After a tumultuous and frightening four years of Donald Trump, Joe Biden has emerged victorious as the next President-elect of the United States—as many of us hoped, though he's far from a perfect candidate.
Although Biden has pledged to spend $2 trillion over four years on climate, his policies are often milquetoast, and sometimes destructive. He’s said that he won’t ban fracking, a technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock, which is a huge contributor to the climate emergency. He’s also opposed to the Green New Deal, a piece of aggressive climate legislation that even his running mate, Vice President–elect Kamala Harris, sponsored while in the Senate.
He doesn’t plan on defunding the police—as abolitionists and protests against police brutality have called for increasingly—but instead plans on putting $300 million in police departments and implementing a $20 billion grant program “in an effort to encourage states to implement crime-prevention policies.”
There’s also a chance that Biden could appoint Republicans to his cabinet. While bipartisanship sounds nice in theory, this is a terrifying prospect for any who have seen how the Republicans have supported Trump’s worst impulses—banning Muslims, building a wall, imprisoning immigrants in concentration camps, attacking reproductive justice—over the past four years.
Biden’s more conservative policies, combined with a Supreme Court that is now majority conservative, and a possibly Republican-led Senate (which will be determined after two Georgia runoff races in January) means the work is not over for activists, and for people who generally want the government to hear their voices. We will have to work just as hard to keep our communities safe during a Biden administration.
Outside of Biden’s policies, we still have to worry about racist violence. During Trump’s four years as President, the U.S. has seen an incredible surge in white supremacist action. During election week, Trump supporters stormed a polling center in Detroit, demanding that they “stop the count” as mail-in ballots erased Trump’s lead in Michigan, eventually leading to Biden winning the state. In Arizona, as Biden’s lead steadily increased, armed Trump supporters gathered outside the polling places, attempting to stop the basic democratic function of counting all votes during an election. And now, as Trump continue to rile up his supporters by claiming the Democrats stole the election, we can pretty much guarantee that white supremacist violence is going to be a significant part of our future.
Regardless of a Democrat presidential win, we need to keep up the fight for justice on every level. A lot continues to be at stake right now. The action we take, in terms of immediate efficacy, can focus on our communities even when things feel imperfect on a federal level. Here are some thoughts on what you can do to effect change locally and beyond, no matter who's in the White House.
Join an advocacy group concerned with the issues that matter to you most.
You can join climate organizations like Fridays for Future, get involved with racial justice collectives like Black Lives Matter, legal advocacy organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), or reproductive justice organizations like SisterSong. There are thousands of organizations and collectives that you can look up online and reach out to based on your interests and priorities, and linking with people who are well-versed in the work that has to continue is a great first step in figuring out where you're needed. And if there's not a local chapter of a group that interests you, contact them to see if there's an opportunity to start one.
Draw on the tremendous power of protest.
As we saw this summer at the global protests against police brutality against Black people, taking to the streets is a powerful tool of social change.
Because of the widespread use of masks during protests, they haven’t yet been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks. Still, have masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer on hand. If you’re planning or attending a protest and need extra supplies for those attending, reach out to organizations like Masks For America to see if they’re able to donate. It’s also a good idea to get tested for COVID-19 before and after attending.
The coronavirus isn’t the most dangerous aspect of protesting. White supremacists and the police have intimidated and harmed protesters both historically and recently. If you're planning on protesting, you can contact the organizers to ask about their safety plans; although outside violence is not in their control, you can see what support they have in place if it happens. Will they create a bail fund in case of arrests? Do they have medical stations? Are any of the organizers planning on bringing weapons? Have they secured permits for places where protestors can be free from police violence? (I once waited in a park for hours during Trump’s inauguration protests trying to avoid the police who were waiting for people to leave the space. The organizers had a permit, so we were safe from being tear-gassed as long as we stayed there.) Ask if they need help with those initiatives.
Contacting the Anti-Fascist Network (which you probably know as "antifa") is a way to potentially provide protection for vulnerable communities as you protest. This work (which is targeted by Trump and his supporters in part because it can involve direct physical action) is generally more hands-on in a literal sense, so make sure you’re up for it beforehand.
Get involved in mutual aid efforts—or start your own.
After Biden takes office, people in our communities will still need help accessing food, shelter, supplies, and other necessities. If you want to provide tangible help when larger machinations and institutions are failing people, join mutual aid groups within your community. Because of the inherent focus on community care, the results can be more immediately and effectively clear. Getting involved with mutual aid also helps you connect with people you can continue organizing in solidarity with. If there is no mutual aid group or non-profit in your community that is providing what’s needed in your immediate surroundings, consider starting your own.
You also don’t have to join mutual aid groups or be an organizer. You can simply donate. One interesting non-profit is Depressed While Black, which is currently distributing Black haircare and skincare products to Black psychiatric patients. They receive a wishlist and then donate those items each month. As a Black woman who has been in psychiatric hospitals several times, I can say that the experience is often dehumanizing, and these products can go a long way towards making patients feel supported and giving them dignity.
Use your skills—or learn new ones—in service of other people.
Most of us know a skill that our community could benefit from, and there are skills we likely want to learn in the service of others, too. Community education can help guide you if you want to organize a protest, gather support for a ballot measure, learn how to use NARCAN to save a life in case of drug overdose, and in so many other aspirations. You can always search for reading lists on how to be an ally to Black people or how to become more seriously involved in social change, but you can also ask local activists and community organizers what upcoming trainings they might be holding.
Furthering your education by yourself can also result in community care: If you want to support immigrants in your community, you can learn languages with at-home programs—languages like Spanish, Amharic, Haitian Creole, Urdu, or Tagalog. Those skills can be particularly useful if you’d like to be a poll worker during the 2022 Midterm Elections, guiding immigrants through the voting process. Some places offer language courses tailored to specific needs, like Medical Spanish. If you're interested in becoming a street medic during protests, you can take essential first aid and CPR classes.
If you already have a skill you feel could be useful to your neighbors, offer a training of your own! If you search for community-organizing nonprofits in your area and contact them, they’ll likely be able to set you on a good path when it comes to donating your time.
Look ahead to future elections and start organizing around the candidates and issues that matter to you.
2020 has taught us that the passage of time moves both very slowly and very fast during periods of uncertainty. We may be celebrating many victories—and mourning many losses—after the presidential election… but the 2022 midterm elections, when people in the House and Senate will be up for re-election and more ballot measures (aka, proposed laws) will be introduced on the state and local level, will be here before you know it. If you want to get involved with electoral politics, look to the future.
Identify the candidates that matter to you who will need your support for re-election, the candidates you want to unseat, and any ballot measures you’d like to see pass or struck down. Ballotpedia can be useful for learning where candidates stand on certain issues, as can candidates' individual websites. One thing I also do is search the candidate (or judge’s) name on the internet, along with a key term like “reproductive justice,” “police brutality,” “climate change,” etc. Anything of concern—and, also, anything positive—usually shows up; just make sure the news source you're getting your information from is a reputable one. (Stay away from Facebook.)
Ballot measures offer possibilities for change that are more tangible and local. If there’s a ballot measure that you want to see introduced, contact local community organizers at non-profits to drum up support and reach out to your state representatives about it. For instance: Maybe there's an anti-abortion law in your state that you’d like to eliminate in favor of a pro-choice law. Colorado just introduced a ballot measure that would have banned late-term abortions, which is a common way that anti-abortion advocates try to limit the procedures, but it causes great damage to marginalized people and people whose pregnancies are not viable. That might be something you'd want to call your elected officials about and organize around, right? Or perhaps you want to allocate more funding to providing shelter to unhoused people and can look up where candidates stand on social services in that sense—and let them know that it matters to you.
If you’re disillusioned with both the Democratic and Republican parties, now is also a critical time to prepare to elect viable third-party candidates. If elected, third-party candidates (including independents like Bernie Sanders) might be more inclined to introduce or change the conversation around progressive policies like universal healthcare, extended paid parental leave, aggressive climate action, and more.
Remember: “We keep us safe.”
When politics fail people, it becomes even more important to take care of one another. People need to be fed. People need housing and protection from violence. People need places to gather to come up with solutions to issues or process trauma, and spaces in which to imagine a new world.
Zach Norris’ book We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just, and Inclusive Communities, can help you learn about how to build communities focused on providing these resources to people in your community, moving away from fear-based politics and toward community care. adrienne marie brown’s We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice explores the question of how to address harm within activist communities made up of people with marginalized identities. She proposes strategies for prioritizing accountability without causing further harm by embracing ostracizing tactics that, while popular online, may be ineffective and contradictory to our values.
Embrace self-care and community care.
No matter how things turn out, do not endure this in isolation. Continue to do your Zoom parties. Mourn together, celebrate together, plan together. Bake something nice and drop it off to your friend’s house, even if you aren't able to stay and eat with them. Embrace new ways of thinking and new ways of action, especially by listening to the needs and concerns of people in your community. Embrace the possibility that you could be wrong about certain things, or that maybe you should speak your mind about things that trouble you.
Keep yourself safe, keep your loved ones safe, and keep your community safe. No matter what the next four years look like, you can do your best to count on—and be accountable to—yourself and the people around you.
Follow Nylah Burton on Twitter.