Until I changed myself, I could not change others. –Nelson Mandela
Posted on February 2, 2017
I count myself among the freshly baptized advocates of the Left, still somewhat soft, pink and mewing. My conversion from full-time lawyer-mom, to lawyer-mom-activist has a clear, defining moment. I woke up at 3:00 a.m. on November 9 and Donald Trump was President. And like something out of a Harry Potter book, I transfigured into an altogether different creature, taste whetted for blood. Then I cried. Harry wouldn’t have, but I did. I’ve written about those first few hours here and here .
I am an unabashed nerd. My activist transformation did not alter this core code in my DNA. Instead, it sent me off reading, meeting, and otherwise trying to find ways to advocate for social and political change in the new and strange world I found myself in. I know how to advocate in court–I’m a lawyer. But I’m still learning how to effectively change the behaviors of those who are not obligated in the least to listen to me.
In this unique time in America, advocacy often starts on the Internet in secret Facebook groups, not-so-secret Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram and on some speciality apps that I can’t seem to make work. I am presently serving a newly formed group called Stronger NC that was born out of the Clinton campaign but has become so much more http://strongernc.org/. I only met the North Carolinians who coordinate this group in the past two months and I have fallen madly in love with them, with us, and our bump and stumble attempts at citizen government. None of us are professional politicians, lobbyists or policy wonks, and truth be told, many of us would like to go back to ferrying kids to soccer games and the occasional moms wine night. And while we formed because of the Internet, we have morphed into a very real, very tangible group trying to do good work in the word. We are not just keyboard activists.
Fear, though, open, gaping, oozing genuine fear is a common denominator of most of us. My new allies and I are afraid, variably, of: normalizing bigotry, racism and anti-Muslim and Jewish sentiment, further damaging our climate, de-funding public schools, becoming entangled in a nuclear conflict, raising tariffs and therefore prices on imported goods deepening the wealth gap even further, over-entanglement with Russia, retrogression on LGTBQ and minority rights, and straining the lower middle class on empty promises of manufacturing jobs that just aren’t going to come in numbers that will have a meaningful impact on the lives of the rural middle class.
I also have a new somewhat singular fear.
This one really sucks.
I’m scared I’m invisible. It’s a dream actually, a recurring one. It involves me standing at the bottom of an old well, where it is dark, cold and wet. I can hear the world above me. I know there are people there. And I scream and scream and scream for someone to find me. But they don’t. They just walk right on by, dropping pennies on my head.
This post lays naked how very committed I am to be a change agent, to step out of cynicism and defeatism and try. I am chosing to lay true pieces of my soul out in the world to do this work, and so I made some rules for myself, so that I might endure it.
I worry that some of my brothers and sisters in the fight have failed to temper their language, born of fear of course, to such a degree that our message gets lost. Trust me, I get it. I get that mad too. I don’t blame them. But we have to be more mindful and notice our anger before discharging on those we hope to influence. We get nowhere if we live into the vitriolic label the “lunatic left.”
To that end, I humbly offer these fence posts by which I intend to guide myself:
- I will have a clear vision: George Couros, in his book The Innovator’s Mindset, explains his quest to change education. He claims, and I agree, that a change agent does not have to be a person in authority but they must have a clear vision that they can communicate quickly and effectively. It is frustrating for our legislators and politicians if we are all over the place. We need to have (probably written down) exactly what we are trying to achieve and set of measurable goals and tactics under the vision. I’m working on mine.
- I will have ready, genuine questions: People don’t feel attacked if you ask questions. Try and understand what is the core value driving the belief you’re trying to change. Then start listening until your ears bleed. A lot of time if you stick with it, you’ll find fear. Once the fear is identified, there is a real chance to talk about ways that both you and the person you are advocating to can address those fears in a mutually beneficial way. Memes are not questions and they are not conversations. They shut people down and you lose the opportunity to learn what is really driving someone.
- I will try to lead by example. Be calm, polite and forceful. Peace is a very strong motivator. See Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. If someone seeks to incite violence, walk away.
- I will not call names. Really folks. We’re grown ups. I know it was effective for Trump with his “crooked Hillary” comments but I will not engage in behavior that I would not allow in my kids.
- I will try and stay in relationship with my audience. If you’re calling a Senator, Congressman or other representative, take some time to read their positions. Where can you find common ground for a conversation? Does this representative focus on schools? Start there.
- I will not turn an opportunity to voice concern into a school yard scolding. The moment we type a comment or take up time at a Town Hall microphone saying something like: “What are you going to do about the blatantly unconstitutional ban of Muslims, and of black youth, and the 1% and the New Jim Crow?” Well, you’re done. All of these are great talking points, but you can’t be heard because of how you’re speaking. Listen to the flow of the conversation and calmly ask for clarification or state your contrary view. Do not hijack. Hijacking hurts everyone. The lizard brain takes over and your audience is totally lost in their fight or flight system.
- I will take breaks, recharge and allow room to deal with big feelings outside the arena. Then decide when to step back in. Do not allow oneself to be pushed back in.
Finally, a word about teamwork. One of the great results of this election cycle is the birth of several diverse, exciting and fledging political organizations. They bloomed organically and each have a key role to play. It will be of the utmost importance moving forward that these groups work together closely with open communication. Divide and conquer is the oldest of war games and we groups on the left cannot afford to play it. This movement is not about any one advocate, it isn’t about Bernie or Hillary or Cory or Kamala. It is about standing up for our rights in a constitutional democracy. The rest is noise.