Because we deserve a rest today, and besides, my boyfriend Aaron Rodgers demands my complete attention at noon 🙂 But these are my thoughts on what comes next. Showing up yesterday and then just going home and saying, that’s it – we all know it’s not enough. Here are my Big Thoughts on what all of us can do next.
- Social Media isn’t enough, BUT it’s essential – keep doing what you’re doing there.
Why? Because the struggle for the “control of truth” is always part of the struggle against dictators. Right now, we’re at an advantage because the Trumputin forces are focused on fighting “the last war,” that is, doing it the way the Nazis did it – attacking mainstream media’s legitimacy. The Nazis could shut down a dozen newspapers and that was it, the end of public dissent.
Fortunately for us, this time around it’s asymmetrical warfare. Trumputin can wage a Goebbels-style attack on the truthfulness of CNN or the Post or the Times, betting that “a big enough lie, told again and again,” will be accepted as the truth.
But unlike the Nazis, we have the Internet. Imagine if everyone in Hitler’s Germany had a camera, and could easily share their films and photos and opinions. Being on social media, repropagating facts, is essential. The more people who see the side-by-side photos of the two inaugurations, supplemented by real-time videos from multiple sources that can’t all be doctored, the more the “Big Enough Lie” at the heart of the Sean Spicer approach to controlling the narrative will fail. Social media means that even if CNN, the Post and the Times were all shut down tomorrow, the flow of information would continue.
In dictatorships, of course, the internet is heavily monitored and censored. When Trumputin moves to do that, we will know we have officially transitioned into Fascism.
- Focus on One Issue where you can and will Get Shit Done.
“Get involved” is a great but vague concept. Get involved where, with what, doing what? I’ve decided that the most important issue to me is access to the vote. Republicans are working hard around the country to get rid of early voting and vote by mail, and to reduce the number of polling places in non-Republican areas. None of what we do will matter unless we can act on it in the 2018 election.
So I’m looking for the local group that’s committed to working on that. You may choose LGBT rights, or access to contraception, or to health care. The thing to do is to pick the thing that’s going to get you motivated, and where you know you can make a difference.
When I was in ACT UP in SF in the early 90s, most people in the group were focused on access to treatment, getting drugs approved, and unrealistically “demanding” socialized medicine.
I was more practical – I knew that private insurance wasn’t going away anytime soon. I chose to work on influencing controls on that. I was lucky because at the time, John Garamendi had been elected California’s new “Insurance Commissioner,” and his campaign was based around the auto insurance industry’s abuses.
We were able to point him at health insurance as the “coming issue,” because any ambitious politician wants to know what’s going to be next on the public agenda.
Focusing on issues like pre-existing conditions, redlining by zip code or profession (i.e. if your job was hairdresser or florist, or if you lived in 94114, your application for insurance would be denied automatically), maximum lifetime caps on policies, I knew I was getting shit done. I was good at reading the laws and regulations that covered the industry, such as they were. I was good at research into how health insurance companies fucked people.
After ACT UP pretty much dissolved, I lost a friend with AIDS not to the disease but to Killsyou Permanently. They’d refused him care by palming him off on a nurse on the phone, who’d denied him an appointment until after round after round of antibiotics phoned into the pharmacy. Only when I took him to my dentist, who diagnosed him with lymphoma, did he begin to get care at KP. At that time, Kaiser Permanente rewarded doctors with bonuses based on the fewest number of diagnostic tests they ran, so they were incentivized to kill patients by denying care. That was the business model I was fighting against, but soon after that, I had my own diagnosis and I was too busy keeping myself alive to renew that fight.
And yet, we’d made an impact on Garamendi, who’d go from insurance commissioner to Lieutenant Governor to US Congressman from California… and the wake up call we gave him on the “other insurance scandal” made an impact on the overall fight for health care, and that didn’t hurt when Obamacare came around.
Laser in on that one thing you care about most, so you can be most effective in the fight.
- Commit to actions that are realistic for you.
Look. It’s not realistic for me to say that I’m going to show up to marches and demonstrations on a regular basis. I did it yesterday because, well, it was critical that the numbers were big. I hate crowds, chants make my ears hurt, fucking drum circles must die.
So, I need to find something that’s about effective action that’s going to be something an essentially antisocial person like myself can do. I hate group dynamics, the petty power struggles that seem to become so important to people even in a hobby/fan club. I need to find a niche where I’m not exposed to that and burned out and turned off by it. Is that making calls, is it studying legislation, what? What will work for me? Don’t commit to something by saying, “Well, I hate leaving the house but I’m going to go to City Council meetings all the time.” Because you probably won’t. Find what you can do and stick to.
- Focus on groups that work by majority rule.
Occupy Wall Street was a failure for a lot of reasons, but to me “consensus” was the neutron bomb – the requirement that 100% of the people involved agree to do something. That means action can be derailed by one person, and that person could be a “bad actor,” a drama queen, or even just a clinically insane person.
Groups that focus on process and not results are going to gaze into their navel eternally, thinking about how to make an activist Utopia they seem to think is so essential to found before any action is taken in the world.
- If you’re going to do theater, don’t just play to the converted.
Drum circles, paper mache heads, etc. Same old same old, just the left talking to itself, making itself feel better without impacting anything. Protest is increasingly ineffective unless it’s mass numbers, and not just mass numbers of The Converted. Yesterday’s protest was effective because it brought out, well, people like me who’d rather do most anything other than stand in a crowd of 10,000 people in the bitter cold.
I was in ACT UP in the early 90s, and it was effective for one reason: visual impact. We embraced a look, buzzed hair, Doc Martens, splashy graphic T shirts from the world’s best graphic artists, with pictures of Cardinals and Presidents and Senators that emphasized their crimes. We didn’t look like the “AIDS victims” of Benneton ads, weak and dying, but like vandals, punks, flamethrowers – we had risen from our deathbeds, mad as hell. It was shocking enough to make the media take notice. “Die ins” were designed for visual impact, people with AIDS carrying their own cardboard tombstones and laying down in front of the FDA. Now that got the world’s attention.
Think about the most iconic image from yesterday. The “Pussy Hat,” right? The mostly pink knit caps with the cat ears. Images need to be constantly refreshed for the media to take note. The same paper mache heads, the same slogans, ho fucking hum. Creativity is what’s needed to grab the attention of the media, and social media.
In conclusion, for now…
I do feel like yesterday was cathartic, that most people are committed to doing more politically than we’ve done in the past. Me, I was that guy – I vote, that’s enough. Not any more, not now when the Republicans are trying to stop people from voting, redrawing district lines to ensure permanent minority rule, subverting the popular vote by stripping “our guy” of all powers before he takes office. I don’t want to do more, but… The danger is real. A return to pre-existing condition exclusions on health insurance is a potential death sentence for me. I mean, literally. $30,000 a year (at least) for my pills? Yeah, I’m dead. That’s what it’s taken to radicalize me out of “voting’s enough.”
Coming up, a post on how and why I will survive the end of Obamacare, because I’ve been here before, surviving a system designed to kill sick poor people. Not everyone will, but more on that another time.