I, like many out there, originally found myself dreading Friday, January 20th. Yet I’ve reframed it as the real “coming out” party for positive resistance and activism throughout the next four years – something I should definitely be doing more of. While I respect the need for diverse political opinions and ongoing constructive political discourse, if there’s one thing I’ve learned through my domestic and international experiences, it’s that collaboration, understanding, tolerance, patience, empathy, courage, and inquisitiveness are imperative to an increasingly globalized, interdependent world. Universities often stress this intricate web of social, economic, religious, and cultural interdependencies in educating tomorrow’s leaders. Protectionism and isolation are not the way forward.
Lots of lists similar to this one have made the Internet rounds in recent months. Let this be a more concrete call to action in conjunction with Inauguration Day. Former expats from the US, let’s use what we’ve gained abroad and positively put it to good use for our country – even more than we probably already do! However, you don’t have to have had experiences abroad to be a global citizen at home.
1. Volunteer: A legacy from George H.W. Bush, the Points of Light organization is a great starting point. Plug in your zip code and what interests you, and volunteer opportunities will pop up around you. In a similar vein, All for Good, a subsidiary of Points of Light, connects visitors with even more volunteering opportunities. For those professionals in their 20’s and 30’s, depending on the region of the country, United Way often has an Emerging Leaders Program that offers an array of volunteering opportunities in a more structured way. These organizations make getting involved super easy!
2. Support marginalized groups: A couple of MLK quotes have been floating around lately in respect to activism, respect, and human rights activism. While I had read them before, I once again came across them while visiting the relatively new Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument in DC this past August and have been contemplating them ever since. I saw them again when I read a collection of Dr. King’s essays, sermons, and speeches, “The Trumpet of Conscience,” back in late November.
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Work with non-English speaking immigrant children to improve their English. Help those studying for the citizenship test. Learn about ways to support the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). On a basic level, if you hear someone make a disparaging comment about people of color, respectfully SAY something, even if it makes you uncomfortable at the family dinner table. Being an ally means constantly offering your ability to listen and support when some may be too afraid to ask. March. Speak out. Prior to the election, I felt our nation was at a crossroads. I was wrong. NOW, faced with a transformational obstacle, we are at a crossroads. How we respond will be scrutinized by future generations. It’s up to us to now disprove Dr. King’s words and to help others do the same. These ideas are by no means exhaustive so keep looking for more to do in this area.
3. Share what makes America great: Discuss what you love about the USA! This could be in a more supportive group or with non-American friends. In the case of the latter, you have the chance to perhaps share the less-appreciated nuances and things you experience as an American that don’t make the silver screen. It is always possible to acknowledge our nation’s shortcomings while appreciating the milestones she has achieved through her people. I recently posed the question, “What makes America great?” to my Facebook community and received a slew of both thought-provoking and humorous answers. One fellow American shared, “I read somewhere recently that in a lot of countries, unless you’re born and raised there you can never really be considered one of them. But anyone can become an American.” Others cited the American work ethic, immigrants, the ability to freely and directly elect our leaders, the food and portion sizes, the American Dream, the geographic landscape, the “pursuit of happiness mindset”, garbage disposals, free refills, 24-hour convenience, and “the fact that we can freely, openly discuss and debate about it, without fear or favor from the government.” Disclaimer: We are one of many great countries 😉
4. Learn about your local, state, and federal government: This may seem relatively minor. However, how much do you remember from your high school government class? Knowledge is power. Even if you are thousands of miles away, you can open a book, click on a website, ask questions. Thanks to the election results, I’ve gotten to know more about my local representatives, what committees they’re on, when they hold office hours, how to contact them, and how they are representing the people of Western Washington’s Ninth District. Relearn the processes and procedures surrounding the passing of legislature, Congressional schedules, etc. Heck, go to Amazon and buy a used copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to U.S. Government and Politics.” This will further equip you with the ability to discern the facts (yes, they still do exist) and critically analyze what you’re reading about the things going on in government at all levels.
5. Read: I’m going to kind of cheat with this one and include a lot of things that consist of reading in general. Explore how South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee helped with the end of apartheid transition. Research ways in which you can improve your communication and dialogue skills (keep reading for some tips). Please note, I didn’t say “debate” and “persuasion” skills. Check out the organization that states, “Society becomes how you behave”, Eric Liu’s ‘Citizen University’, to see ways to make an impact. And yes, read works of great past and current activists, thinkers, and changemakers. Here are three reading lists to continue your learning.
1. New York Public Library via Ta Nehisi-Coates: https://www.nypl.org/blog/2015/10/23/ta-nehisi-coates-reading-list
2. Citizenship and Social Justive via Jon Greenberg: http://citizenshipandsocialjustice.com/2015/07/10/curriculum-for-white-americans-to-educate-themselves-on-race-and-racism/
6. Have an open, respectful conversation with someone who voted differently from you: It is possible to have a disagreement without an argument. People are not their vote. Remember that if you enter a conversation aiming to persuade someone, you aren’t going to “win.” As Dale Carnegie explained, “A misunderstanding is never ended by an argument but by tact, diplomacy, conciliation, and a sympathetic desire to see the other person’s viewpoint.” Not sure how to do this? The article, Bits and Pieces, from The Economic Press outlined a few ways to help us.
1. Welcome the disagreement.
2. Distrust your first instinctive impression.
3. Control your temper.
4. Listen first.
5. Look for areas of agreement.
6. Be honest.
7. Promise to think over your “opponent’s” ideas and study them carefully.
8. Thank your opponent sincerely for their interest.
9. Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem.
In a world of screaming divisiveness lately, we must remember that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s apathy – not caring, not doing anything. Today, Rep. John Lewis, civil rights icon shared a relevant story. “He described an incident where he was beaten bloody by members of the Ku Klux Klan after attempting to enter a “white waiting room.”
“Many years later, in February of ’09, one of the men that had beaten us came to my Capitol Hill office — he was in his 70’s, with his son in his 40’s — and he said, ‘Mr. Lewis, I am one of the people who beat you and your seat mate” on a bus, Lewis said, adding the man said he had been in the KKK. He said, ‘I want to apologize. Will you accept my apology?” After accepting his apology and hugging the father and son, the three cried together, Lewis remembered.”
“It is the power in the way of peace, the way of love,” Lewis said. “We must never, ever hate. The way of love is a better way.”
And while they might appear as corny as ever, the great Tevin Campbell got it right all those years ago when he sang, “If we listen to each others’ hearts, we’ll find we’re never too far apart,” on the Goofy Movie soundtrack. View the movie clip/music video here.