I went canvassing with a group of friends in a nearby swing district yesterday. It was cold and rainy and, as usual even though I’m 31 years old, I dressed completely inadequately for the weather without bringing a rain coat or umbrella.
But I was done feeling guilt and shame over not having made any real effort to Get Out the Vote during this critical election cycle. I wanted to at least participate in what has been dubbed “The Last Weekend” and do something.
So: The shift was only 2 hours, I knocked on merely 23 doors, and the majority of people either weren’t home or had already voted.
But guess what? EVERYTHING INSIDE OF ME CHANGED. My whole freaking attitude and outlook on the world.
Far from feeling like a waste of time, it made me realize something crucial that I think I’ve known for a long time but needed reminded of because I haven’t been as involved in activism efforts lately due to the changes and transitions going on in my life. That is:
ALL of the change we wish could happen doesn’t have to actualize for us to go from feeling hopeless to hopeful.
ALL of our chosen political candidates don’t have to get elected for us to go from having a sense of despair to having a real sense of possibility.
And ALL of our efforts don’t have to immediately produce our desired results for us to go from being overwhelmed and immobilized to motivated and engaged.
In other words, EVERYTHING doesn’t have to first get better for change to start feeling possible.
For me, it took just spending a little time with a group of kick-ass organizers who believed in the power of working together to make a new world possible, community members who had never canvassed before but wanted to do their part, and people of all ages who were inspiring with their willingness to simply yet profoundly show up.
For you, it might be:
- Also heading out to canvass w/ awesome peeps for a few hours (find an event close to you here: https://swingleft.org/take-action)
- “Mini-canvassing” as Jen Hofmann calls it when she asks her hair stylist, pharmacist, cashier and everyone she interacts with at work and in line while getting coffee or at the deli, mostly from the younger generation, if they’ve voted and reminds them that they matter and their vote is important. Sometimes all people need is a little boost or personal reminder!
- Donating $5 to a political candidate you are hoping will win this week (Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Gillum, and Stacey Abrams are three great candidates w/ game changing campaigns and commitments)
- Making ten phone calls as part of a phone banking effort (https://act.indivisible.org/sig…/phonebank-texting-volunteer)
- Downloading the amazing Vote With Me app to reach out to a few people in your contact list to see if they have their ballots, any questions, a plan for voting, or need a ride to the polls
- Or, since voting is the baseline of civic engagement and far from all we need to do, it might be reaching out to a community organization you’ve been interested in to see if they have any upcoming events and putting something in your calendar
- Walking around your neighborhood to meet your neighbors
- Showing up to support a event hosted outside of your community & comfort zone
- Reaching out to a trusted friend (me??) to discuss questions about hot-button topics that you feel too afraid to ask about in public
What I’m trying to say is that if you’re struggling to keep your head up these days because everything in our country and world feels so gloomy & doomed, remember that your brain simplifies things (i.e., into good/bad, possible/impossible), and has a natural negativity bias. Add to that the way the media works and it’s easy to give up.
Because it may be easier than you think to start feeling better.
You may only need to get a glimpse of what is possible and feel like your actions are meaningful, that you have a small but very real role.
That’s sometimes all it takes to see the world anew.
Now, I’m not naively saying that if you feel better then the world is better — hell no. If dangerous candidates get elected people will continue to suffer in very real ways. We need to effect change in our systems and, honestly, dismantle so many of them. But if you can feel better AND therefore get engaged, then that matters.
As I wake up this morning, I’m reminded that it boils down to the anecdotal and paradoxical relationship between engagement and hope, and between disengagement and despair, that I’ve noticed in my own life. I don’t know if it is causal or correlative but I have found that the people who seem to have the most hope are also the ones most engaged in fighting poverty, sickness, inequality, injustice, and the most cynical ones are the ones who are distant from the world’s wounds and efforts at improvement. This is surprising because I would think the opposite would be true: those working closest to the pain would feel the most hopeless. But that’s often not how it works, as I’m reminded by one of my mentors who has spent his career involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy, public health, and homelessness issues both here and in Uganda and yet is one of the most hopeful people I know.
For me, this was lesson and a blessin’ I needed reminded of this weekend because I honestly needed help to get out there. As many texts and emails as I’ve received from organizations trying to get me to do something, I was stuck. I was in a rut. I was really struggling to get back in the game. But I’m grateful to my good friends Adam for including me on his Swing Left email chain, and Anna for connecting me with OneAmerica Votes and hittin’ the streets with me.
As usual, Anaïs Nin was right when she wrote “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” She also said “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage,” and I think that’s pretty spot on, too.