By Liz Miller
Photo: taken on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. – my favorite mural, by Herberth / IG: @oneeightyone
If you’re feeling passionate about everything that’s going on in the country and the world right now, but just don’t know how to continue the fight, I’m right there with you. Let’s not give up. Sustaining the appropriate levels of energy to stay actively involved in politics and social justice issues can be a challenge in and of itself. This is especially true for those of you who are new to this level of participation in your community and country. Either way, I’m so grateful that you want to be engaged and stay active. Let’s take a moment to celebrate that! But, don’t stop there. Keep having discussions and keep challenging yourself. Do. the. work. Most importantly, I invite you to show up even & especially when the issues don’t affect you directly.*
If you’re looking for a better way to organize your own individual efforts, I have a few suggestions that I’ve outlined below. Additionally, for anyone who is interested, I’m willing to be an accountability partner. This simply means: send me your answers to the “Pilot Light Questions” below, and I’ll check in with you around the 1st of every month to see how things are going. I’m also happy to work with you to suggest specific action items that will help you meet your personal goals.
“Be a pilot light.”
Today, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, “On Being,” and the host was interviewing Rep. John Lewis, whom you probably know as one of the most courageous civil rights leaders that ever lived.
One of the things that he said that stuck with me was the sentiment that real change, the kind that pushes out the status quo for a new path, is about consistent & dedicated action. He advised to be a pilot light — “Because if you’re a pilot light, you’re going to be around. A firecracker coming along in you, just go off. You’re here one moment and you’re gone in the next moment. Be a pilot light.”
Create your personal action plan
To get you started, I have a 4-step plan. Yes, this will require some thought and a bit of work. This starter plan will just take about an hour of reflecting, and in the months following, you’ll just need to spend time coming up with the specific action items you’ll want to take.
Step 1: Define your scope.
While there are so many things that warrant our attention right now in politics and social issues, individuals work best when given a general scope to work within.
- Pilot Light Question: What are the 1-3 issues that you care the most about? I recommend writing out a longer list of all the things you’ve felt passionate about recently and taking 10-15 minutes to reflect on what are the top 3.
- Example: Refugee issues; getting more women into leadership positions
Step 2: Estimate your available time.
There is so much to do, we could spend all of our time participating in the resistance. But, we still want to do things like pet dogs! Go on hikes! See art! Having a life is just as important as fighting the good fight. You fight better when your life is also made up of things you love.
Key tip: Be realistic. Don’t estimate what your “ideal you” would do, estimate what your real you can do.
- Pilot Light Question: How much time are you willing to set aside each month to dedicate to the resistance? It might also help to break it down by week. Some months might be different, depending on work or other obligations, but it helps to have a general idea.
- Example: I can spend about 45 min. a week or about 3 hours a month.
Step 3: Identify your “personal mission statement.”
Change can happen on many levels, including: individual, community, region, state, national, or global level. Identify what it is you’re hoping to achieve. It can be on only one level or multiple levels, but consider exactly what it is that you want to happen.
- Pilot Light Question: What do you hope to achieve through your actions? For each issue area that you’ve defined, create a personal mission statement for that issue.
- Examples: 1) I want to support refugees in my community by actively volunteering with a refugee organization. 2) I want to hone my own leadership skills and eventually serve on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit I support.
Step 4: Determine your monthly action items.
Whether you want to do 1 thing every week for a month or 2 things a month, that’s up to you. Either way, I recommend adding in at least one “out of your comfort zone” activity per month. Maybe there’s a community meeting you’ve heard about, but you hate showing up as the new person. Maybe you don’t typically donate or have a lot of money, but you’d like to save a certain amount to make a donation to an organization you support.
- Pilot Light Question: What are your action items for the month? Review your issue areas and your personal mission statements. Then, for the upcoming month, name at least 1 thing you’d like to do to be more active or engaged in the issue areas you listed. These are your “action items.” Then, if you’re up for it, add in one more “challenge action” you can do that will force you to go out of your comfort zone and follow your mission statement.
- Example: This month, I will lead a coat drive for my local refugee organization and ask friends & family to purchase or donate coats. This month, I will start an online leadership course with SheShouldRun.org and learn more about my leadership potential. As a challenge action, I will meet with a woman who currently serves on a board and do an informational interview to learn more. (This is a challenge because I hate planning & setting up meetings.)
You can of course change your issues, time, mission statements, or objectives at any time, but I encourage you to stick to them!
Start: this week.
Can you set aside 1 hour of time in the next week to do the 4 action items listed above? If you need help determining your monthly action items, I’m happy to help give suggestions!
If you’d like to have an accountability partner, there is one more thing I’d ask of you: can you come up with a short phrase or quote, photo, someone’s name, or short story that you find particularly motivating and share it with me? It can be anything, but let’s call it the Reel. Here’s why: If for some reason in the upcoming months, I don’t hear back from you or feel like you’ve dropped off the face of the earth, I simply want to reel you back in with whatever that motivating thing is for you. Hopefully it will jump start your ambition again. (We all get lost, busy, sad, depressed, burnt out. Motivational reminders are human and normal.)
Here’s my Reel (a quote from John Lewis):
“That there come a time where you have to be prepared to literally put your physical body in the way to go against something that is evil, unjust, and you prepare to suffer the consequences. But whatever you do, whatever your response is, is with love, kindness, and that sense of faith. In my religious tradition is this belief that it’s going to work out. It is going to work out. It’s all going to be all right. And people will ask me from time to time, ‘What shall we do, John, during the sit-ins or during the freedom rides?’ And I would say, ‘We need to find a way to dramatize the issue. We need to find a way to get in the way, but it should be in a peaceful, loving, nonviolent fashion.’ Hate is too heavy a burden to bear.”
And there you have it. I look forward to hearing more about what you care about and being partners in the resistance together. Stay strong. Practice self-care. And — don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER give up.
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