how to respond, revisited

Right after the election, I posted a flowchart about “how to respond” that was (by my standards) quite widely shared. I hear anecdotally that it is being used by community groups for discussions.

Incidentally, the question is open-ended; it doesn’t say “How to respond to Trump.” People could use it if they believe the current situation is dire but not because of Donald J. Trump, or not merely because of him.

Last night, I had a chance to use the flowchart with a group of about 16 people in my own community (Cambridge, MA). That discussion encouraged me to make some minor clarifications to the text; see below. (And thanks to my colleague Alberto for the improved graphics.) I’m always open to suggestions for bigger changes.

The people who met last night would like suggestions for concrete next steps, resources, and organizations for each cell. We could even think through what each cell at the bottom means for various institutions: schools and colleges, philanthropies, news media, religious congregations and denominations, municipalities, and so on. If, for example, you work in philanthropy and you want to support ideologically diverse deliberations, what should you invest in? If you’re a k-12 educator who wants to teach deliberation, what should you do, and who will support you? Canvassing these options is a good exercise for a group.

Right now, I think many people are focused on how to sustain momentum. There was a burst of energy around the Inauguration, and some people perceive a dip since then. This challenge also arose at the recent “Civic State of the Union” forum with Mara Liasson, Bob Putnam, Shirley Sagawa, and me.

I offer two thoughts. First, relationships create the motivations and accountability that power movements. People don’t stay involved because of an issue, but because of the other people. Therefore, it is worth cultivating relationships by adding regular social interactions to political efforts. Get together for pizza even if you aren’t sure what to do politically.

Second, we have to be willing to take satisfaction, even joy, from politics. Yes, people are suffering and even possibly dying, and I am not one of those harmed. (My taxes could well go down under Trump.) Therefore, it can seem self-indulgent for people like me to take pleasure from resistance. Yet political engagement is an aspect of a good life, the nascent resistance is a beautiful thing to be part of, and if we engage out of sheer duty, we’ll falter sooner or later. I’d say: less guilt, more joy, and let’s stick together.

(See also taking satisfaction from politics in the face of injustice.)

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.