(Un)Learning to Quit

It is hardly possible to build anything if frustration, bitterness, and a mood of helplessness prevail. ~Lech Walesa

Learned Helplessness: noun. A condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression.


Last week, our state legislature passed a bill that allows for no-excuse absentee voting… but requires you to request that absentee ballot by mail, get in notarized in person, and make sure it’s received by mail (no in-person drop-off) by election day.

It’s terrible.

But still, some Democratic legislators lauded it as being … partway there.

Why is it so hard for people to understand that this bill is … not good?” I texted a statewide candidate.

Because something is better than nothing, and we’re used to getting a whole lot of nothing in this state,” was his response.

And he’s right.

In red states like Missouri, there’s a learned helplessness that is hard to shake off. After cycle upon cycle, session after session of being beaten into the ground, it’s hard not to see table scraps as a feast.

But here’s the thing – you combat learned helplessness with hope. With optimism that your actions lead to change – that you can do something. That your actions matter. That you’re moving the needle.

But hope and the belief that what you’re doing matters can be hard to come by in states where there’s a republican supermajority that stomps around acting like a bunch of fifth graders. And when you’ve been unable to unseat that supermajority – even though you’ve tried to for years, it’s easy to just throw up your hands.

(To be really clear, that fifth-graderish supermajority is hard to combat because it gerrymanders as much as it possibly can, and makes it as hard as possible for anyone who looks like a Democrat to vote. But still…)

And the GOP thinks – they’re pretty sure based upon their past experience – that after long enough we’ll just get too tired and give up.

That we’ll learn to … quit.

So, friend – a question. Have you found yourself resigned to loss lately? Maybe you’re feeling like some races or some issues are so impossible they’re not worth fighting for? Maybe it all just feels like wasted energy right now?

Then now’s the time to recognize you’re having those thoughts. To catch them when you have them – and then ask yourself some hard questions.

These are a few of the questions I ask myself in those dark moments when I feel like nothing I do matters:

Isn’t progress – even if a “win” isn’t likely right now – worth working toward? If we don’t make an effort now, when will we? And if we don’t make an effort now, who will?

Aren’t there side benefits to what we’re doing – even if we don’t think “winning” is likely? When we stop fighting for issues and voters in certain areas, aren’t we implicitly telling those people that they don’t matter? Is that how I want those people to feel?

Isn’t there a good chance that my work will inspire someone else, who will inspire someone else, who will inspire someone else? And isn’t that cascade of inspiration worth starting?

Who am I to say that I can’t change the world?

The election that’s coming up is important in so many ways. The cancer that’s living in the White House needs to be excised. The Senate needs new leadership, or we’ll have four years of gridlock no matter who occupies the White House. And we need to build on our majority in the House.

And there are loads of down-ballot races, too.

All of that can feel so overwhelming, especially where we are right now as a society responding to a worldwide pandemic. I get it. It can be hard not to succumb to the helplessness they want you to learn.

Fight back against that feeling, friend. Because you do matter. You are making a difference.

I promise.

Now, let’s get to work.

Actions for the week of May 19, 2020

Tuesday: Hell No, He Can’t Fire Them All

On Friday, Trump announced his intent to fire the Inspector General of the State Department, who we have learned was investigating a Saudi arms deal that Congress had objected to. This is serious stuff.

Trump has fired FOUR Inspectors General in SIX weeks.

And honestly, if we don’t push back on these kinds of actions we can expect them to continue – and worsen.

So, what can Congress and the Senate do? First, Congress needs to use the power that they have – the power of the purse. As Clark Ervin, the first Homeland Security Inspector General, said today, “Congress has vast powers at its disposal. The Congress has appropriations power. …[T]he Senate has nominations power, the power to hold up nominations. And so there are a number of things that members of Congress in both parties can do if a bipartisan consensus is formed as to the importance of protecting inspectors general.” (The Boston Globe has echoed that sentiment, in this great editorial: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/05/18/opinion/stop-purge-inspectors-general/)

So let’s get on our phones and urge our MoCs to stop the Inspector General purge that’s happening before our eyes. They signed up to be in a position of leadership – let’s force them to do their job.

Wednesday: Memorial Day with Jason Kander and the Veterans Community Project

With pools closed and lake trips postponed, this Memorial Day may look different than those from years past. However, you still have the chance to thank and celebrate the veterans this day is all about. I want to highlight Jason Kander’s Veterans Community Project. The organization, based out of Kansas City, works to house and support homeless veterans. VCP hopes the transitional house community they’ve cultivated in Kansas City will serve as a blueprint for cities across the country to use to eliminate veteran homelessness. Learn more about the incredible work of this unique organization on their website and YouTube channel

You can support VCP and veterans by purchasing non-medical face masks from VCP’s website. For every mask purchase, one is donated to a veteran in need. VCP also has a tiny-house Amazon Smile wishlist. You can purchase and donate items from the list directly to the organization.   

I also recommend watching Jason Kander’s new YouTube series highlighting the stories of individuals at the Veterans Community Project. Check out his first episode here

Thursday: Phone Bank with Beto O’Rourke

Beto is hosting a virtual phone banking event on May 21st. He is hoping to reach Democrats who’ve recently moved to Texas. Texas is a crucial Congressional battleground state in November and Democrats will have several opportunities to win down ballot races. Politico recently labeled two current GOP House seats as ‘toss-ups’ and many of the ‘lean Republican’ seats have strong Democratic challengers. As the state moves from red to purple, let’s galvanize and inspire Texas’ Democratic base to vote. Join this Powered by People event and help Beto get Texas’ newest residents registered to vote! 

Ask your Senators to support the HEROES Act

Last Friday, the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act. The HEROES Act, if passed, would be the fourth major federal relief package during coronavirus. Our friends at Indivisible created a summary of the essential public health and financial relief measures included in the bill:

  • $3.6 billion in election funding to expand vote by mail and safe in-person voting locations
  • $25 billion in funding for the United States Postal Service
  • Additional $1,200 payments to individuals, including immigrants and dependents over the age of 16
  • A moratorium on evictions and foreclosures
  • Expanded paid/sick/family leave for all workers
  • Free testing and treatment for all, including immigrants regardless of status

This comprehensive bill addresses the immediate health and financial needs of our country AND protects our most vulnerable populations. Additionally, the vote-by-mail funding and USPS relief are essential to ensure a safe, fair, and accessible November election. Senators need to pass the HEROES Act without diminishing the essential components of the bill.    

You can contact your Senators through this Indivisible calling program or give their office a call.   

WHEW! GO TEAM!

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!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

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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