After the election of Trump, a lot of people are asking “What now?” For today’s show, we 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 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.
• Featured on this show, in order, is Zahir Janmohamed of the podcast Racist Sandwich, Renee Bracey Sherman of the National Network of Abortion Funds, Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab, Carlos Maza of Media Matters for America, Rachel Godsil of the Perception Institute, Sarah Harvard of Mic.com, Chase Strangio of the ACLU, Riley of TransLawHelp, Alisa Welleck of the Immigrant Defense Project, and Heather Cronk of Showing Up for Racial Justice. We’ve got a good team here, friends.
• As mentioned in the episode, Showing up for Racial Justice launched a holiday family conversation discussion guide. Check it out here.
• A text version of this podcast is findable—and shareable!—right here.
• The photo featured on this episode is by Lorie Shaull (Creative Commons).
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SARAH MIRK: 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 will be stopping immigration of Muslims? A white nationalist, anti-Semitic guy with a history of domestic violence is going to be a 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 like a Hunger Games situation or is this…real life?
Sadly, yes, this is real life.
And if you’re anything like me, since Donald Trump was elected on November 8th, you’ve been fluctuating between determined rage and depressed nihilism. One hour, I’ll be all fired up, ready to go, calling my senators and telling them to oppose Trump’s horrendous cabinet appointments. The next hour, I’ll feel hopeless and overwhelmed and dissolve into tears thinking about all the terribleness that’s in the four years ahead and all the terribleness that got us here.
Then it passes, like a wave. It’s okay to feel sad, and 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 that Trump’s in office. His looming presidency means that 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.
On today’s show, 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 crafting big 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 at a grassroots, person-to-person way. This is stuff everyone can do, even if you don’t have a lot of time or money or influence or emotional care-taking ability to spare. It’s about working in small ways, and big ways, and taking time to make sure that we stay safe, and we stay loved in Trump’s America. Let’s go.
Idea One: Write a letter to your senator.
All right. I’m here with one of my favorite people, Zahir Janmohamed. Hi.
ZAHIR: Hey. How’s it going, Sarah? Thanks so much. it’s an honor to be on the show.
SARAH M: Aw, thanks. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
ZAHIR: Sure. So my name is Zahir. I’m a journalist in Portland, a freelance writer. I also teach at the Attic; I teach a non-fiction writing class. And I cofounded a podcast called Racist Sandwich.
SARAH M: And you personally have a strong background in politics. What’s your experience there?
ZAHIR: Yeah. I worked for nine years in politics. I worked at Amnesty International, where I was one of the directors. I focused on the Middle East and North Africa. Then I worked in the US Congress for Keith Ellison as a senior foreign policy aide from 2009 to 2011. So Keith Ellison is a Democrat from Minnesota. He’s the first African American from the state of Minnesota elected to the US Congress. He’s also the first Muslim elected to the US Congress. I was in his office when the Republicans came to power in the Congress in 2010. So when the Tea Party Republicans came in, I was there.
SARAH M: What was that feeling like?
ZAHIR: That was crazy. That was wild. And partly, I saw a lot of this nonsense that we see with Trump, I saw the seeds of that being planted when the Republicans came in in 2010. For example, in 2010, this new batch of Republicans were shaming Democrats for– I mean, I saw them making fun of Democrats for being gay. I saw their not-so-subtle anti-Semitism. I saw them shame my boss for being Muslim. I saw them going after young staffers of color.
SARAH M: These are people who were elected to office, to Congress.
ZAHIR: Yeah. I’ll give you an example. I remember in 2011, just before I left–and this is part of the reason why I left–there were Republicans, Republican Congresswoman Sue Myrick, for example, who was circulating this blog that said that these various young, Muslim staffers in Congress were spies for the Muslim Brotherhood.
SARAH M: Wow!
ZAHIR: I was older at the time. So I got my start in politics long time ago in the ’90s where this climate just didn’t exist. But here you have these young kids from Georgetown and Harvard trying to get their foot in the door, and someone is saying that they’re spies because they happened to hang out in Egypt for a summer studying Arabic as part of the Harvard exchange program. But to me, what was really hard about that moment is look, I recognize that a lot of these Republicans were assholes. It was the Democratic leadership that was really silent at the time, and that really bothered me because we were going to a lot of Democratic leadership, saying, “Hey. We’re seeing this. We’re seeing this new band of Tea Party Republicans, and they’re playing politics in a very different way. And we don’t really know how to respond.” So for example, they would wait outside our office, and they would put their–the iPhone had just really become popular–they’d put their iPhones out and say, “What do you think about the death penalty?” And we’re like, “Well, I’m personally against it,” for example. And they’d say, “Well, does that mean you don’t support executing Hitler?” And I was like, “Well, go on.”
SARAH M: What?!
ZAHIR: And then I was like, “Well–”
SARAH M: And you’re just like, “How are we supposed to respond? What are we supposed to do with that?”
ZAHIR: And then, the next question is like, “Yeah, how do you say it? Does that mean you agree with Hitler?” I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Settle down.”
SARAH M: [laughs] Wow.
ZAHIR: And I didn’t know how to deal with that at the time. I still don’t know how to deal with that, but that used to happen a lot where the Congressman I worked for who might be the next DNC Chair, would get all these sort of “gotcha” moments. And the thing about it is, I’m not saying Democrats are saints, but I saw a new level of politics being played. The Republicans never checked that, but then the Democrats kind of were sleeping on it, and they didn’t really empower communities. They didn’t fight anti-Semitism to the extent that I think they should have. They didn’t really stop these new Tea Party members from vilifying staffers of color. So when they went after Black staffers in Congress, I didn’t see really people standing up for them. That’s kind of a shame, you know?
SARAH M: I think what you’re pointing out there is really important, is that during this campaign and over the last few years, one thing that’s really shown is how Democrats have real problems with reaching out to communities of color.
SARAH M: Not just reaching out in a lip service kind of way but actually pushing for policies that promote racial equity, pushing for policies that stop racial bias in policing, pushing for policies that end mass incarceration instead of just being able to count on those votes. Democrats can count on the votes of people of color cuz in a lot of ways, it’s like well, it’s better than Trump, you know? But I think there’s been a real failure there of actually being like, “Oh, we’re gonna actually push for something” rather than just say, “Oh, yeah, of course. Embrace all people.”
ZAHIR: Yeah, absolutely. I think Democrats have often time taken for granted a lot of things, not just voices of color, but also people who are denouncing a lot of the misogyny. I saw this absurd misogyny when I worked in Congress, like just absurd where female applicants were rated on how they look, for example. I mean, it’s just absurd. I’m not a big fan of Hillary Clinton, but when she lost, I took it really hard because I saw the absurd amount of misogyny that she had to deal with.
SARAH M: Mmhmm.
ZAHIR: For example, politicians have what they’re called “briefing books.” She had to double her briefing book to a massive amount because she knows that when she would walk into a meeting, men are always trying to undercut her. So now for us, I think as people of color, as progressives, as feminists, I think we have to push back to our Democrats and say, “There are consequences to you not speaking up.” Now, not consequences, not like we’re gonna threaten them with physical action. No, not at all. But for example, go to a member of Congress and say, “I really want you to address this issue.” And if they don’t, write a letter to the editor. Write an op-ed in their local newspaper. I know that when I worked for Keith Ellison, that will get you to notice.
SARAH M: Well, I guess that’s my question for you is, how are you thinking about how people can engage in politics better now that we live in a Trump era? Does doing things like calling my Congressman and calling my Senator and emailing the Mayor, does that actually do anything? Or am I just trying to make myself feel better by picking up the phone and calling my Democratic Senator and be like, “Hey, denounce Steve Bannon, please.”
ZAHIR: Well, OK, I’ll say this. When I worked in Congress, that’s kind of when the iPhone and Twitter was really becoming popular. So our mail volume just quadrupled. Now, what I would say is those form letters–and I will call them out–like MoveOn.org, where you click on, and you send a letter–
SARAH M: Like a, “Sign this petition. Click here.”
ZAHIR: To be honest, supposing we used to get maybe 10,000 of those, we count that as one correspondence, right?
SARAH M: Wow.
ZAHIR: But supposing, let’s say, a person named Alex writes in and says, “Hey, I’m Alex. I’m your constituent, and I’m concerned about this issue. I don’t like the fact that my friend who’s gay is being bullied at school,” and you specify the name,” and here’s my phone number,” we’re going to respond if it’s something very personal. So that’s number one.
Number two is I also like when someone will follow up too. For example, if we say, “OK, Alex, we’re gonna respond,” and then if we don’t respond, then I’d like you to say, “I’m gonna write about this.” Because that’s gonna escalate because sometimes politicians won’t act unless they’re pressured. They have to see consequences. That’s the way politics works. Politics works when someone unfortunately threatens you with some sort of consequence. Now, I feel like everyone is attacking Steve Bannon, rightfully so, for being this anti-Semite that might be in the White House as a chief strategist. I personally have been reaching out to Democrats that represent me and say, “Why am I not seeing you speaking out about this guy?” I’m not reaching out to Steve Bannon or to Trump. Trump’s not gonna listen to me. But I’m reaching out to my representative and saying, “I wanna see you on the House floor, I wanna see you in your interviews talk about why the White House should not include an anti-Semite like Steve Bannon.” So I do believe it makes a big difference. I’m not trying to say protests on the streets don’t. We all have different strategies. But I can assure people it makes a difference. What I don’t think really works is a) the mass petitions, b) the Twitter stuff, c) the Facebook stuff.
SARAH M: By the Twitter stuff, you just mean saying on Twitter, “Oh, I wish Steven Bannon wasn’t–”
ZAHIR: I mean, if you have a massive following on Twitter, if you’re some sort of celebrity, and you tag a member of Congress, yeah, you’ll get noticed. But unless you have a really massive following or a publication or something behind you, they’re not gonna respond. But I know this: It’s a secret that all of us congressional staffers know. Every member of Congress has Google alerts in their name.
SARAH M: [laughs]
ZAHIR: Every single one.
SARAH M: And they actually read that!
ZAHIR: Oh my god! I cannot tell you! We would sit in the back of congressional hearings, and all of a sudden you’d see this member of Congress. And he’s pull out his phone, and he’d be like, “Oh my god! I cannot believe someone in Denver, Colorado’s writing about me!” I would be like, “Yo, that’s a blogger with two people on his blog, following his blog.”
SARAH M: But they actually read it.
ZAHIR: Oh my god. I cannot tell you. They get so irritated. They get so irritated! But Twitter is different, right? Cuz Twitter is like drinking out of a fire hose. But if you have a blog, and you say, for example, my member of Congress, I still am a California voter, is Ami Bera, Sacramento. If I say, “Where is Congressman Bera talking about this anti-Semitism that’s creeping into the next White House?” And if I write a post about it, that’s gonna get somewhere. He’s gonna say, “OK, one of my voters is concerned.”
SARAH M: I’m somebody who’s really active on Twitter and active on Facebook, and I feel like there are great political uses for that. It’s a great place to find and build community.
SARAH M: It’s a great place to share resources, to share ideas, and to share articles. But what I’m hearing from you is that your activism has to extend beyond Twitter. It has to extend beyond Facebook.
SARAH M: If you’re posting a tweet that’s shouting about Steve Bannon, pick up the phone and call your Democratic Representatives or whoever your Representatives are, and also shout on the phone about it [laughs]!
SARAH M: Or write a blog post about it and publish it.
ZAHIR: Yeah, totally. I don’t mean to sound like a grouchy old man, cuz I do think Twitter and Facebook are hugely important. So don’t run away from Twitter and Facebook. These are such important organizing tools. But in terms of influencing members of Congress, influencing elected officials– You know, when my boss really wanted to make a strong gesture to one of his supporters, he writes handwritten notes. That’s really the way politics works. I think most elected officials that I know probably write ten handwritten notes a day.
SARAH M: Wow.
ZAHIR: Think about it because how many emails do you get a day or tweets do you get a day? But if someone sends you a handwritten note, it kind of just sticks out, right? It’s like whoa, wait a minute. So it means a lot when you get a handwritten note. If you write a handwritten note to your member of Congress, as long as it’s legible, I guarantee you it’s gonna be read.
SARAH M: [laughs]
ZAHIR: If you’re listening, and if you have a child, and if your child writes a letter to your member of Congress saying, “Dear Congressman, I’m Jewish American. I’m really nervous about this Steven Bannon who’s coming in the next White House. Please do something.” I guarantee, not only will that be read, but it’ll probably be taken to the House floor and held up. But I never seen a member of Congress being like, “Well, my god. Look what someone’s tweeting about me.” I just don’t see it that way because we have Twitterbots; we have these who knows whose accounts are real. Do you know what I mean?
SARAH M: In celebration of the US Postal Service, assuming it’s not shut down and gutted under Donald Trump–
ZAHIR: [laughs] Who knows!
SARAH M: –before he sets fire to the US Postal Service building, write a letter.
ZAHIR: I hope that doesn’t. Well yeah, do. Please do. Absolutely. Thanks for having me on.
SARAH M: Of course. Thanks so much for all the work you do, Zahir.
SARAH M: Idea two: Support your local abortion fund
You know those people who are somehow both very personable and friendly and the hardest fighting, most determined person you know? Yeah. One of those people is Renee Bracey Sherman.
RENEE: Hi. My name is Renee Bracey Sherman. I’m the Senior Public Affairs Manager at the National Network of Abortion Funds.
SARAH M: The national network of abortion funds helps people access an abortion when they want one. So abortion, as you know, is a protected right in this country, thanks to Roe v. Wade, but the procedure is more expensive than some people can afford. And as right-wing groups have campaigned to shut down abortion-providing clinics around the country, some people have had to drive hundreds of miles to get abortions, or even fly across the country. The National Network of Abortion Funds works with 70 abortion funds around the country to help people deal with those financial and logistical barriers. And Renee, no surprise, is really worried about what will happen to reproductive rights under a Trump-Pence administration.
RENEE: A lot of people have been saying, “Oh, well, let’s give Trump a chance. He made all these grandiose promises. I don’t think he’s really gonna do them.” He’s going to. He’s shown who he is, and he will make sure that we do not have access to healthcare, particularly reproductive healthcare. Misogyny and white supremacy are living in the White House very openly, and we need to be vigilant. He has all of these ideas about how he’s gonna bring the economy back and bring jobs back, but he’s not going to be able to accomplish any of those things. And so the people who voted for him are gonna wanna cash in on what they voted for. So in order to be able to give them something, he’s going to harm the people he can get to, the people who are most marginalized, the people who depend on the government for everything from food to healthcare, and he’s going to hit us hard. Especially with Mike Pence as his Vice President. Mike Pence made his career as a Congressman trying to defund Planned Parenthood. Mike Pence has thrown two women of color in jail in Indiana for attempting suicide and her fetus dying, and then another woman for suspicion of self-inducing an abortion. And so he has no problem harming us for simply choosing an abortion.
There is probably an abortion fund in your state or in your city, depending on wherever you’re living. Call them; get involved.
SARAH M: Of course abortion funds need money. So you can always donate. But they also need volunteers for a bunch of different roles, like being a clinic escort who helps people walk safely past the clinics if there are protesters, or people to provide childcare.
RENEE: If you have those skills, show up, be counted, do what you can.
What I used to do when I got involved in the movement, I did what’s called practical support. I used to drive people to their abortion appointments. I’d meet up with them and give them gas money so they could actually make it to the appointment in their own cars. I used to house people overnight. A lot of folks, if they’re having a later abortion, or they have to meet the state mandated multiple appointments, so anywhere from a 24-48, so 72-hour waiting period, that actually means that if they are unable to afford a hotel overnight at the clinic or go back home, a lot of people are sleeping in their cars. So if you can open up your home to give them a place to rest their head safely, that makes a huge difference in their life.
SARAH M: I asked Renee what people could do to protect their own bodies and reproductive rights before Trump gets into office. She’s got four words for you: get your birth control.
RENEE: If you need birth control, make sure you get it. If you have insurance right now with the Affordable Care Act, birth control and other women’s health, reproductive health services are considered preventative services. So they’re available without an additional copay. That may go away because we know that Vice President-elect Pence believes that employers should not have to pay for birth control, particularly IUDs, because he believes they cause abortions. So we can actually be sure that there will be something that happens to our access around any sort of IUD or emergency contraception, things like that.
SARAH M: I took Renee’s advice straight-away. I’ve got an appointment for a new IUD booked, Hopefully my Mirena will last my through the entire Trump-Pence presidency. On the one hand, I feel like I’m stocking up on supplies for my survivalist uterus bunker. On the other hand, Donald Trump is going to be our President. This is a code red situation.
RENEE: Really I would just suggest that everyone talk about abortion. Talk about what’s happening. Talk about the white supremacy that is leaving Black and Brown people, our muslim friends, feeling terrified. This is not some sort of philosophical exercise. This is not a joke, and that is just an injustice in this nation.
I was at Facing Race Conference this past weekend, and my dear friend, Chanel Matthews, who’s the Communications Director of Black Lives Matter said, “We will get through this.” But what keeps her up at night is that some people will not. Some people will die [sniffing back tears]. And that is scary, and yet, to be at that conference and to have received text messages and emails and tweets and all sort of things from people asking me, “OK, where do I sign up? What do I do,” that is what gets me up every single day. And I know that we will stand tall, we will stand together, and we will fight back.
SARAH M: Idea three: Stop fake news.
So in this election, there’s been a lot of discussion about the role that media played in covering Trump and covering Clinton. But there’s this whole other world, a shadowy weirdo world, of media that came to light during this election cycle: Fake news. Sites that exist just to publish fake news that they know will get clicks. I called up someone who’s been keeping an eye on the rise of fake news over the past year.
JOSH: Hi, I’m Josh Benton. I’m Director of the Neiman Journalism Lab at Harvard. We basically try and think about what the future of news looks like. Facebook has, as I’m sure everyone knows, has become a dominant driver of attention to news and to everything else. Facebook has an amplification quality. People who have friends who are in certain demographic group or within a certain geographic group or share an ideological group, they tend to share self-reinforcing ideas.
SARAH M: This is about making money. Because Facebook drives the online advertising economy, people looking to make a buck figure out how to game that system. Five years ago, they might have been gaming search engine optimization rankings, but now they’re publishing fake articles about, how, say, Hillary Clinton is paying anti-Trump protesters. And that drives traffic to their sites and to their advertisers.
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. That means the conspiracy theories and misinformation weren’t limited to a fringe group of guys in the basement. They were being shared by millions and millions of people, including, for example, the mayor of Joshua’s hometown in Louisiana.
JOSH: The piece I wrote about, I went back and look at the mayor of my hometown’s Facebook page. I don’t know him, but I knew he was the mayor. He was sharing things such as Pope Francis has endorsed Donald Trump. That was one story. South Louisiana is a heavily Catholic area. So that was a significant story. Barak Obama had finally confessed that he was born in Kenya. That Hillary Clinton–the FBI agent who was investigating Hillary Clinton was suspiciously murder, strongly implying that Hillary Clinton was behind that. These sorts of things.
SARAH M: That Pope Francis story? It was shared over 860,000 times on Facebook. How many people saw that, and how did it affect their votes? I asked Joshua if hew knew where those stories came from.
JOSH: Yeah, those were all imaginary news sites. I mean, one of the big ones this past cycle was something called The Denver Guardian, which sounds like it would be a newspaper. But it’s not a newspaper. That was the fake FBI agent murdered story. That story got hundreds of thousands of shares, again, despite being a site that doesn’t exist. There are a number of these sites that actually actively mix true stories with false stories so they’re a little bit harder to peg. But I do think the lesson from this past election is that fake news is cheaper to produce than real news, it has a clearer set of heroes and villains than real news, it is uncomplicated, and it connects directly with the emotional core of people, right? Facebook likes to talk about itself as an open platform, as a place where people are sharing the information they want to share. They sometimes use that to step back from any responsibility they might have, to, say, limit the flow of fake news.
SARAH M: Facebook has taken some efforts since the election to crack down on fake news. But, you know, they’re driven by profit. So who knows whether they’ll work to redesign the platform. No matter what they do, it’s on us as, in part news consumers to help stop the spread of fake news. This is about basic media literacy. Before you share something on your social media, 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. Stop fake news in its tracks.
JOSH: And also just be aware that there are a lot of people on these platforms who are actively trying to fool you. Facebook is a mix of really healthy news and really unhealthy news and garbage. Don’t be too quick to share things that seem too perfect, that seem like exactly proving that someone is the enemy and someone is the good guy. That’s a tough situation to be in.
SARAH M: Idea four: Diversify your media.
Amid all the media post-mortem on this election, people have been analyzing what went wrong with the way news outlets covered the election and the way bigoted and untrue information got traction on social media. But some people have been shouting about those problems long before the election. Carlos Maza is one of those people.
CARLOS: Hi, my name is Carlos Maza, and I’m a Research Fellow at Media Matters for America, which is a progressive media watchdog group based in Washington D.C.
SARAH M: Carlos is one of the first people I saw who directly called out the way mainstream news outlets were reporting on Donald Trump and the coded language around his behavior. Way back in May, Carlos put together a video about why we should call Donald Trump what he is: racist and bigoted, not just a “controversial outsider.”
[Video clip, rock music, crowds in background of video]
CARLOS: Donald Trump wants to reinvent himself as a serious candidate, now that it’s general election time, which is f***ing terrifying because he’s running one of the most bigoted presidential campaigns in recent history. But news networks have spent the past 10 months treating him like just an unfiltered, tough-talking conservative. And that’s doing a lot of damage to the way we talk about bigotry in American politics.
NEWSCASTER: It’s Donald Trump’s tough talk and brash style that took him to the top of the GOP field.
CARLOS.: Since day one, Trump’s campaign has been defined by racial and religious bigotry. There’s the little stuff, like retweeting white supremacists, pretending to not know who David Duke is, and saying “the” before he talks about minority groups.
TRUMP: I’m gonna do great with the African Americans. I think I’m gonna do great with the Hispanics.
CARLOS: Seriously. Who does that?
SARAH M: Now that Carlos’s worst fears have come true, I asked him to explain what’s most been most frustrating about the way reporters covered Donald Trump during this past year.
CARLOS: I think some of the most frustrating things about media coverage in America–and I think this is true more broadly–is this really weird, inexplicable in my mind, devotion to the idea that there are two sides to every story, and we can’t really know the truth; we just have to present every side of an issue and hope the people can figure it out. You see that on basically every issue, whether it’s climate change or social justice. Anytime there is an objective right, news outlets do their best to avoid saying something is objectively right.
SARAH M: Carlos says that a good media diet is full of original reporting and fact-based reporting, and less of the stuff of most cable news channels traffic in: the pundit commentary.
CARLOS: You should always avoid media that emphasizes commentary and reaction rather than original reporting and investigative journalism. What that does is lends itself to news that is overly sensationalized, relies heavily on partisan commentary that is often divorced from facts, and just is, in terms of nutritional value, is not actually informative or interesting for a viewer to understand. It doesn’t lend to a typical civilian being able to make sense of what’s right and what’s wrong and what’s important and what’s not important.
SARAH M: 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.
CARLOS: You can watch CNN for 15 hours straight and get very little useful knowledge about what’s happening in the world. It’s just not worth your time after a while. It will make you more prone to thinking that arguing is news, when it’s not. It’s just people arguing.”
SARAH M: Carlos makes a very important point: figure out who is writing your news. Who is actually making the media you’re consuming, and what backgrounds are they bringing to the table?
CARLOS: Check and be aware of if the newsroom that you’re consuming from is diverse. I know that newsroom diversity sounds like such a boring, feel-good trope. The more diverse a newsroom is, the less chance there’s gonna be that a report you read has a just glaring blind spot or takes bullshit seriously or trust people that should not be trusted. Any newsroom that does not have diversity as a central priority and defining trait of what good journalism looks like is not worth your time and should be treated with a tremendous amount of suspicion. Because more likely than not, you’re gonna get news that is just grossly incomplete and leads you to conclusions that are not based on reality but are based in the natural biases of that newsroom.
SARAH M: Idea five: Get out of your echo chamber
So our media can be very damaging in some ways; 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. To talk about the way pop culture can challenge the stereotypes that we hold in our heads, I called up a woman who has a very long job title.
RACHEL: Hi, my name is Rachel Godsill. I’m the Cofounder and Director of Research at the Perception Institute, a consortium of social psychologists, law professors–of which I’m also one–and advocates focusing on the mind sciences in law policy and culture.
SARAH M: Rachel Godsill 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 a certain group of people is let’s say 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, Rachel and her co-authors argued that pop culture can be a force for positive good. Movies and TV shows can actually counter the negative stereotypes that deluge us.
RACHEL: And what we found was actually very encouraging and not, I guess, completely surprising. Since we know pop culture can be extraordinarily powerful in creating negative stereotypes, it potentially follows that it can also be effective and helpful at reducing the bias that stems from those stereotypes.
SARAH M: Rachel 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 comedian Asif Manvi.
RACHEL: Their goal was to use kind of Norman Lear-style humor to see if they could educe anti-Muslim bias.
SARAH M: The study looked at how the people who watched the clips of Halal in the Family perceived Muslims, compared to the way people who watched a different comedy series thought of the group.
RACHEL: We had to find something that was similarly funny but didn’t involve, frankly, sex or race. So Everybody Loves Raymond was very helpful.
SARAH M: Wait, wait. Everybody Loves Raymond is funny?
RACHEL: Well…you know, close enough. Close enough [chuckles]. But the upshot was that people who watched Halal in the Family had lower levels of implicit bias against Muslims than did people who watched this–our control–Everybody Loves Raymond. Now perhaps you could say it’s because Asif Manvi is funnier. But if that’s the case, that’s OK because the humor was effective. So that was a small example. And there was actually another study done, Little Mosque on the Prairie, in Canada that had a similar result. So there’ve been a couple of studies like that, not a huge number, but a few studies that have showed that when people watch pop culture, cleverly done, well done shows, television shows, movies, that it can move their perceptions.
SARAH M: The message here: In pop culture, diversity works.
RACHEL: The most effective way to reduce bias is to have actual human interaction with people who are from different groups than you. Although the human interaction has to be, in some ways, peer-to-peer. so obviously, seeing people of different races and ethnicities as you pass them in a store, that’s not gonna do anything. There has to be some sort of actual interaction between people. But when we do have interactions with people, particularly in positive contexts, and when we have some sort of shared goals, if we’re on a PTA together, or if we’re on a softball team together, or work together in a relatively positive work environment, it’s remarkable how much people’s bias gets lower. And even more remarkably in some ways, if you have relationships with people who are of other races and ethnicities, and you tell members of your family–even if they don’t have those relationships–hearing about your relationships, if they’re people who are really close to you, that can be enough to reduce their bias.
I mean, if you live in a really diverse community, then pop culture isn’t as likely to be as influential because you’re having real-life experiences with people. But it still matters, frankly.
SARAH M: So if you live somewhere that’s not very racially diverse, watching movies and TV shows that center on a group other than your own, and portray them in a positive, humane way, can help create real-life positive feelings. Of course, pop culture also gives people an in-road to talking about subjects around race, gender, and class that are often tough to bring up.
RACHEL: You can watch Blackish together and have conversations about the characters and what they’re experiencing. And that can be, again, a powerful way for people to see these families are grappling with some of the same things that I’m grappling with and some things that I don’t have to grapple with that I perhaps wouldn’t have thought about before.
Idea six: Fight ignorance
SARAH M: 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 religious-based discrimination terrible validity, bigotry toward Muslim Americans is, of course, not new. It’s something journalist Sarah Harvard knows all too well.
SARAH H: My name is Sarah Harvard. I’m a staff writer at Mic for the Identity section, and I cover religion, race, and where that intersects with politics.
Islamophobia didn’t start with Donald Trump. It really intensified right after 9/11 and even instances before then with Orientalism being popular among Americans and American politics and American culture. But right now, I’m seeing a huge shift where before, Muslim Americans were afraid of systemic violence, but more so in the sense of surveillance and covert operations or entrapment cases, which were happening a lot within our communities but not in a very large sense. But now, our priorities shift to basic survival. It’s not only that we have to worry about systemic violence or police brutality–because a lot of Muslim Americans are African American or Hispanic–but now we have to worry whether or not our neighbors are gonna attack us.
SARAH M: I asked Sarah what she’s most worried about on Donald Trump’s agenda.
SARAH H: I personally don’t want to speak on behalf of all Muslim Americans, but from my understanding, a lot of them are terrified because there’s a sense of uncertainty. With a Hillary Clinton presidency, we kind of know what to expect. She’s not really that great when it comes to civil liberties, on policies that incriminates Muslim Americans, but we know what to expect; we know how to protect ourself. But with Donald Trump he’s so unexpected. So we’re not really sure if he’s gonna go forward with his Muslim ban proposal or his plan to register Muslims.
And we’re not sure Donald Trump’s going to use Rudy Giuliani’s suggestion of using tagging devices on Muslim Americans to track them. These things sound so outlandish. As a Muslim American, as someone who’s also Japanese American, I would assume that we would learn from our lessons about how horrible it is to put Japanese Americans into internment camps. Never would I ever thought that we would talk about registering Muslims into a database or using tagging devices on them like they’re cattle. But here we are in 2016 ,and politicians and lawmakers are openly discussing about it. And what’s even more scary is that a huge number of Americans–or maybe a majority percentage of Americans–are in favor of that or are undecided. I think that’s what’s terrifying. Not only is our lawmakers and people we elected to represent us are proposing policies that harm and affect us and alienate us, our neighbors are also supporting it or are staying silent on it. That’s scary.
SARAH M: I asked Sarah Harvard what those of us who don’t wanna stay silent, who wanna support our Muslim friends and neighbors, can do to help stop this kind of bigotry every day.
SARAH H: I think the most important thing you can do is to ensure that you’re fighting off ignorance. Right now, we are in the digital age. We have social media, and the sad thing about that is that false information, conspiracy theories, and rumors can spread fast. But the good thing about it is that we also have information in our fingertips, and it’s limitless, essentially. So whenever you see an Islamaphobic post or an article that’s very misleading or has a certain xenophobic, Islamaphobic agenda, is to counter that.
SARAH M: Idea seven: Learn from histories of resistance.
No matter what kind of activism you’re doing, one person you definitely wanna have on your team is a badass lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union.
CHASE: My name is Chase Strangio. I am a staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV project in New York City. I also do organizing within the trans community, particularly around access to cash bail and immigration bond for LGBT people in the criminal and immigration enforcement systems.
SARAH M: Chase says he’s thinking a lot about what it means to organize in the Trump era, where 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. I asked Chase what he’s worried about most.
CHASE: One thing that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about is well, how can we provide cash resources to LGBT immigrants who are, particularly immigrants who are undocumented, but really any immigrant who’s not a naturalized US citizen? And going back to the days where we had more cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement, the secure communities, the “criminal alien program,” those things have not been enforced as much in cities like New York. But I think we could see an escalation of that. So making sure that we’re getting to arraignments, to people’s first court appearances, and getting them out of jail, getting them out of police custody as soon as possible, I think that’s something that absolutely we have to be worried about and thinking about and really building resources for the immigration enforcement crisis that may be coming.
SARAH M: One big thing Chase sees on the horizon is that Trump could rescind executive orders that protect LGBT people. During his presidency, Obama signed a number of orders that expand and protect the rights of LGBT people, including a law that bans federal contractors from discrimination, a law that says schools who receive federal funding can’t discriminate against transgender students, and a law that protects LGBT people in federally funded housing.
CHASE: In Congress, I think we just have to be vigilant. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see a lot of anti-LGBT legislation. We don’t have the ability in Congress to stop a lot of that. We no longer have a supportive President that would veto it. So things like potentially a law that looks like North Carolina’s HB2 that tries to define sex in a way that deliberately excludes trans people from the definition of sex.
SARAH M: Since Republicans will control both the House and Senate, Chase is clear that working to push LGBT-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, Chase knows that the legal system isn’t the only route for resistance, especially if the Supreme Court and Congress and the 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.
CHASE: I think so much of what needs to happen right now as we gear up for this sort of unknown paradigm is to get resources into the hands of people who are doing the organizing, who have been doing the organizing for a long time. Communities of color have built survival and resistance strategies, and 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. So there are organizations like Southerners On New Ground, like the Trans Latina Coalitions, the The Trans, Gender Variant & Intersex Justice Project, which is Miss Major’s organization in Oakland. Those are the organizations that need our money and resources because they’re doing the survival work and have been for a long time. We’re gonna be out there litigating and fighting to hold back the repressive laws that we may see, but again, we gotta get resources in the hands of the folks on the ground.
SARAH M: While Trump feels like a huge shock, the beginning of a new, more terrible era in our history, in a lot of ways this isn’t 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.
CHASE: You know, I think another thing that we should be doing is reading our histories and understanding our legacies of resistance because we don’t learn from our history in this country as a general matter. There’s so much to learn. There’s so much to engage with. One thing I’m trying to do is connect with the elders in the trans community in the coming weeks and months, figure out how to build support networks, how to use the law in more imaginative ways, how to move forward. In the LGBT movement, we’re used to winning because we filed cases like marriage equality cases that really don’t challenge the status quo in a lot of ways.
So we have to think about ways that we can file cases even if we know we’re gonna lose them, but that give people the sense that they have a community of lawyers on their side, that we’re gonna tell a story of survival. We’re gonna fight back against what we think are unjust and unconstitutional laws. So I think that’s the plan for now and just to never tire in our insistence that white supremacy is both the foundation of our country and completely unacceptable. And we have obligations, particularly as white lawyers–which I am–to disrupt that. So that is really, I think, our mandate moving forward, and to put our bodies and our imagination and our love on the line to really keep the most vulnerable members of our community alive in the face of whatever might happen next.
SARAH M: Idea eight: Offer your skills
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 wanna get their paperwork updated before Donald Trump’s inauguration. We have those federal protections right now that make it possible for transgender people to update their passports and other identity documents to match their gender identity. But that might go away under Trump, and the bureaucracy around this is intimidating. States vary wildly on how easy it is for trans people to update their gender identity. Many people need a lawyer, or at last a guide, to wade through this. So, that was the genesis of #TransLawHelp.
RILEY: Hello. I’m Riley @DTWPS on Twitter. I am a software engineer and smalltime game developer and the creator of the hashtag #TransLawHelp.
I started the hashtag on Wednesday, so the day after the election. My first tweet is clocked about 1:10 pm that day. And I was really feeling depressed because of the turnout of the election, and I noticed somebody on my Twitter saying, “Well, trans people, if you wanna get those docs, you should probably do it now cuz can’t guarantee it’s gonna be allowed next year.“ And I was remembering that I hadn’t done my docs yet, and I’d been putting them off. Cuz I’m like, “Aw, you’ll get there. You have plenty of time.” It seems like time could be up. Some lawyers reached out to me to help me, and so I was like well, I’m sure other trans people would really love that opportunity and that resource. And thus, TransLawHelp was born.
SARAH M: Within days, and with help from several friends, TransLawHelp became a stand-alone website, TransLawHelp.org, with a directory of lawyers and paralegals and notaries in states around the country who are pitching in their skills to help transgender folks.
RILEY: So the first thing I want to mention is the passport primarily because a passport’s federal, it’s 1) the first thing that can be cut off. And 2) it’s also the easiest thing to get right now. If you have other documents prepared already, or if you have an old passport, the passport is the easiest thing to change. Other documents would be birth certificate, driver’s license, social security card.
SARAH M: The site also has a way to donate to trans people who can’t afford the paperwork fees.
RILEY: We had so many people who are like, “Well, I really wanna get my docs changed, but I don’t have a dollar in my pocket to do so.” Doc changes can cost a lot of money. Some people need upwards of $550. That’s the largest number I saw personally, $550 to get all the things changed. And then people also, sometimes they live in rural areas where they can’t get to notaries or anything like that. They need to order birth certificates from other states. There’s a lot of things that really go into changing every single one of your documents, and you need money to do that.
SARAH M: The Trump presidency is grim. And I hate the word “inspiring”–it’s overused, and it’s tacky–but it really is inspiring to see so many people offering their skills in any way they can—through legal help, through web design, through social media mastery–to help out those who are vulnerable.
The core of Donald Trump’s campaign was one huge promise: Build. A. Wall. Well, 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?
ALISA: Hi, I’m Alisa Welleck, and I’m the Executive Director of an organization called The Immigrant Defense Project. We fight for justice for immigrants both in the immigration and criminal justice systems. We were actually founded to fight back against a mass detention and deportation of immigrants who’ve had contact with the criminal justice system.
SARAH M: Now, just to get this straight, Trump’s “tough on immigrants” rhetoric is a little weird because the Obama administration has actually deported more people than any other president. So the last eight years have been tough for immigrants in the United States. But the next four years, well, Alisa is worried it’ll be even worse.
ALISA: We just expect the rump administration to take it to a whole new level. So I think a lot of us are thinking right now what can we try to do with the Obama administration before that administration’s over to try to protect as many people as we can. And then especially what can we do at a city and state level to ensure that folks are protected and that once the Trump administration comes in, that we know their plans are to deport millions of people and probably with very little due process. So to have kind of defenses in place to stand up against that.
I think what’s gonna happen is we’re just going to have to be incredibly defensive at the federal level. We know that Kris Kobach who designed the SB 1070 law in Arizona is either gonna be in the Trump administration or as one of the main advisors on immigration. So we know it’s going to be very bad. And what Trump has said is that he’s gonna try to deport 3 million people quickly.
SARAH M: One idea that’s been getting a lot of traction is establishing sanctuary cities. This is an idea that started in the 1980s, actually. US religious institutions started providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants fleeing violence in El Salvador and Guatemala, refugees who couldn’t get asylum in the US thanks to Cold War politics. Now, entire cities are declaring themselves sanctuary sites. These are cities where the local government has said that they won’t report peoples’ immigration status to federal authorities.
RILEY: There’s a really strong movement that’s been happening for now many years creating sanctuary cities. So that’s something that local governments can do, and I think a lot of politicians are kind of interested in taking steps there. But they need advocates to push on it.
SARAH M: Since Trump’s election, officials in at least 10 major cities have reaffirmed their commitment to upholding their sanctuary policies, including San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and D.C.. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s repugnant pick for Attorney General, has already said that sanctuary cities should face federal prosecution. But the cities are holding strong.
Idea ten: Talk about racism
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 at best awkward and at worst dangerous. That’s where Showing Up for Racial Justice comes in.
HEATHER: Hi. My name is Heather Cronk. I am one of the Co-directors of Showing Up for Racial Justice, also known as SURJ. We are obsessed with obsessing white folks to organize around racial justice.
SARAH M: Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about how white people like me can have better and more effective conversations with other white people about racism. I asked Heather for advice on talking about topics like Black Lives Matter and racial inequity and how Donald Trump is hiring white supremacists.
HEATHER: Yeah, we get that question a lot, and that’s the thing that I think a lot of white folks get hung up on is not only feeling uncomfortable with having that conversation, but also feeling like they have to get it right, like they have to say all the right things. That’s actually no way to have a real, authentic, honest conversation with folks, right? You’re gonna say the wrong things, and you’re gonna feel uncomfortable. We encourage folks to just do it anyway. There are many holidays coming up. Folks are likely going to be spending time with friends, family, biological family, adopted family, and this is a great opportunity to just really lean in to those conversations.
SARAH M: Showing Up for Racial Justice is working on some talking points and primers on how to have these conversations that hopefully they’ll be publishing in late November. But I asked Heather 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.
HEATHER: One of the reasons why white folks voted for Trump is because they thought that he was gonna do better for them, especially around the economy. I think there is a lot of fear out there, and what we need to do as conscious white folks is to pull that apart and to say, “Well, actually, Donald Trump is gonna be far worse for most white folks and basically all people of color.” Because he actually doesn’t believe in shared resources. He doesn’t believe in cooperative economics. He doesn’t believe in everyone having a pathway to success and stability and the ability to thrive. He believes in doing exactly what he’s done over decades of work, which is to amass wealth himself. That’s not good for anyone except for a handful of folks at the top.
SARAH M: I’m so angry and so upset that part of me just wants to say, “Oh, you voted for Trump? You’re racist and misogynistic. Goodbye!” I don’t wanna work on understanding where they’re coming from. I don’t wanna seem like I’m OK with voting for Trump. But then the other part of me is like, no, it’s on people like me, who will be safest under Trump, to have the kind of conversations that can change minds. The strategy of just saying, “I’m not talking to you, goodbye, I’m going to outvote you,” that didn’t work. So one way forward is having those conversations that, personally, I find infuriating.
HEATHER: There’s a little bit of a piece of white folks, specifically, having a responsibility around this. But I also don’t think guilt works in organizing. Strategy works in organizing. What we know doesn’t work is avoiding conversations about race, avoiding conversations about class, about gender, about how all of those things intersect.
But let’s create space for folks to be able to air, “Here’s why I’m afraid.” When people air, “Here’s why I’m afraid,” then we have an opportunity to dispel that. If we don’t, if we pretend that that fear doesn’t exist, if we pretend that folks who are feeling economically disenfranchised or who are feeling like folks are gonna come in and take all of their stuff and take their livelihood, it does us no good to pretend like that doesn’t exist. Let’s actually air it, and try to pull that apart.”
SARAH M: Showing Up for Racial Justice is specifically focused on trying to get white people to talk to other white people about race. White people, we often think of ourselves as not part of a racial group: we’re the norm, and everyone else is “other.” It’s not on everyone to have this kind of conversation, but for people who can, it’s on us to help make change.
HEATHER: Not all white folks are experiencing this election in the same way. So I identify as queer. I come out of LGBTQ organizing. And for a lot of queer folks, especially a lot of trans folks, even if you’re white, especially if you’re queer and trans and poor, you’re experiencing this election and experiencing having these kinds of conversations with friends and family in different ways. So I would never say to folks you have to have this conversation. For a lot of folks, that isn’t safe for a whole lot of different reasons. But I do think that in the ways that we are able, and in the ways that we are able to push ourselves, I think it is important to have these conversations while always, of course, making sure that we’re doing that in ways that are sustainable, that are safe for ourselves, that allow us to have a second conversation and a third conversation.
SARAH M: Friends, this is dark stuff. There’s no two ways about it. These are hard times. But it’s truly inspiring to know the other people who are on our team. We’re here to watch out for each other. And although we might all occasionally be collapsing into tears and taking a night for self-care and friend time and delicious sandwiches, make no mistake: We are here. And we’re not going anywhere. We’ve got one president, and there’s 318.9 million of us. That’s 318.9 million chances for resistance.
The groups featured on this podcast are all worth your support. They’re your source for getting involved and for pitching in. We have links to every one the organizations featured on this show from the podcast page at BitchMedia.org. But thank you so much, in order, to Zahir Jahnmohamed, Renee Bracey Sherman, Joshua Benton, Carlos Maza, Rachel Godsil, Sarah Harvard, Chase Strangio, Riley, Alisa Welleck, and Heather Cronk. It was an honor to talk to all of you.
This show is transcribed by Cheryl Green of StoryMinders. The transcripts are posted on the podcast page at BitchMedia.org. We’re proud to make Popaganda accessible to people who are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing.
This week’s listener note gets really real [laughs]! Our listener note this week comes from Twitter user @iamtpomar who tweeted at us about last week’s Backtalk episode. They wrote, “Heart-breaking episode of @BitchMedia’s #Backtalk. @amyadoyzie (that’s Amy Lam) you made me cry at work. Much love and strength.” Your reminder that crying is good and OK. We are here for you. Cry hard, work hard: that’s my motto. See you soon.
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