Love trumps hate. Photo by Lorie Shaull (Creative Commons).
We explored this topic—in part—because a Bitch reader asked us to look into it. Got a question about feminism and pop culture that you want answered, too? Tell us!
In the last couple weeks, there have been several moments where I’ve turned on the radio and immediately felt like I’ve fallen into a dystopian novel. A guy named Reince Priebus is telling the nation that we’ll be stopping immigration of Muslims? A white nationalist, anti-Semitic guy with a history of domestic violence is going to be senior counsel for the president? There will be fewer women in the cabinet than there have been since the 1970s? Did I accidentally fall into a time machine or to some kind of Hunger Games situation or is this real life?
Sadly, yes, it’s real life.
If you’re anything like me, since Donald Trump was elected on November 8, you’ve been fluctuating between determined rage and depressed nihilism. One hour, I’ll be all fired up, ready to go, calling my senators to tell them to oppose Trump’s horrendous cabinet appointments. The next hour, I feel hopeless and overwhelmed, and I dissolve into tears thinking about all the terribleness to come in the next four years and all the terribleness that got us here.
Then it passes, like a wave. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to feel angry. But while some moments and hours and days are filled with despair, there are a lot of people who aren’t giving up now. His looming presidency means a lot of people will have to work harder to survive—to protect their rights, their bodies, and their lives. Let’s be right there with them.
I talked to 10 people about things we can all do—right now—to help prepare for Trump’s presidency. Some of these ideas are about working with elected officials and policies, but calling your senators, as I’ve been doing, is only one way to get active. A lot of these ideas are about building strong communities and connections, stuff everyone can do, even if you don’t have a lot of money, power, or influence. It’s about working in small ways, and big ways, and taking time to make sure we stay safe and loved in Trump’s America.
“Politicians won’t act unless they’re pressured,” says Zahir Janmohamed, the host of the podcast Racist Sandwich who previously worked as a congressional staffer and as the advocacy director for Amnesty International. That means he has inside knowledge of how to get politicians to actually hear your voice.
Don’t stop sharing ideas on Twitter and Facebook; they’re important organizing tools, says Janmohamed. But they’re a “firehose” of information when it comes to weighing in on politics, and a lot of members of Congress don’t follow the discussions about policies that are trending. The best way to get representatives to actually respond, says Janmohamed, is to go old school: look up your Congressperson and write an actual letter.
“As long as it’s legible, I guarantee it’s going to be actually read,” says Janmohamed.
The least effective way to share your opinions, says Janmohamed: online petitions. “If we’d get 10,000 of those form letters, we’d count those as one correspondence,” he says. But if a constituent wrote in with a personal note, saying who they are and specifically what they want, a staffer would always read it and take notice.
If you don’t have time to write a letter, personal phone calls and individually written emails are the next best bet, says Janmohamed. To stop the hiring of Steve Bannon, for example, “I personally have been reaching out to Democrats who represent me and saying, ‘I want to see you on the House floor, I want to see you in your interviews, talk about why the White House should not include an anti-Semite like Steve Bannon,’” says Janmohamed.
Janmohamed says there’s one more secret that every congressional staffer knows: Members of Congress all have Google alerts for their names. “We would sit in the back of congressional hearings, and all of a sudden you’d see a member of Congress pull out his phone and say, ‘I can’t believe what [this person] is saying about me!’” It would turn out the person who got the Congress member’s attention was someone with just a small Wordpress blog, but it would get their attention. So if snail mail isn’t your thing, try blogging.
National Network of Abortion Funds Senior Public Affairs Manager Renee Bracey Sherman doesn’t mince her words. “You know a lot of people have been saying, ‘Let’s give Trump a chance. He made all these grandiose promises. He’s not actually going to do them,’” she says. “He’s shown who he is, and he will make sure that we do not have access to healthcare, particularly reproductive healthcare.”
The National Network of Abortion Funds helps people access abortions when they want them. Abortion is a protected right in our country, thanks to Roe v. Wade, but the procedure is more expensive than some people can afford. And as right-wing groups campaign to shut down abortion-providing clinics around the country, some people have had to drive hundreds of miles or even fly across the country to get abortions. The National Network of Abortion Funds works with 70 abortion funds around the country to help people deal with those financial and logistical barriers. Bracey Sherman is, no surprise, really worried about what will happen to reproductive rights under a Trump-Pence administration.
“Misogyny and white supremacy are living in the White House, very openly. We need to be vigilant,” she warns. “Mike Pence has built his career as a congressman on defunding Planned Parenthood. He has no problem harming us for simply getting an abortion.”
Look up the abortion fund in your city or state, says Bracey Sherman—call them and get involved. Of course, abortion funds need money, so you can always donate. But they also need volunteers for a bunch of different roles, like clinic escorts who help walk people safely into clinics if there are protesters and childcare providers. Bracey Sherman got her start doing “practical support” for people getting abortions—often opening her home to allow them a place to stay because mandatory waiting periods meant people who traveled long distances to get abortions would otherwise have to scrape together money for motel rooms or sleep in their cars.
“If you have those skills, show up, be counted, do what you can,” she says. In addition to volunteering for an abortion fund or local clinic, Bracey Sherman urges people to talk openly about both the bigotry of Trump’s policies and the importance of making abortion a safe and accessible medical procedure.
“I would just suggest that everyone talk about abortion. Talk about abortion. Talk about the white supremacy that is leaving Black and brown people, our Muslim friends, feeling terrified. This is not some kind of philosophical exercise.”
In this election, there has been a lot of discussion around the role that media played in covering Trump and covering Hillary Clinton. But there’s a whole other world, a shadowy, weirdo world, of media that came to light during this election: fake news. Sites that exist just to publish fake news that they know will get clicks.
As Facebook has become the dominant driver of news online, many sites have sprung up to capitalize on its traffic-driving potential. Sites will publish articles with incendiary headlines and sensational reports—like, for example, that Hillary Clinton is suspected of murder—and cash in on ad revenue as the fake news goes viral. In the three months before the election, fake news got more engagement on Facebook than all real news.
“I think what we learned from this election is fake news is cheaper to produce than real news, it has a simpler set of heroes and villains than real news, it is uncomplicated, and it connects directly with the emotional core of people,” says Joshua Benton, a journalist who has been following the rise of fake news.
The spread of conspiracy theories and urban legends has always been a staple of the internet. But in this election, fake news seems to have had a real, measurable impact. From August until Election Day, fake news articles had more reach on Facebook overall than all real news articles. This means conspiracy theories and misinformation weren’t limited to a fringe group of guys in a basement: They were being shared by millions and millions of people, including, for example, the mayor of Benton’s hometown in Louisiana. As Benton explained, when he checked out the Facebook page of his hometown’s mayor, the mayor had shared numerous fraudulent news articles, including a report that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump. That story was shared over 860,000 times on Facebook, says Benton.
“How many people saw that and thought, ‘Well, Trump can’t be such a bad guy if he has the endorsement of the pope’?”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the platform is “working on” ways to stop hoaxes from taking over the site. But Benton notes that it’s also on us as news consumers to help stop the spread of fake news. It’s essential media literacy: Before you share something on your social media pages, click through. Read the article. See where it comes from. See if it’s a legitimate news source. And if you see someone else sharing fake news, let them know it’s made up.
“Facebook is a mix of really healthy news, really unhealthy news, and garbage,” says Benton. “Don’t be too quick to share things that seem too perfect, that seem to be exactly proving that someone is the good guy or someone is the bad guy.”
There has been a lot of media postmortem on the election, with people analyzing what went wrong with the way news outlets covered the election and the way bigoted and untrue stories got traction on social media. But Carlos Maza of Media Matters for America pointed out way back in the spring some of the big problems with the way media outlets were letting Trump off the hook. In May, Maza put together a video about why we should call Trump what he is: racist and bigoted, not just a “controversial outsider.”
“I think some of the most frustrating things about media coverage in America is the devotion to the idea that there are two sides to every story and we can’t know the truth, we just have to present both sides of the issue,” says Maza. “You see that on basic issues, from climate change to social justice: News outlets do their best to avoid saying something is objectively right.”
Maza says that a good media diet is full of original reporting and fact-based reporting with less of the stuff of most cable news channels: the pundit commentary. “You should always avoid media that prioritizes commentary and reactions over investigative journalism and in-depth reporting. That creates news that is heavily reliant on partisan commentary that is often divorced from facts and just is, in terms of nutritional value, doesn’t lend to a typical civilian about what’s right and wrong.”
That means supporting the media outlets that are doing meaningful, real work, too, which means, you know, subscribing or donating to support good work. The flashy, sensational news networks have no trouble getting money to support their commentary from advertisers.
“You can watch CNN for 15 hours straight and get no actual knowledge of what’s going on in the world. It’s just not worth your time. It will make you more prone to thinking that just arguing is news, when it’s not. It’s just arguing,” says Maza.
Getting a better news diet involves one essential element, says Maza: Figure out who is writing your news. Who is actually making the media you’re consuming, and what backgrounds are they bringing to their storytelling? Maza says he knows “newsroom diversity” sounds like a “feel-good trope,” but it has a huge impact.
“The more diverse a newsroom is, the less of a chance that an article will have a glaring blind spot or take bullshit seriously,” says Maza. “Any newsroom that does not have diversity as a central priority and defining trait of what good journalism is just is not worth your time and should be treated with a tremendous amount of suspicion. More likely than not, you’re going to get news that is grossly incomplete and leads you to conclusions that are not based on reality but are based on the natural biases of that newsroom.”
Our media can be very damaging in some ways, as it can play into our natural biases. But pop culture can also be a force for good when it comes to bias. We’ve got the psychology to prove it.
Rachel Godsil is the co-founder and director of research for the Perception Institute, where she studies implicit bias. That’s the psychological term for the way assumptions and stereotypes operate on subconscious levels. You might not even know you feel that a certain group of people is threatening, for example, but the idea has oozed into your subconscious through your culture, your upbringing, and the media you consume. In a 2016 study called #PopJustice: Pop Culture, Perceptions, and Social Change, Godsil and her coauthors argue that pop culture can be a force for positive change. Movies and TV shows can actually counter the negative stereotypes that deluge us.
“What we found was actually really encouraging,” says Godsil. “Pop culture can be a force for good.” The best way to reduce implicit bias is to have people of different groups actually interact with each other as peers—like working together on a softball team or on the PTA. But watching TV shows and movies that show diverse groups of people in a positive light can erode biases, too. “When people watch well-done shows and movies, it can move their perception,” says Godsil.
Godsil and her team analyzed the results of a bunch of different studies on pop culture and implicit bias. In one of those studies, for example, researchers had people watch clips of a web series about Muslim Americans called Halal in the Family, which was made by Aasif Mandvi. “Their goal was to use Norman Lear–style humor to see if they could reduce anti-Muslim bias.”
The study looked at how the people who watched clips of Halal in the Family perceived Muslims compared to the way people who watched Everybody Loves Raymond did. “We had to find something that was similarly funny but did not involve sex or race,” says Godsil. Leaving aside the question of whether Everybody Loves Raymond is actually funny, the study found that people who watched Halal in the Family had less negative bias toward Muslim Americans. They found similar results when people watched the show Little Mosque on the Prairie and less bias toward Asian Americans after people watched The Joy Luck Club.
Pop culture has another powerful role, too: It gives people an inroad to talking about subjects around race, gender, and class that are often tough to bring up.
“You can watch Blackish together and have conversations about the characters and what they’re experiencing, and that can be a powerful way for people to see that these are families grappling with some of the things you’re grappling with and some things you don’t have to grapple with,” says Godsil.
One of the most dangerous and fear-mongering talking points of the Trump campaign was his idea to ban Muslim immigrants. This is discrimination, pure and simple; there’s no other word for it. Except, of course, the word Islamophobia. While Trump’s election lends this kind of religion-based discrimination terrible validity, bigotry toward Muslim Americans is, of course, not new. It’s something Mic journalist Sarah Harvard knows all too well.
“Islamophobia didn’t start with Donald Trump. It really intensified after 9/11,” says Harvard. “But now I’m seeing a huge shift, where before Muslim Americans were afraid of systemic violence—surveillance and entrapment cases—but now our priorities are shifting to basic survival. We have to worry about whether our neighbors will attack us.”
Harvard says she’s seeing a lot of white moderates backing off from the conversation around Islamophobia after Trump’s election. “At the final results, no one has been talking about how Islamophobia was a factor in this election,” says Harvard.
In the days since November 8, Trump’s cabinet members have hinted at plans to start a registry for Muslim Americans. A prominent Trump supporter cited World War II–era internment of Japanese Americans as a “precedent” for registration and monitoring of Muslim immigrants.
“These things sound so outlandish. As a Muslim American and a Japanese American, I would assume that we would have learned our lesson of how horrible it was to put Japanese Americans in internment camps,” says Harvard. “Never would I have thought that we’d be talking about creating a registry of Muslims or using tagging devices on them like they’re cattle. But here we are in 2016, and politicians are openly discussing this. And what’s even scarier is a huge percentage of Americans are in favor of that.”
The most important thing that Americans who want to support Muslims can do is fight ignorance, says Harvard. False information and conspiracy theories spread fast online, so it’s on us to point them out and speak up against Islamophobia, whether we see it in the White House or around the dinner table. “Whenever you see an Islamophobic post or an article that’s misleading or has a xenophobic, Islamophobic agenda, you can counter that. That’s where we should start,” says Harvard.
No matter what kind of activism you’re doing, one person you definitely want to have on your team is a badass lawyer from the ACLU. Chase Strangio is a staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project in New York City and also works to raise cash bail for LGBTQ people in the criminal and immigration enforcement systems. He’s been thinking a lot about what it means to organize in the Trump era, when someone who has promised policies that are racist and misogynistic is now in power, stacking the federal government with people who have records of pushing for anti-immigrant laws and applauding homophobic policies.
“It’s felt both like a year and an hour since the election results came in,” says Strangio. One big thing he sees on the horizon is the possibility of Trump rescinding executive orders that protect LGBTQ people. During his presidency, Obama signed a number of orders that expand and protect the rights of LGBTQ people, including a law that bans federal contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ employees, a law that says schools who receive federal funding can’t discriminate against transgender students, and a law that protects LGBTQ people in federally funded housing.
“In Congress, I think we have to be vigilant. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see a lot of anti-LGBT legislation, and we don’t have the ability in Congress to stop a lot of that,” says Chase. “We could potentially have a federal law that looks like North Carolina’s HB2, which defines sex in a way that deliberately excludes transgender people.”
Since Republicans will control both the House and Senate, Strangio is clear that working to push LGBTQ-friendly policies at the federal level might not be the best way to go. While he’s a lawyer and spends his energy fighting back against unjust laws through the legal system, Strangio knows that the legal system isn’t the only route for resistance, especially if the Supreme Court and Congress and president are all against you. Instead, Chase is looking to get resources and support for people who have been on the ground organizing to stop deportations, homophobia, and transphobia.
“I think so much of what needs to happen right now as we gear up for this unknown paradigm is to get resources into the hands of people [who] have been doing the organizing for a long time. Communities of color have built survival and resistance strategies. They have resiliently been fighting deportations under the Obama administration. Trans communities of color have been surviving in the face of state-sponsored violence for a very long time.” He points to several groups to support: Southerners on New Ground, the Trans Latina Project, and the Transgender, Gender Variant, & Intersex Justice Project.
“We’re going to be out there litigating and fighting to hold back the repressive laws that we may see, but we’ve got to get resources to folks working on the ground.”
While Trump feels like a huge shock, the beginning of a new, more terrible era, in a lot of ways this is not new at all. The support for Trump has deep roots in America’s history of white supremacy and xenophobia. But for as long as there have been people like Trump around, there have been people resisting bigotry, too. “[What] we need to be doing is reading our histories and understanding our legacies of resistance. We don’t learn from our history in this country as a general matter. One thing I’m trying to do is connect with the elders in the trans community,” says Strangio.
In learning from elders and building community, Strangio says it’s crucial to keep “telling a story of survival” and to use every resource possible to fight unjust laws. “That’s the plan for now, to just never tire in our insistence that white supremacy is both the foundation of our country and completely unacceptable. We have responsibility as white lawyers, which I am, to disrupt that. That’s our mandate moving forward, to put our bodies, our lives, our love on the line to really keep the most vulnerable members of our community alive in the face of whatever might happen next.”
The day after the election, a hashtag popped up on Twitter: #TransLawHelp. It’s a place to share resources, like legal help, for transgender people who want to get their paperwork updated before Trump’s inauguration.
“I thought I had plenty of time to get this done,” says Riley, who started the hashtag. “But now I’m running out of time.”
Like many other transgender people, Riley is now rushing to file necessary paperwork before Trump’s January inauguration. Navigating the bureaucracy around changing your gender identification on government-issued identification is often tricky. The costs of filing the paperwork can be prohibitive, too, often reaching up to $550. Lawyers started offering Riley legal help and they figured many other transgender people would benefit from the offers of help, too. So Riley started up the hashtag #TransLawHelp to be a place for legal professionals to offer resources to people who were rushing to update their legal IDs.
Within hours, the hashtag grew enormously as lawyers and other legal professionals jumped in to offer advice and services. Wanting to turn all those resources into a place that people could access if they’re not on Twitter, Riley and some friends bought a domain and started building TransLawHelp.org—it helps that Riley is a web developer for their day job, and they got support from Heather Lynn Rose Jo, Sarah Brie, and Linn Oyen Farley. By Friday, TransLawHelp.org had become a significant database of trans-positive legal resources for lawyers, notaries, and paralegals who are up for pitching in to help trans people update their documents. There’s also a link to an official fund so people can donate to cover the costs of document updates for trans people.
The core of Trump’s campaign was one huge promise: Build a wall. Welp, now that he’s coming into office, the huge question is: How will deportation work in the Trump era? How many families will be broken up? How many refugees will be turned away? And what can those of us who know immigrants are good for America do to help immigrant communities in this scary time.
Just to get this straight, the last eight years have been tough for immigrants in the United States. The Obama administration has actually deported more people than any other president. But the next four years will likely be even worse, says Alisa Wellek, the Executive Director of the Immigrant Defense Project.
“We expect the Trump administration to take it to a whole new level,” says Wellek. “A lot of us are thinking right now about what we can do at a city and state level to make sure folks are protected once Trump’s administration comes in. We know their plans are to deport millions of people, probably with very little due process. We need defenses in place to stand up against that.”
One idea that’s been getting a lot of traction is establishing sanctuary cities. This is an idea that started in the 1980s. U.S. religious institutions started providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants fleeing violence in El Salvador and Guatemala—refugees who couldn’t get asylum in the United States thanks to Cold War politics. Now, entire cities are declaring themselves sanctuary sites. These are cities where the local government has said they won’t report people’s immigration statuses to federal authorities.
“That’s something local governments can do, but they need advocates to push for it,” says Wellek. That means reaching out to local politicians to let them know you support making your city a sanctuary site.
Since Trump’s election, officials in at least 10 major cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., reaffirmed their commitment to upholding their sanctuary policies. New York state just passed a measure to fund immigration attorneys for everyone who needs one—unlike the right to attorneys in criminal court cases, in most of the country, there are no public defenders for immigration cases, so people have to figure out how to pay for their own or hope someone will take their case pro bono. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s repugnant pick for attorney general, has already said that sanctuary cities should face federal prosecution. But, the cities are still holding strong.
The role race played in the election of Trump is undeniable. According to exit polls, a majority of white men voted for Trump, as did a majority of white women. The need to talk with white people about racism is clear, but having those conversations is often awkward at best. That’s where Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) comes in.
“We are obsessed with organizing white folks to organize around racial justice,” says SURJ codirector Heather Cronk. She urges white people to bring up issues like Trump’s appointment of white supremacists, the need for groups like Black Lives Matter, and the way mass deportations hurt communities even when it feels awkward.
“Something a lot of white folks get hung up on is not only feeling uncomfortable having that conversation, but feeling like you have to get it exactly right. We encourage people to just do it anyway,” says Cronk. “There are many holidays coming up, folks are likely going to be spending time with friends and family, this is a great opportunity to lean into those conversations.”
SURJ is working on some talking points and primers on how to have these conversations. But I asked Cronk to walk me through what she’s learned. She says the first big thing, after not avoiding the conversation itself, is to ask questions about what motivated people to vote for Trump so then you can talk about policies.
“What we know doesn’t work is avoiding conversations about race, class, and gender, and about how all of those things intersect…. Let’s create space for folks to air, ‘Here’s why I’m afraid.’ Then we have an opportunity to dispel that. It does us no good to pretend that doesn’t exist. Let’s air it, so then we can help pull it apart.”
Showing Up for Racial Justice is specifically focused on trying to get white people to talk to other white people about race. It’s not on everyone to have this conversation—especially if it feels physically unsafe—but for people who can, it’s on us to help make change.
“Not all white folks are experiencing this election in the same way,” says Cronk. “I identify as queer, and for a lot of queer folks, especially a lot of trans folks, you’re experiencing having these conversations with friends and family in different ways. I would never say to folks, ‘You have to have this conversation.’ For a lot of folks, that’s not safe. But in the ways that we are able, it’s important to have these conversations while always, of course, doing this in ways that are sustainable and make it possible for us to have that second conversation and that third conversation.”