Like millions of others, I was devastated by the results of the 2016 presidential election. We experienced more than sadness and disappointment — countless people, including me, are genuinely scared by the implications of a Trump presidency. This is why over 5 million men and women across all seven continents participated in The Women’s March on January 21st, the day after Trump’s inauguration.
Just one week later, thousands of protesters gathered at major airports in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and more to challenge Trump’s executive order that temporarily bars entry to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Demonstrators chanted and held signs to send the message that immigrants are welcome and are, in fact, what make America great. When I got word of the ban, I immediately headed to SeaTac and was, once again, encouraged by the outpouring of love and support that represents the true spirit of our country.
These are not isolated, one time events — but part of a movement that will and must continue.
That’s why the Women’s March released their next call to action, The #10Actions100Days campaign. As the title implies, we must keep up momentum and take action on a cause that’s important to us every ten days, (Organizers provide detailed instructions to help you complete each action!)
We have a long, tough road ahead — so it’s important to hold ourselves accountable and never become complacent. Regardless of how fired up we are, most of us are balancing hectic schedules and it could become easy to decide to “put off” an action item for a day or two, only to realize a week later that it’s fallen by the wayside.
But, it’s equally important to balance our activism with self-care.
The two are not mutually exclusive, and prioritizing our physical and mental health will make us better, more effective activists in the long run.
If you’re dedicated to fighting the good fight but are struggling emotionally due to the election results, here are some ways to be a powerful activist without compromising your mental health.
Turn action items into a group activity
The first post-Women’s March action item was to write postcards to our Senators and Representatives naming a cause that’s important to us, complete with an explanation of why it’s close to our heart and what we’ll do to fight for it during Trump’s administration. I could have easily done this from my apartment, but instead I met up with four friends on a Saturday morning. We wrote our postcards together over coffee and pastries.
I’m so glad I chose to work on the postcards with friends for two main reasons — we shared with one another which cause(s) we had chosen, and why. This lead to thought-provoking conversations, because there are so many pressing issues right now that it’s often hard to be thoroughly educated on every single one. Secondly, my cause of choice stems from a painful, traumatic experience — so it was therapeutic to have my friends by my side while I pared my message down to fit on a postcard.
And, of course, once we’ve committed to meeting up with friends to tackle an action item, that automatically makes us accountable — because, really, no one wants to be the person who consistently bows out of these gatherings.
Get creative and make it fun
We become activists not because it’s “fun,” but because we care about our country and world; we are motivated to do everything in our power to make a positive change. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t have fun in the process — for example, my friend is hosting a Valentine’s Day party called “Lingerie For a Cause.”
A local women’s and children’s shelter has asked for donations of much-needed items including bras, underwear, tampons, diapers, and other toiletries — so, we’ll each buy one or more of the requested items and bring them to her house. We’ll get to enjoy an hour or two of cocktails, cupcakes, and each other’s company — and, the next day, the shelter will receive a huge delivery of these staples that so many people can’t afford.
Take some time to unplug and rejuvenate yourself
The news is everywhere and, at risk of stating the obvious, there’s at least one piece of terrifying, depressing news every single day. Of course it’s critical that we stay engaged and informed — our success in this movement hinges upon being vigilant. But we can’t ignore the fact that the election has negatively impacted the mental health of many people, including immigrants, people with disabilities, sexual assault survivors, and the LGBT+ community. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take some time to unplug completely and engage in a soothing activity that’s totally unrelated to politics. If we’re drowning in our own despair, we can’t be much help to anyone else.
Be vocal and listen
Apathy was a major culprit in the 2016 election — approximately 58 percent of eligible voters went to the polls this year, which is fairly typical for a presidential election. Although I don’t have much hope that I’ll ever have a reasonable conversation with all voters, I do think respectful discussions with non-voters can be effective and beneficial. We all heard the versions of the same sentiments during the election: “Trump and Clinton are both terrible, so I’m going to stay home” and “My vote doesn’t count anyway.”
It’s frustrating to hear these things, but we can change people’s minds if we’re respectful, ask thoughtful questions, and provide counterpoints that will at least make them think. For example, I was able to sway one non-voter in 2016 when I drove home the point that our next president will appoint at least one Supreme Court Justice. And, as we look towards the 2018 midterms, it’s crucial that we encourage everyone in our lives to vote — taking back the Senate will be a major step in the right direction. People may not think they care about politics, but a respectful discussion about how the issues impact our daily lives can convince people that it’s worth it to exercise their right to vote — even if they don’t agree with every single item on a candidate’s platform.
There’s no getting around it — things will get worse before they get better.
But these politicians work for us, and we have a voice.
As she concluded her concession speech, Hillary Clinton directly addressed her young supporters by telling us that we’ll experience both successes and painful setbacks.
Most importantly, we’re Stronger Together — and through activism, compassion, and perseverance, we’ll get through this together and make America a place where everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, feels welcome and safe.