You’ve Voted, Now What? How To Channel Your Political Passion Into Activism

If we believe in the practice of activism, we can improve our world.

In addition to “wash your hands,” one of the most popular directives in recent months has been “create a voting plan.” It’s been echoing everywhere, and for good reason. Plotting out a method and schedule makes following through on voting more likely.

But voting is just one of an array of necessary actions. Everyone can be an activist — now is the time to devise your “activism plan.” 

It will take a while for all the votes to be counted, and in the meantime, many of us await our collective future with anxiety and fatigue. It’s important to make the most of any time we have to rest. Expressing gratitude is also important. The record-breaking, massive voter turnout is something we can all be proud of, regardless of the electoral outcome. I have been trying to remind myself this week that high voter turnout is, in itself, a victory. 

Those of us who had time for phone banking or voter registration, poll observations or writing postcards, giving rides to voters or asking loved ones about their voting plans can now pivot to thinking about what we want to do next because, as we know, making plans helps us follow-through, and voting was never the beginning or the end. Voting is simply one method of change. Even if the person we supported takes office, there is still a long way to go.

I often think about Stacey Abrams’s spreadsheet of personal goals and how it represents the power of goals and plan-making. This isn’t to say that you necessarily need to create your own spreadsheet or that creating a goal automatically means it will be realized. Rather, writing or speaking a goal into existence is an important step in plotting the world you want to live in.

I took a virtual meditation class this October, in part to help address mounting election anxiety. The teacher shared insight during a Dharma talk about how having faith in your ability to meditate enables you to strengthen your practice. 

Progressive, queer, secular humanist millennial that I am, I’ve never much cared for the word “faith,” but something clicked for me in my teacher’s statement, and I think it applies to creating an activism plan. Faith, perhaps a secular faith, is simply the fuel that drives a practice — no more, no less. It’s also how a person masters a computer interface or figures out how to assemble a piece of furniture. If I have faith in my continued work, I will eventually get closer to my goal. 

If we believe in the practice of activism, we can improve our world. Faith is important here because activism rarely sees immediate results. Voting may be part of an activism practice, but because it happens only occasionally, our plans must go beyond voting. In other words, voting is just one of the lines on the metaphorical spreadsheet.

If you were able to vote, did you make a plan to do it? Maybe you plotted out who you were voting for, where and when you were voting, and how you were going to travel to the poll site or arranged to receive a mail-in ballot. 

Similarly, an activism plan involves multiple elements. First, figure out what issues you want to be involved in. What are your values? What do you want to advocate for? Then, determine your spheres of influence. Who’s around you? Who listens? Finally, join with a group of people with whom you can build accountability measures and start taking steps forward. 

I began thinking about spheres of influence sort of by accident after I became a teacher and had to face the responsibility of a room of students listening to me. My profession involves an obvious sphere of influence, but there are many other ways this principle can play out. Being a parent is certainly a sphere of influence. You might have a sphere of influence in your friend group. Or maybe you use social media, create art as a writer or musician, or you are represented by elected officials who are supposed to work for you. (It’s easy to forget that they’re elected to represent our voices. That’s their job, right?) No sphere of influence is too small for you to develop an activism plan. 

Some people feel drawn to a particular area of social justice intrinsically because of life experiences. Others feel the urge to get involved in social change in general but feel pulled in different directions, especially because, as Kimberlé Crenshaw noted, no social justice issue is isolated from others. 

Successful social movements require diverse tactics. Some forms of activism are highly visible, like painting murals or marching, but even a series of one-on-one conversations can sustain an activism practice. Last month, I joined a group text organized through the Queering Indy Facebook group where members shared actions after we did them each day. Group accountability caused me to do more than I would have otherwise, and it also provided important motivation during the days when I lost faith that my personal efforts counted.

Maybe you are lucky enough to have a partner, roommate, or friend with whom you can talk through your activism plan. It’s important to run your ideas by others to make sure you aren’t duplicating efforts, sending the wrong message, or, in some cases, allowing privilege to obscure your clarity and insight. It’s also important not to barrel in like you’re the first one on the scene. 

An activism plan can start small. Maybe you will join a mutual aid group. Maybe you will create virtual spaces for your community. Maybe you will make phone calls once a month. Maybe you’re able to donate money. Maybe your work is to coach others to create activism plans of their own. For me, the key is to have faith that my continued commitment to activism will eventually yield results. 

The week after my meditation teacher gave his talk, I turned to a book that has given me great comfort this year, “Life As Activism: June Jordan’s Writing From The Progressive.” In a column titled “On the Night of November 3, 1992,” the poet-activist June Jordan wrote, “And because revolution always takes place on the basis of great hope and rising expectations, I am not too worried about the future. One way or the other, a whole lotta change is gonna come. Through happiness realized or through and beyond the pain of betrayal, we will become the beneficiaries of our faith.” 

As the votes are counted, it’s your right to feel the joy and pain of this moment. When you are able to come up for a breath of air, it will be time to act.

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