Resisting doesn’t have to be risky or time-consuming
In a previous interview with ESME, Ellen Berrey, a sociologist, writer, and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, encouraged us to participate in the Women’s March on Washington. We took her advice and did just that. We marched and returned buoyed with hope. The question is, now what?
As mentioned in the previous article, Berrey researches issues of race, inequality, law, politics, and American culture, and her first book—The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2015)—has received numerous awards, including the Law and Society Association’s 2016 Herbert Jacob Book Prize. Born and raised in the United States, Berrey moved to Canada with her partner and kids in summer 2016.
ESME caught up with Berrey, who—once again—had concrete, practical advice.
Q: You recommended I go to the Women’s March. I went. It was amazing. But some people love to tell me that the march didn’t do anything. How can I tell them to f--k off?
A: You say, “F--k off.”
Q: That’s what I wanted to hear. Can you expand on that?
A: An easy answer is to tell the haters your own story. Here’s a sample script:
I went to a march, or I saw the marches on the news, and it inspired me to do more. Because of the march, I make phone calls, donate money, watch my friend’s kids so she can go talk to a legislator, or think about running for office.
Also, you can tell them that the first step to building a broad-based progressive movement is to shape perception. The march definitely did that. It is estimated that about 4.8 million people joined the women’s marches worldwide. In the United States alone, we’re talking more than 1% of the population. This created breathtaking visuals.
Q: What’s the next step?
A: There are two big tasks now that we need to take on: resist Trump and win in elections in 2017 and beyond. If even one out of every four marchers actually does something about this, beyond marching, that means more than a million people are working on our side. Many of them are working at this very minute. Let that sink in.
Q: I want to do all the things, but after scraping the ice off the car, shoveling the driveway, working overtime, grocery shopping for my invalid mom, making dinner, helping kids with homework, fighting with my ex—I don’t have much left in me except to binge-watch Netflix. I don’t know where to start!
A: There are things you can do from your couch . . . while watching Netflix. You know how to multitask. You’re a Solo Mom.
Q: I like the way you think! So what are these things?
A: First, ask yourself how much time you have in a week.
Q: How about 10 minutes?
A: That’s enough time to call your two U.S. senators and one U.S. congressperson twice a week. The first time calling will take you an extra five minutes.
Q: You say that like it’s so easy.
A: Let’s do this together step-by-step.
Q: That’s what I need.
A: To get the numbers you need, just text your ZIP code to 520-200-2223. Boom!
Q: Wow! That was easy.
A: Save these numbers in your phone.
Q: OK, that was easy, too. It took me two minutes. And I’m still watching my show, on the couch. Hey—these prompts tell me exactly what I should say!
A: Yes. They give you scripts so we don’t all have to keep reinventing the wheel.
Q: Now, I just call?
A: Yes. Be brief and polite. But I don’t have to tell you that. You’re a mom. You don’t even need to say your name—just that you’re an American voter. Mention your ZIP code if you’re calling within state.
Q: OK. It took me five minutes to make all three calls. And, luckily, nothing happened in the show I was watching, so win-win.
A: Make sure to call all three of your members of congress twice a week.
Q: Now I’m feeling energized and ambitious. What if I miraculously have two hours of time on my hands?
A: After you confirm that you aren’t hallucinating, go in person to a town hall with one of your political representatives—it’s the biggest bang for your buck. Bring the kiddos. Find out where town halls and other actions are happening at Indivisible Guide. Just plug in your ZIP code.
Let me remind you: winning takes a gazillion tiny actions, and our tiny actions are already adding up. People worried about their health care have flooded republican and democrat leaders with calls and showed up at town halls in full force. That’s helped to persuade many republicans not to totally dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and it’s pushed democrats to stand up.
Q: How can I keep up with everything that’s happening? The only time I have to read is on the toilet.
A: Pick one or two sources. I’ve listed some of my faves below:
- Circa.com provides easy-to-digest information. It has quick headlines, short pieces, and lots of images, and it’s easy to navigate—although it’s about way more than politics, so avoid it if you’d be distracted by Beyoncé’s pregnancy, for example.
- The Week does very short high-quality articles.
- The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Hill have great coverage and are all focused on national politics. If you go directly to their respective home pages or use their apps, it’s easy to just skim over the headlines and summaries. For an international perspective on the United States, try the Guardian.
- Vox.com runs well-written, well-researched pieces (some by sociologists!) with a progressive slant and nice graphics. Its short, well-produced videos are popular with my students when I show them in class.
- Finally, remember! Spending too much time reading on the toilet aggravates hemorrhoids, one of the untold indignities of pregnancy.
Q: The only other time I am alone is during my commute. How can I best use that time to stay informed?
A: Here are my top picks for podcasts to listen to during your commute:
- The NPR (National Public Radio) app to listen to the newscast summary, which is usually around three minutes long. Before I get in the car, I go to “programs” and add the news pieces for All Things Considered or Morning Edition to the playlist. It’s easy to skip anything uninteresting. NPR’s very convenient, although, in my opinion, its coverage sometimes goes way too easy on Trump.
- The New York Times’s The Daily podcast is about 20 minutes long, and it’s all about Trump and major issues in national politics. It’s so good, and you can get it through the Podcasts app.
- Indivisible is a public-radio program about America and national politics. It tries to cut across the blue/red, urban/rural divides, and you can stream it online.
Q: Which methods of activism don’t work?
A: Try to limit using your time:
- Signing online petitions.
- Writing e-mails to your reps in congress.
- Moaning on Facebook. (As Sam Daley-Harris, who leads the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation, says, “Online work is only useful for organizing off-line work.”)
- Making fun of Trump. It can be fun, but don’t get stuck in the snarkiness. That’s not gonna help us win.
Q: How does activism affect Solo Moms?
A: Political activism can connect us to a like-minded community. Political activism can give us a sense of our own efficacy and power. Political activism shows our kids that we care about what comes next. It enables us to model courage—to take risks, try something new, speak our minds, reconsider our assumptions, speak truth to power. And, ultimately, political activism can create positive social change. And we definitely need some of that right now.
Join our closed Facebook Group ESME Collective Action for inspiration and information.
Mika Yamamoto, ESME's Guide for Public Assistance, has successfully nurtured two children as a Solo Mom and now hopes to achieve the same results as a plant nanny.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.