Trump's Election May Have Killed 'Slacktivism' for Good

A host of websites and newsletters are encouraging young progressives to take real action against Trump, one phone call at a time.
January 26, 2017, 2:20pm
Photo via Flickr user Billy Brown

Supporters of reproductive rights, immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, the United Nations, and a government that actually does something about climate change were all dealt a severe, shocking blow on Election Day. Since then, however, progressives have been donating to groups like Planned Parenthood at a record clip, and a generation stereotyped as being politically apathetic may have been permanently awakened.

It's long been an article of faith that millennials tend to be "slacktivists" who would rather string 20 tweets together than pen a letter to the editor, who will sign a hundred online petitions but don't know who their senators are. In an age of increasing access to information, we seem to have been, paradoxically, on a trajectory of increasing isolation and alienation from the political process, especially the important functions of local government. But as Donald Trump pursues his radical agenda, more and more people are attempting to push back.

Longtime activist Mikki Halpin was inundated with questions after the election about how best to do that pushing back. "I didn't have time to respond to everyone," she said, so she started the Actionnow newsletter, which offers steps for people to get involved in the political world around them. "I want to see people working to get the lights fixed in subway stations, so no one gets assaulted, or working to flip a seat in the state legislature, or demanding accountability from their local precinct," Halpin told me, adding that "local change is key to national change."

There's now a cornucopia of resources available for would-be members of the opposition. Online guides like Fight Trump, 2 Hours a Week, and Five-Minute Resistance—all of which help people find ways to get involved with various anti-Trump causes—are making it easier to direct opposition effectively. In about the same amount of time it might take to compose a scathing tweet, users can read an overview of a bill being proposed in Congress and find a script and a number with which to call their representative. Other sites let users fill out a survey about their location and political interests and suggest local organizations at which they can volunteer. In the age of constant, overwhelming bombardment with information, these organizers are curating civic engagement the way Blue Apron curates meals, helping would-be activists fit "participate in democracy" into their daily schedules.

Miriam Zisook had a background in coding and social justice, but wasn't involved in electoral politics before November 8. After the election, however, she told me, "I just saw a way I could use the technical skills I have to give people the tools to go from anger and outrage to practical activism." She created the website Weekly Resistance, where users can find their congressperson's number along with frequently updated scripts for calling about urgent political issues. Weekly Resistance also allows users to log their calls with a click, and keeps a running tally of calls made—a heartening reminder that your actions are part of a cumulative movement.

"I wanted to find a way for people to make fighting Trump a sustainable part of their schedule," Zisook said, adding that she regularly hears from subscribers who say Weekly Resistance is motivating them to make phone calls they wouldn't have otherwise made.

Why phone calls? Unlike signatures on a Change.org petition—or tweets or Facebook comments—a phone call can't be scrolled past; when you call your representative or senator, a staffer has to take the time to speak to you and write down your comments (or copies down what you say in your voicemail). A day of sustained phone calls from an outraged public played a big role in convincing congressional Republicans not to declaw the Office of Congressional Ethics.

For a generation of phone-phobic Americans who haven't spoken into a telephone since we came up with apps for ordering pizza, "call your representative" is a small task that can sound daunting. Social media in the weeks after the election was flooded with posts from users desperate to make their voices heard but stymied by the anxiety of actually calling. (I was one of them; I have intense phone anxiety, and after my first phone call to my senator, I had to cry into a cup of tea for a few minutes.) This is what Zisook and organizers like her hope to change—to normalize two-way communication between representatives and their constituents.

Beyond phone calls, organizers can spread the word about local meetings, rally support for postcard and letter campaigns, and, of course, solicit donations for progressive causes. Weekly Resistance suggests a different POC-run organization to donate to every week. The organizers of the Women's March on Washington have begun a "10 Actions in 100 Days" campaign to take advantage of the momentum of the inauguration weekend protests, beginning with a flood of postcards to senators. Outrage is plentiful; the challenge now is to make it politically useful, both now and for future elections.

Amelia Miazad and Kara Ganter, co-founders of Wall-of-us, email their subscribers four weekly acts of resistance that can range from phone calls to meeting with elected officials to taking time for self-care. Ganter, originally from rural Wisconsin, says her goal is to remove barriers and counteract the assumption that activism is only for the educated and well-to-do. "I would love to create tools and avenues for more people to be heard," she told, "and to gain confidence in speaking their truth."

"We want to make activism joyful and contagious," Miazad added. "We want to make it irresistible to resist hateful policies."

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