How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ~Anne Frank
For over a decade, I lived in Chicago.
Which means that, as most Chicagoans do, I had a strong relationship with the train (AKA the “el,” which is short for “elevated”). Every day I would take the train to work, and home from work, and basically anywhere else I wanted to go.
And almost every morning I’d face the same problem.
The train would come (finally!) and I’d stand patiently at the precise spot where I knew the doors would open. The cars would slow … then stop … and the gray metal doors would open…
To reveal a nearly solid wall of arms and legs and smushed faces that were expertly looking everywhere but at each other.
Or at me.
But when I’d peer over them and look to the aisle in the middle of the train, more often than not, it would be empty.
Or, at least, empty enough that a small-ish woman could squeeze herself sideways and make it to work on time.
So, seeing plenty of space in the middle of the train, I’d point behind the wall of arms and legs and shout out “move in! Please move in! There’s room in the middle – see? Look – please move in!” But those fellow smushed commuters would stand right where they were like little lost sheep, blank expressions and “who, me?” looks until the doors closed.
And there I’d be, still standing on the platform. Waiting for the next train, completely exasperated.
That is, until one day when I decided to do something a wee bit different.
I singled one of them out.
Rather than shouting out to the whole car, I called the attention of one person – speaking directly to her until she looked in my direction.
“Excuse me – ma’am? Excuse me – can you just step aside so I can go to the middle of the car? I just need to get past.” I asked.
“Oh, yeah – sure,” she replied.
And just like that, I cracked the code.
When I’d ask everyone on the train to move in, nobody would budge.
When I’d ask an individual person to move, at least 75% of the time they would – and if they didn’t, the person next to them would move for them as a sort of apology for the rudeness of the person who wouldn’t comply.
As you can imagine, I’m not telling you that story to give you ideas on how to better manage public transportation (though you should try that trick if you’re ever faced with the overly-smushed doorway problem).
I’m telling you because the lessons I learned on the train are helpful right now within the Resistance movement.
See, those people on the train weren’t bad-natured. They just figured everyone else around them mattered more than they did. At least, until I called them out individually – and in doing so, showed them that by moving they would make a difference.
It’s just hard to believe that the little space that you occupy matters so much to someone else. It’s hard to believe that if you move your leg or your arm, or if you turn yourself just so, that you’ll be able to change someone else’s day.
It’s easier to look at the person to your side and think they matter more, so they should be the one to move. So you wait for them to do something.
Until the door closes.
It’s a very similar predicament that we’re facing now within our Resistance organizations.
Especially with the GOP’s sustained shock and awe campaign, it’s been hard for some folks to continue to believe that they matter. Maybe you, too. It can be hard to hold onto the idea that your call, your attendance, your participation, your voice has the potential to change the world around you.
So when someone shouts generally in your direction, it’s really easy to just assume they’re talking to someone else.
It’s easy to excuse yourself when you don’t matter.
But you do matter.
And so do the people to your left and your right – your fellow sisters (and brothers) in arms, whether you are their leader or a fellow activist.
So when you see the call go out for someone to take action, remind yourself that they’re talking to you.
And when you’re the one asking for action and when shouting out to the masses doesn’t work – when asking everyone in the train to move fails to make a dent in the wall of arms and legs – then think about what you/your group can do to call to people individually.
What can we do to look each person in the eye, and ask them to make room?
What can we do to make all of this more … personal?
How can you make a general request specific to them?
And how can you show people that their movement matters?
The answers will be different for each group and each person, but I sure hope you’ll share your ideas.
Because the more people we can inspire…
the more work we can do…
and the more change we can make.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of July 21, 2020
I Am a Voter is a nonpartisan organization based on the principle that our democracy functions best when everyone is participating. Their website streamlines all relevant voting information – from how to check your registration status, to election dates, to the most up-to-date COVID-19 information by state. This is a great resource to recommend to new voters or self-proclaimed “politically disengaged” friends in your life. Their platform also offers a text alert program to prepare you for upcoming elections in your area. Remember: many states hold state primaries in August!
With door-to-door voter contact still unsafe, spreading information about voting through virtual platforms will be one of the most important strategies to get Trump (and his yes-man cronies) out of office this year. I Am a Voter has worked with designers to create graphics for you to share on social media. These graphics are eye-catching and contain relevant information about voting to share with your following. They even have a content guide with messaging strategies and techniques you can incorporate in your personal posts! Their activation guide is a helpful tool for businesses and networks looking to encourage voting while remaining nonpartisan. After using the I Am a Voter website to check your registration status, find your polling place (a link which directs you to the great work at Head Count), and browse the trendy voting merch, head to your go-to social channel and share why everyone you know needs to use their voice at the ballot box this November!
Call Your Senators about the John Lewis Voting Rights Act
In President Obama’s reflections on Representative John Lewis’ legacy, he mentions, “he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.” To honor his example, we must push Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act (HR 4), renamed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act by House Majority Whip James Clyburn. This bill has been sitting on Senator Mitch McConnell’s desk untouched for over 200 days. Senator Patrick Leahy, author of the Senate counterpart legislation, has pledged to re-introduce the Voting Rights Advancement Act as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to the Senate floor this week. HR 4 is a response to the 2013 Supreme Court decision that nullified the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It would restore the essential legal protections and federally-insured election equality protocols from the original Voting Rights Act.
Representative Lewis, “the conscience of Congress,” presided over the House vote on this bill in December of 2019. To honor his legacy, we must continue his work. Call your two Senators and demand they vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Tell Congress: Oppose National Defense Authorization Act unless Sanders-Lee-Pocan AND Merkley-Wyden Portland Amendments are Adopted
The National Defense Authorization Act is an annual budget authorization bill passed by Congress to fund the Department of Defense. The bill includes policy language, but is most notable for determining our yearly expenditure on national defense. The House is currently considering a budget that exceeds $740 billion: a budget significantly greater than any other country on earth. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has devised a 10% cut to the overall budget with the Sanders-Lee-Pocan amendment. This amendment would allocate $74 billion of the NDAA budget to local government anti-poverty grant programs.
Oregon Senators Merkley and Wyden have also introduced an amendment to the NDAA requiring federal agents to first be invited to local jurisdictions, and then require them to display identification while in the jurisdiction. With more and more stories emerging about the horrific acts of anonymous federal agents in Portland, we need the NDAA to protect Americans from secret federal agents terrorizing protestors.
The team at Indivisible has created a link to connect you with your Representative to demand that the Sanders-Lee-Pocan and the Merkley-Wyden Portland Amendments be adopted before passage of the NDAA. You can use their website to call your Representative’s office and read directly from Indivisible’s action summaries.
Coronavirus Relief in Congress
I’ve become a broken record talking about the necessity of the HEROES Act passed by the House in May… but Senator Mitch McConnell still hasn’t held a vote on the companion bill in the Senate. Congress needs to pass another coronavirus relief package, and they need to do it quickly. A fourth relief bill could be the difference for families facing housing insecurity, small businesses questioning if they should shut their doors for the final time, essential workers fearing more PPE shortages. This week, I recommend calling your Senators about supporting another coronavirus stimulus package using the 5calls.org tool. 5calls.org has created a list of essential components the next stimulus package should include. Ask your Senators to work collaboratively to fulfil these demands to save Americans from illness and financial hardship.
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!
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.