – particularly when so many people need help right now. So I have a few suggestions.

Frankly, it was pretty shocking for me to see a link to Feeding America on the list of resources given to impacted federal employees by the American Federation of Government Employees (one of the largest federal employee unions).

But it makes sense.

Feeding America ( is able to stretch their dollars further than you and I can by ourselves. For every dollar donated, they can feed 10 people. That means your $10 to Feeding America could feed 10 tables of 10 people. Not a bad return when one can of beans is $.69 on sale.

By going to their website ( you can also find local pantries that are members of their national network. You can bring food to those pantries, volunteer to help sort or distribute, or donate funds locally.

Some Feeding America network pantries, like the St. Louis Food Bank (at have virtual food banks that you can share with friends, neighbors and coworkers. Check it out at

You may also know that the Coast Guard is one of the agencies that has been “shut down” – even though Guardsman are considered essential and still have to report to work. You can help support Coast Guard families by donating to, or starting a fundraiser to benefit Coast Guard Mutual Assistance. Since 1924, CGMA has been giving financial relief to Coast Guard members and their families. As you might imagine, right now they need our help so that they can provide assistance to the Coast Guard members that they serve.

You can donate to CGMA here:

Or you can start a fundraiser to benefit CGMA here:

You can also adopt a Coast Guard family through their sponsorship program here:

Friday: Get on those Marching Shoes!

There are quite a few marches – Women’s Marches and sister events – going on this weekend. Whether you’re participating in one of the partner events or a Women’s March branded affair, think about your place in this movement and moment in time. Take a step back and savor it a little. Take lots of mental pictures for your memory scrapbook.

And then remind yourself that our work doesn’t end when the march is over and everyone goes home. That’s actually when it begins.

Studies show that we give ourselves “credit” for the actions that we take, and that we may not take additional or other (often more costly/difficult) actions because we feel like we’ve done enough. Our activist bank account is already filled up, thank-you-very-much.

Challenge yourself. Push harder. The quote that I highlight at the beginning of today’s pep talk says it all: “[T]here are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” ~Fred Rogers

Be that hero for someone this week.

It’ll make you smile.

I promise.

P.S.: Yes! Some of you have asked if I write for a living, and the answer is “I sure do!” Visit to learn more.

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at or via paypal at
My deepest gratitude in advance.

P.P.P.S: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

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!

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. Don’t you forget it.




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