Whether it’s a good or bad outcome for your side, there are ways to leverage the emotions of this moment to use your life to further the causes you care about and possibly be a part of building lasting change.
The state of Georgia will have two runoffs, scheduled for January 5, because no candidate in either of the state’s US Senate elections reached the 50% threshold required to win the seat outright. Democrat Jon Ossoff is facing incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue. Meanwhile, Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who has held her seat since being appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019.
Remind your Georgia friends that early voting begins on December 14, and you can offer support to your campaign of choice. If you’re local, help drive people to the polls.
Don’t live in Georgia? You can still get involved in other US states by getting people to register to vote. While partisan groups do try to register supporters of their parties, it can also be a nonpartisan effort — think of getting high school seniors to register to vote or people at a retirement community. (Nearly everyone 18 years of age and older can vote.)
Do a good deed
If it’s important to you that tensions cool, start with a few simple tasks.
Let another driver merge into your lane. Pick up the tab for the person behind you in the drive-through. Plant a tree. Write a thank-you note for someone whose selfless work is going unnoticed. Call a friend who needs some consoling (whether they agree with you politically or not). Apologize to someone you’ve hurt. Adopt an animal from an animal shelter (it’s OK that the animal will be doing a good deed for you).
Donate money to a charity of your choice. Donate blood.
Donate time. It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors and fellow community members — even masked — in a way that fosters a sense of connection and collaboration. It’s also a good way to get away from the political doomscrolling on Facebook and Twitter, meeting people in real life (6 feet apart and with a mask, of course).
What’s your personal mission?
Use this moment to carve out space for reflection so that your next actions reflect your own deepest values, she recommended.
“The more clear you are about who you are and your personal mission, the easier the next steps are,” Cherniack said.
For people craving clarity, her organization is running a free 90-minute online session on December 8 to help them think through their personal leadership mission.
Organize around your issues
As you refine your sense of personal purpose, it could naturally align with a particular cause that matters most to you. Many of them will offer ways to directly use your talents, such as design, construction, the law, accounting, communications and more. Or it could be a way to try out a part of your brain you’ve never used before.
Take a leap, enlist as a volunteer and see what happens. You may even decide that you feel best suited to hold public office yourself.
Run for local office
Many groups offer courses equipping people to run for office. Cherniack’s organization offers courses through its New Politics Leadership Academy, intended for people from across the political spectrum. One course, called Answering the Call, is for military veterans or alumni of national service organizations such as AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps. In the course, individuals go through exercises asking them to further explore their own underlying values before deciding whether running for office is the best way to effect change.
Rather than becoming a candidate, your best fit might be on a nonprofit board or as a staffer for a member of Congress.
“My vision is that every potential candidate go through these exercises,” Cherniack said.
Connect across the aisle
Now there is an opportunity to engage more productively with a co-worker, neighbor or family member with whom you disagree politically.
“We have a tendency to avoid arguments, but that doesn’t serve us,” said Caroline Hopper, managing director of the Citizenship & American Identity Program at the Aspen Institute.
The group offers trainings outlining three dimensions of arguing better. Those include understanding the historical context of a debate, using emotional intelligence to understand why the other party is taking a particular stance and recognizing that many civil arguments stem from a power imbalance between various people or groups.
From there, the group’s principles include focusing discussions on building community relationships rather than winning a debate, embracing vulnerability and carving out space through which participants on various sides of an argument can grow or change.
“If we are declining to engage, we are conceding our discourse to the voices that are most polarizing and most powerful,” Hopper said. “Your experience matters even if, and also because, it’s not being expressed in the polarized discourse we’re having.”
The Better Arguments Project has toolkits that individuals and organizations can use in their own time, with the goal of making better arguments a set of skills that can be learned and constantly practiced.
“This kind of behavior is contagious,” she said. “The more we are practicing it, the more others will be free to do the same.”
Look to the long game
Beyond the next two months, you can get involved in change that could take a few years or a generation to play out.
And it’s not all or nothing, as Rev. William J. Barber II, the co-chair of the new Poor People’s Campaign, has often said. The campaign, launched in 2018, revives the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s original 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, seeking to spearhead a long-term movement in politics around the moral imperative of building up low-income people.
Barber felt encouraged by how grassroots organizing efforts in the South had built a coalition across party lines. Some 60% of voters in Florida greenlit a $15 minimum wage while voting for President Donald Trump for a second term.
Finding that kind of common ground on other issues means having productive arguments in which we safely and honestly air varying viewpoints, even if they contrast starkly.
“We need to find ways to move forward together but it can’t be brushing our differences under the rug,” Hopper said. “Now that the election is over, we have a real opportunity to begin new work.”
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