Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the curses of history is that we cannot go back and change the course leading to disasters, no matter how much we might wish to. The past has its own terrible inevitability. But it is never too late to change the future. ~Heather Cox Richardson
I still remember how uncomfortable I felt, sitting in an auditorium classroom, my Contracts I professor visibly angry.
How could it be that none of you did anything? She spat out the words, her blond hair bobbing to accentuate every syllable. I’m so disappointed.
She scanned the room, catching eyes with as many of the 20-somethings that would meet her gaze.
She was angry because, the day before, some man – who was not a student of the law school – had been in the law library with a young child. The child seemed upset and frightened, and there was concern that the child had actually been abducted. Students chattered about it amongst themselves in the stacks.
Nobody did anything.
I’m glad that I wasn’t at the library that day, or I’m certain I’d still feel remorse about not confronting the man.
But it’s a great example of what’s called the diffusion effect, or the bystander effect. That’s when a group of people see something – an emergency or a situation that deserves attention – and do nothing, even though there are many people capable of taking action. The most famous example is of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death in the shadows of her apartment building even though there were many people who could have called the authorities. After interviews, police described neighbors who explained their inaction with their mistaken belief that surely someone else was already calling.
This is such a common phenomenon that the general advice if you’re having a heart attack or need help in a crowd is to catch someone’s eye, point to them, and say “I need help right now – please call someone.”
That way, you’ve bestowed agency upon someone. You’ve given them direction, and they now know their assistance is required.
Once that person acts, others will follow. But if nobody acts, passers by will presume that help isn’t required. Otherwise, someone else would certainly be doing something.
It’s pretty rare for a person to just hop-to and take action on their own without being invited. It’s not that people don’t think they should do something. It’s just that they start to look around and figure – hey, if this were such a big deal, someone else would already be working on it. So, they think – because nobody – not even leaders – are doing anything, this must not be such a big deal. I’m probably overreacting.
Which brings me to the democratic emergency that we’re facing at this exact moment.
Because we’re seeing exactly what we all feared.
Those of us who have been watching, paying attention, biting our fingernails and worrying about the precariousness of our democracy, told friends about how insane the last few weeks of Trump’s administration would be. We said to colleagues – yeah, I’ll be able to relax at 12:01 p.m. January 20. Until then we’ve got a madman with a nuclear arsenal at his tiny fingertips.
That was, predictably, met with snorts and rolled eyes and that condescending tone that’s audible code for “Jesus, she’s histrionic.”
I remember getting the same tone on the morning of November 9, 2016. I simply couldn’t understand how anyone – anyone! – couldn’t see the storm we were driving headlong into.
After four years, I sortof thought we’d woken ourselves up. That enough people had “seen the light,” so to speak, and recognized the delicate balance democracy requires.
I was wrong.
We are, right now, watching one set of political leaders (led by Trump) set fire to democracy because they believe it to be in their own political interests. One half of one of our major political parties has just asserted that the duly-elected president’s election results should not be followed. They’re setting the precedent that, when a political party doesn’t like the results of an election, it can “object” and muddy the waters, if not outright steal the election from the voters.
Guys, no amount of voting rights work is going to matter if the votes we cast don’t matter.
And to those who claim they’re just engaged in “political theater” I ask: do you think they’d back down if they thought their efforts to overthrow the election could succeed?
Imagine four years from now. If the House and Senate have Republican majorities, there would be no Democratic congressional firewall to stop them from raising these same objections and and refusing to award the election to the duly elected president. What then?
Does that sound far-fetched? Sadly, I think it’s a stone’s throw from where they are.
But I am not seeing protests. I’m not seeing five-point action plans from national organizations. I’m not seeing all-points-bulletins from groups that I follow.
This is not a drill.
And if we need someone to counteract that instinct we have that makes us think: If this were really that bad, we’d see people doing something. Someone would tell us. Then I’ll be that person for you.
Saddle up. Pick up your phone. Start calling, and making a fuss, and getting your folks involved. This is that bad.
As I write this, 140 House Republicans and a dozen Senators have signed on to this incredibly dangerous position.
We’ve had plenty of all-hands-on-deck moments, but this one tops them all, because what we’re fighting for is no less than the future of democracy.
You know, a few decades ago when I was in that Contracts I class, watching my professor’s staccato hair accentuate her disdain for our collective inaction, I assured myself that had I been in a place to do something, I would have. And that if I saw an emergency in the future, I’d act.
I’ll bet you’ve made that same promise to yourself at some point in time – maybe in a history class when you told yourself if you were confronted with whatever historical event you were studying, you’d do something about it.
That moment is now. Your time, once again, is now.
So, friend. Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of January 5, 2021
Action 1: Call them out
I finally found a list of the members of the Sedition Caucus – the people who are willing to torch our democracy in order to curry favor with red-hat-wearing voters. You can find it HERE.
If you are represented by them, call them and let them know that you see what they are doing and you’re not going to forget it.
When you get off the phone, push out a FB message to your friends and followers and let them know that you called! It will encourage them to do the same. Do them a favor and tag them in your post – give them that agency and personal push!
Bonus: Spend 5 minutes thinking about how you can help unseat your Rep in 2022!
Action 2: Yes, Impeach Again
Donald Trump has done it again. In a call with the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, he pressured him to “find” enough votes to push Georgia into Trump’s win column. It’s as disgusting and illegal as it is predictable. So, what’s Congress to do about it?
Impeach him. Again.
Yes, there’s not much time. And yes, it will go on past the moment that Biden takes over the reins. But removal is not the only remedy that comes with impeachment – impeachment nd conviction means he’d never be able to run for President again. As we all know, Trump has already set his eyes on 2024, and we simply cannot risk another 4 years with Donald Trump.
Check out THIS great opinion piece from Neal Katyal, which lays out the rationale for impeachment pretty simply.
Then call your member of Congress (especially if they are on the Judiciary Committee) and ask that they start impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Script: Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to encourage Representative ___ to start impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. He has cast doubt on the legitimacy of our elections, and his call with the Georgia Secretary of State is an abuse of power. He must be held accountable!
Action 3: Biden Inaugural Day Of Action
It’s so great to have a President again who cares about people! The Biden Inauguration is focusing its attention on January 18, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; as part of the inauguration’s official events, it’s helping amplify and organize local actions all across the country. From the website:
The National Day of Service for the Inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will celebrate and honor the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 18, 2021. The National Day of Service is an opportunity for all Americans to unite and serve at a time when the global pandemic calls on all of us to work together and support our communities. No matter where you are, you have an opportunity to give back and the agency to do so. Most volunteer activities only require an hour or two of your time, and all events will be virtual or socially distanced, in accordance with CDC protocol.
Just go to https://bideninaugural.org/day-of-service/ to find an event near you, or sign up an event of your own. All are socially distanced/virtual and safe to attend. What a great way to start off a new administration!
WHEW! GO, TEAM! SUPER PROUD OF YOU!
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.