The Writing on the Wall
The Fight for Optimism:
I never start writing with the intention to discuss what’s wrong with the world. I usually sit down hoping to write about travel, human connection, and many other beautiful aspects of life. But, as I look back through my blog posts I notice many of them are critiques of the aspects of life I don’t enjoy. This post will add to that collection. I assure you it isn’t because I don’t see beauty in the world. Quite the opposite. The beauty I see all around me is what motivates me to address challenging issues and confront the uglier aspects of life.
I consider myself to be in a constant fight for optimism. I believe optimism is the best outlook on the world, but I would be lying if I were to call myself an optimist. The challenging issues I see around me drive me toward pessimism, or worst of all, indifference. I can’t allow myself to slide into a state of indifference, so I seek ways to convince myself that these issues can be conquered. Writing helps me in this process. If I can articulate what I believe is going wrong, then I am in a better position to improve the situation. Acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead builds my hope for a better future. That is a victory in my fight for optimism, and optimism fuels action.
My Deepest Concern:
Lately, my deepest concern is the United States’ current social and political trajectory. Many people don’t realize the gravity of the situation we are in. Sadly, the social and political fabric underpinning our democracy is remarkably delicate. Democracy’s foundation can be broken if threatened under the right circumstances. The laws that are the foundation of democracy are only as good as the individuals that uphold them. We have recently seen a rise in undemocratic individuals holding positions of power. I believe that we are failing to acknowledge the formidable threat that faces our current democracy.
Our democracy is weakening, our rights are under attack, and we are failing to fight back. The assault is coming from a far-right ideology built on a foundation of bigotry, religious radicalism, and fear. Our democratic system was built to withstand many attacks, but we are beginning to see cracks in the foundation. Now, wedges are being driven into these cracks with lethal intent. The attempted coup on January 6th led to an insurrection against our capitol. The installation of three zealots to the highest court in the land is leading to a constitutional crisis. Their installation led to the stripping of women’s constitutional right to bodily autonomy, it led to the removal of EPA’s power to combat climate change, and it is leading to a ruling that will enable states to have unprecedented power over the election process. There is legitimate potential for our democracy to fall and we need to act now.
We can’t let ourselves be idle. We can’t go about our lives because action is inconvenient. We can’t let our future slip away before our eyes because fighting back was hard. The most dangerous action is inaction, yet it’s the easiest action to take. Growing up I was consistently told “the only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.” Evil is beginning to flourish. Human rights, climate action, and election security were all lines in the sand; those lines have been crossed.
The writing on the wall suggests a more authoritarian future fueled by a misinformed, fear driven populace calling for drastic change under the guise of nationalism and religious liberty. Without action our rights will be stripped, our elections will be compromised, and our lives will be irreparably altered. If we fail to recognize the writing on the wall now, then it will be too late to change our future. Now is the time for action, but we must be smart. First, we have to learn how they are waging their war. Then, we will learn how to defend ourselves from their assault.
Assault on Democracy:
The cracks in our democracy’s foundation became noticeable with the election of Donald Trump, but they’ve been there for some time. The rhetoric surrounding Trump’s meteoric rise was disturbing, but I was shaken to the core when I saw his success with the people we call neighbors, friends, and family. He held up a mirror to the US and exposed the values of a large number of our countrymen and women. He tapped into our country’s racism, misogyny, and hatred, and used it to his advantage. He politically weaponized the power of mass ignorance and bigotry, and others jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, we are only beginning to see the damage this power will inflict on our society. However, despite the damage that Trump caused, I believe we need to realize that he was little more than a convenient opportunity for those truly shaping the direction of our country.
The political transition toward a new republican ideology under Donald Trump seemed abrupt, but it was actually the result of a decades long process of information indoctrination by the powerhouses of Fox News, The Heritage Foundation, Turning Point USA, and others. Make no mistake, the shift we are seeing today is the result of misinformation warfare. Unfortunately, they are winning. Their efforts reshaped how the right interacts with ideas and information, causing a severe disconnect from reality in their large viewer base. These media organizations know their audience better than their audience knows themselves. They exert control by appealing to emotion rather than reason, allowing them to shift public opinion at will. It has progressed to a point where reason is no longer part of their rhetoric, which is now designed to exploit the fear they instilled in their audience. This powerful tool should not be underestimated. It is an underlying cause of the political landscape we face today.
When Trump took office in 2016, I had faith that our democratic institutions would withstand his presidency. Now, I'm not so sure they did. During his four year presidency he inflicted significant damage to our country. Trump appointed three out of nine supreme court justices. The power that is vested in the supreme court makes these unelected individuals some of the most powerful people in our society. One-third of them were selected for lifetime appointments by a one-term president who lost the popular vote and incited a violent insurrection against the United States. Our system is fundamentally compromised. One justice used his influence to protect his wife who worked to prevent the peaceful transfer of power that is foundational to our democracy. Two justices were confirmed by the senate despite having credible sexual assault allegations against them. Both of those justices just voted to strike down the bodily autonomy of women in our country. It is abundantly clear that the power vested in the justice system has fallen into the hands of the unjust.
Executive action on the issue has consistently been too little, too late. The leak of the draft decision on Roe v Wade was unprecedented, and was done to give our nation time to react before our rights were stripped away. However, little action was taken in the precious weeks before the decision was made. The leaders of the democratic party are simply posturing with typical party politics. Some Democratic leaders, like AOC and Elizabeth Warren, are proposing plans of action. Action is what we need in times of crisis, but they are surrounded by career politicians with misaligned priorities. Congress, crippled by decades of gerrymandering and lobbying, consists of politicians only working to ensure they remain in power. They are failing their duty to their constituents — failing their duty to us.
To make matters worse, Mitch McConnell, a rich white man over 80 years old, can use the filibuster to decide which legislation can be voted on in the senate. He is effectively stalling legislation on women’s rights, climate change, gun control, supreme court composition, and election reform. In addition, individuals that are disconnected from reality, like supporters of radical conspiracy theories, are winning elections for seats in the federal government. Congress is becoming compromised as well.
When the justice system fails to protect even the most basic human rights like bodily autonomy, we look to the President and congress to balance the power like our founding fathers intended. All of this begs the question, do you have faith in the ability of our current government to defend our liberty? I currently don’t. So what can we do when the government is failing us? Fortunately, we have a well equipped toolkit to build a better society for ourselves, but we need to use it now before it is taken away. I will unpack this toolkit and explain how we can fight back before it is too late.
The Fight for Our Future:
Our best opportunity to change our country is by working within the democratic systems that are currently in place. I know that this is a controversial stance, but I don’t believe we are at the point where we need to act outside of the systems that have enabled significant change in the past. A key part of this process is to identify key leverage points that ensure your voice is being represented. This means voting in city, state, and federal elections, writing and signing petitions to bring issues to the ballot, calling or writing your representatives, or donating to your favorite organizations. These are all excellent ways to make your voice heard. Engaging in this form of change can seem impractical or slow, but it does have an effect on the world around you. Using these methods is a great first step to creating change. However, this process is most effective when it is backed by a social movement rallied around a common cause.
Utilizing our first amendment right to assembly and free-speech is a primary route of ensuring our voice is heard. This is absolutely critical to achieving political reform. Unfortunately, social movements are hard to get right. There are countless ways that a movement can quickly become ineffective, and only a few end up achieving their goal. I will explain how to create and participate in effective social movements so we can be better agents of change.
Creating an effective movement requires deep engagement with your intentions and extensive background research into the systems you are hoping to change. Fortunately, there are guides and handbooks that outline the most effective way of organizing and attending movements. I encourage everyone to read these guides and handbooks, and I won’t reinvent the wheel here. Although, I do want to spend some time outlining what makes an effective social movement, and how you can contribute.
I will start by addressing the elephant in the room. The argument between the efficacy of nonviolent and violent movements is a tale as old as time, but modern science has given us the answer. Violent movements are not the best route to achieving social change. Engaging in nonviolent social movements is the best way to bring about lasting social and political change. This isn’t just my belief, it’s proven by data. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take too many violent incidents for a movement to be labeled as violent. For example, the Black Lives Matters protests were 96% non-violent, an impressive number. Yet, these protests were quickly labeled as riots to taint the public perception and undermine the movement. That’s not to say that BLM protests didn’t have success in changing the political and social landscape, but it goes to show how easily it is to shift public perception of social movements, especially when it concerns violence. That is why it is absolutely imperative that nonviolence is a central tenet of the movement. Movements are grounded in tenets that should speak to the intention of the movement. It is vital that intentions are clear, goals are identified, and rules of behavior are established to ensure nonviolence is a central rallying point of the movement. Once violence begins to take hold in a movement it must be instantly shutdown from within. A movement that dedicates itself to nonviolence will have the best chance of achieving success. After this is established, the next goal is organizing action from 3.5% of the population (11.5 million across the US), the magic number behind protests. This seems daunting, but it is possible.
Individuals are most compelled to join a movement when they clearly understand why the movement exists. Answering the “why” question is crucial in gaining public support. A movement must rally around a call for change, typically centered around injustice or suffering. The key concept here is that individuals must identify with the movement. Then they will contribute their time and energy to the cause. I believe that we are currently reaching a point where a large social movement is possible, if not probable. People are deeply unhappy with the political and social situation, and they are looking for ways to make their voice heard. There are five steps to maximizing the effectiveness of this process: (1) make specific demands, (2) shift the spectrum of allies, (3) identify key pillars of power that can enact change, (4) seek to attract and not overcome, and (5) build a plan to survive victory. These steps provide a broad outline to creating a successful movement and recruiting people to the cause. We could do well to follow these steps as we begin to form a social movement for our future.
An example of an effective use of these steps is the civil rights movement. We could all take a look at MLK’s playbook. Deemed “Good Trouble”, the actions of the civil rights movement became the epitome of a US movement grounded by a common cause, specific demands, and nonviolent dissent. They were able bring their concerns to the forefront of US politics and create lasting change in the form of legislation and court decisions. However, this process assumes that the bodies of government that can create change (Step 3), like Congress and the courts, are functioning properly. That is why we must also work to elect new congressional leaders and appoint better judges to the courts. In this fight we can’t have one without the other.
I am impressed and pleased that you made it to the end of my long rant. However, all of this would go to waste if it didn’t inspire action. Mark my words, there will be social movements in the near future, and their success is not yet decided. You can be part of their success. Our democracy is being shaken to its core and the American Experiment is in jeopardy. Our country needs you. We need you. We can’t expect other people to step up to the plate, we must do it ourselves and show others the way.
I don’t believe my generation has faced anything like this in the US, but our ancestors have before us and our children will after us. Democracy is a garden that must be cultivated, and there are weeds in the garden once again.
The writing on the wall suggests we might soon be called to defend our democracy. We will answer that call while there is still time. I know our future rests solely in our hands. We are heading in the wrong direction, but hope is not lost. The upcoming midterm elections and the action of the executive and legislative branches will largely determine how this plays out. Fortunately, the US is a representative democracy and we elect politicians to serve our interests. It’s our duty to remind them of that. Take to the polls and take to the streets. Any action you take, no matter how big or small, will help in the fight. If you know your rights, then you know your power. Let’s use it to make the world a better place.
At the risk of sounding a little dramatic and a whole lot nerdy, I would like to close this out with a Lord of the Rings quote.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” - Frodo.
“So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” - Gandalf