On being an engaged citizen: action steps and community building

The 2016 election left millions of us feeling discouraged and bewildered. Many Americans are anxious, frightened and concerned about the state of the nation and the world. There have been many suggestions image of man feeling alone and discouragedabout what action to take next and resources to explore (see, e.g., here, here and here). I’ll add my suggestions below.

As I hope will be clear from what follows, I believe that our physical, spiritual and emotional well-being is related to the external forces that shape our lives. That includes environmental, economic, social and political factors that have an impact on us individually and in our communities.

It is an especially important time to be an engaged citizen. Below are my thoughts on ten forms of engagement that can foster a sense of connection and empowerment. These action steps can also help each of us to have a greater impact in our part of the world. I offer them here for your consideration, and I hope that some of them are useful.

Ten suggested action items:

  1. Financially support a civil society organization that fights for values you care about. Pick one that advocates causes that are under attack. Ideally, set up an automatic monthly donation. This helps to fund your group continually, so that it can keep fighting the good fight. (There are obvious examples—such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Sierra Club—and many others, depending on your values and priorities. If you can afford to help fund more than one organization, please do.
  2. Service. Working in the service of others is a key factor in finding image: volunteering hands together happiness and connection. There is no substitute for face-to-face engagement, joining together with others who share some of our values and interests. From them, we can draw strength and inspiration. With them, we build community and accomplish much more than we could separately.
  3. Sustain information sources that we can depend on. When mainstream political journalism has failed us, it is even more important to support independent media voices–especially those that refuse to normalize the unacceptable. Now is the time to reject the logic that, “If I can get it for free, why pay for it?” Pay for a print and/or online subscription to at least one publication that maintains a strong voice. Pick a source that investigates and reports, one that speaks truth to power. (Again, there are some obvious examples–The Nation, Mother Jones—and many others.) It has never been more important to subscribe to your local newspaper than it is today. Local papers are essential, if we are to be informed about the use of power in our own communities. Some of us have decided to subscribe to publications that have been singled out for attack by the President-Elect, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. All of these are good ideas.
  4. Use social media intelligently. Over 16 years, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show taught millions of Americans how to spot propaganda and be more discerning consumers of information on television. With Facebook and other social media platforms, be your own Jon Stewart. Keep an eye out for fake news and attempts to mislead, confuse and distract you. Check the source of any article you read from a link or shared source. If the source is unfamiliar, be especially skeptical. Don’t share or link to anything based on the headline. Be disciplined enough that people who follow you can trust that you will share things that are worth their time.
  5. Reach out to friends and family who may share your concerns. Ask how they are doing. Be resource persons for one another. Share with them what inspires you and gives you hope. Listen to them when they talk about what they are thinking and doing. At least some of them will have something to teach you.
  6. Read quality books. The most important topics are rarely addressed adequately in popular media. image: books are powerfulConsider: climate change, income and wealth inequality, voting rights, the Supreme Court, immigration, police and community relations, terrorism and American history. Books are an antidote to the disorienting blizzard of information and infotainment in our 24/7 media culture. Good books take us out of that environment. They can help us to gain perspective and a deeper understanding, and to focus on what matters most. Visit local bookstores and browse. If you don’t have a public library card, get one, and use it.
  7. Write a credo or statement of beliefs to guide your actions. It might be helpful to take a class or workshop at a local church or adult education program. For inspiration, read or listen to selections from the This I Believe project. Or consider this sermon by Martin Luther King, Jr., The Transformed Nonconformist, or writings from prophetic voices, such as Wendell Berry, Joanna Macy, Bill Moyers, Jane Goodall and Desmond Tutu. Writing and sharing statements with others can be a powerful experience.
  8. Prioritize peace and quiet. Contemplative image: quiet time to contemplatepractices such meditation, prayer or taking walks in places of natural beauty bring many rewards. These can include regular moments of clarity and awareness, and generating good ideas. Consider regular news fasts, and times to go offline for a few hours or a day, to create space for new habits.
  9. Join the conversation with like-minded others (and with those who hold different views). Beyond nos. 2 and 5 above, find outlets for community and discussion.  Show up and be a vital part of the conversation in your corner of the world. Practice expressing your core principles concisely. Find your voice and use it. Listen, persuade, argue; and reconsider your views. Seek common ground with those on the other side of an issue, where that’s possible.
  10. Take a personal wellness inventory. Whatever else you’re doing, set an intention to take care of yourself—body, mind and spirit. Is there is a habit that you know you should drop, a health issue that you’re finally ready to address? Is there a new practice that would make your life better? The most obvious suggestions are worth revisiting—better sleep habits, eating more vegetables, exercising vigorously enough several times a week to get your heart pumping. The healthier and happier we are, the more energized and effective we can be.

Time to move forward

If you’ve read this, you’re probably doing some of these things, and possibly most of them. If you’re doing them all, you’re ahead of me. That’s terrific: you’re already engaged and working actively to create change in your world.

For those who are feeling numb, cynical or powerless, it’s time to feel your anger and channel it into constructive action.

I have heard wise ones say that it’s easier to act our way into right thinking than to think our way to right action. The keys are to take action and to connect with others. If the list above doesn’t resonate for you, find another one or write your own.

The election happened, and change is coming. We all have choices about how we respond. Now is the time to get active. If you’re pondering what to do next, what are you waiting for?

image: next step action

Thanks to Pixabay for making available the images in this post.

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