Hope feels hard to come by right now, doesn’t it?
Losing Ruth Bader Ginsberg felt like the death blow 2020 had been holding out on us, just in case we hadn’t all had enough already. That news took the legs out from under me for almost a week. “Well, it’s over.” I remember saying to my husband when I heard the news, a half folded t-shirt hanging limply from my hands. “That’s it. That’s the end of the dream of this country.”
And while I could certainly be accused of being dramatic, that’s what it felt like. That news hit me like a ton of bricks. I found myself powerless to do virtually anything for days afterward, fully convinced that my own life and my own actions were small to the point of irrelevance, given everything that’s going on.
* * *
A good friend of mine works for Collective Impact, a progressive non-profit focused on social and digital organizing. She emailed me last Monday to say that since RBG’s death they’d raised over $400K for key Senate races and signed up thousands of people in swing states to vote and/or work the polls. All this in just 2 days! The loss galvanized people, it woke them up and got them into action. Sure, they must have felt grief and fear and a deep sense of loss, but they let that move them toward action, rather than away from it.
I felt briefly buoyed by her optimism and this coordinated action of so many good people. “But I can’t even work the polls, let alone vote”, I said glumly to myself, and sank straight back into my own helplessness. I’d read a few weeks ago that in most places people must be registered voters in order to work the polls. Having my mood and perspective thus confirmed, I quickly closed the browser and sunk further into my powerlessness.
At some point last Thursday though, I got sick of myself. I got sick of saying “why even bother, nothing matters anymore”, and I decided to actually DO something. Anything. “Hope is a verb” came to me, and it felt important somehow. Right now hope does feel very much like something I must do, rather than something I simply have on hand to employ at will.
I’d always thought that since our beliefs guide our actions, belief must come first. But what if it works both ways? What if we can also use our actions to trigger feelings of hope? What if we can use action as a way to signal to ourselves that we have not yet given up?
* * *
With that in mind, I spent the five minutes it took to discover that I can work the polls (bless you California!), and registered to do so. I felt the weight of my helplessness lifting ever so slightly. “Well at least I can do that” I said to myself, and that felt like something. Suddenly I remembered a series of upcoming writing workshops I’d been meaning to register for, taught by the incredible Steve Almond.
Calling these “Workshops for Democracy“, Steve asks that you make a donation to a candidate or cause of your choosing, aimed at social and electoral justice. So I reached out to a friend, and now we’re set to take a workshop together.
That too, was something. Nothing earth-shattering, of course, but it was something. It was a small action that was within my power to take, a way to reach toward the world that I believe in. Will that alone sway the election? Of course not. But it was something, a teeny tiny ripple.
I imagine some hostile commenter jumping in to say “This? This is all you’ve done, all you’re doing? And you think that’s enough?” That voice is nothing more than my own Judge, that nasty voice I carry with me that wants me to remember at all times that I am not, have not, and never will be ENOUGH. The voice that always finds me lacking. Ironically, my Judge actually believes it’s helping, that constant badgering of me will spur me into action to just hurry up and be better already.
But the voices of shame never help us. The more guilty I feel about not doing/being enough, the more paralyzed I become, and the less action I take. Conversely, the better I feel, the more I do.
The better I feel about my own actions in the world, the more empowered I feel to take further action.
* * *
So I want to challenge you. What’s one thing you could do today, one concrete action that would leave you feeling empowered? What can you do to charge up your hope batteries a little?
It doesn’t have to be something huge or even outward facing. It could be the tiniest thing ever, just some small movement in the direction of remembering your own power. A hopeful action for me last week was cleaning my bathroom, strange as that may sound. It had felt grimy for a couple weeks, and every time I went in there, it bothered me. But I hadn’t done anything about it, because why even bother, right? And so it became a reminder, countless times a day, of my own powerlessness. Tangible evidence of my inability to effect change.
Last Friday I finally cleaned it. And while I certainly didn’t save the world with that action, I reminded myself of my own power. I reminded myself that it feels much much better to take action (even if it’s not fun), than it does to let something grate on you day after day, without DOING anything to change it.
Writing is a hopeful act for me, this belief that sharing what I’ve experienced might be of value to someone in some small way. So today I wrote. And who knows what impact that will make, or whether or not my writing “matters” in the great scheme of things. But I hope it does, and that’s reason enough to do it.
* * *
In the spirit of hope and remembering our power, here are 3 things you could do right now that are massively important and needed:
- Sign up to work the polls
- Volunteer to do phone/text banking in critical swing states
- Donate to help Turn Texas Blue (and win the presidency)
If these feel right for you and aligned with your values, please do so!
Finally, the #1 most important thing anyone can do right now is to talk to their family and friends about voting – and then get those family members and friends to do the same. When you talk with family and friends, and ask them 1) if they’re registered to vote and 2) if they have a plan to vote (and follow up). Then ask them how they plan on reaching out to their other family and friends to do the same. Who will they call or reach out to?
For some people, I know that talking to your family about voting may be about as much fun as cleaning your bathroom, but just remember how much better you’ll feel when it’s done!
* * *
I’ll leave you with two final quotes about hope that I’m appreciating lately:
“You don’t resist because you have hope. It’s only when you resist that you can see hope.” – Coco Wong (Hong Kong protester)
“Choosing hope affects what gets my attention every day.” – Dr Edith Eger (Holocaust survivor)
Here’s to choosing hope, today and always,
P.S. Huge shout-out to Collective Impact for sharing their tips on actions to take right now, and for the rest of their amazing work. They’ve now raised over $2M for key senate races and registered 35K people to work the polls. There IS hope!