Marching. And What Comes After

This is a hard day.

I am frightened for the most vulnerable among us, for our whole country, for our foreign relations, and honestly, for our whole planet. I am desolate at the end of the Obama era, which was not perfect, but which filled me with a pride in my country and a hope for the future that I had never felt as an American. It’s not helping that the song from the Hamilton musical, One Last Time, is playing in my head, as though on endless repeat.,_2015.jpg

The cast of Hamilton with President Obama. Photo courtesy of:,_2015.jpg

It is easy to cry these days, and hard to do much else.

But I am incredibly privileged, with those privileges comes work. I have books to write, and food to cook. I have teenagers to parent and Congresspeople to call. I have signs to make and letters to write and stories to read and understand and share. There is so much to be done, and I’m tired already, but not as tired as so many people who have done so much more.

Like hundreds of thousands of others, I’m planning to march in one of the six hundred Women’s Marches this Saturday. I have friends who think this is a waste of time, that this is a feel-good indulgence of going through the motions. Who think that nothing will change.

They’re right, of course, and totally wrong. It will feel good. It will feel great to be among so many like-minded people, to get energy from the group and share a feeling that I am not alone. And it won’t make a difference, if by that we mean the new administration will not look at the million women, marching all through this country and around the world, and say, “Wow, they really mean it. I guess we’d better ensure quality healthcare and equal rights.”

File:The Obamas and the Bushes continue across the bridge.jpg

photo courtesy of:

Of course not. But action begets action, and voices amplify each other, and we are #StrongerTogether.

For anyone, really almost anywhere, who is reading this and wants to join a march, please do check out this website: — there are marches happening all over, and it is very easy to plug into one. If you can’t march due to health, work, or family commitments, but really want to be a part of it, consider making a sign that another local marcher could carry or share. Or donate to support the marchers. Here are a bunch of other ideas:

Basically, if you want to feel like you’re a part of this movement, there are ways to do so, even if you can’t attend.

But afterwards, then what?

The energy, the signs, the chanting, the singing…it will all end, and then what?

Then we get back to work. As I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve committed to at least one act per day until the 2020 presidential election: an act of resistance, an act of activism, an act of gratitude or generosity. Sometimes my act can take a few hours, if I’m researching something for a new organization that’s working on political change. Sometimes my act can take 45 seconds, as I call Senators Warren and Markey and thank them for supporting an issue that matters to me. Sometimes my act is curling up and reading something that will open my mind and help me understand how best to serve.

I will do this Every. Single. Day. Because this is the job of citizen, and it’s one I’ve been phoning in for far too long.

So what do we do next?

STEP ONE: Well, I’d recommend starting by reading this:


It’s a guide written by former Congressional staffers who experienced the challenges of a small, well-organized, disruptive group who stood up against a government agenda. The punch line? The small group was the Tea Party, and the agenda was the progressive one that the Democrats hoped to enact. But the learning is there — like it or not, they were successful.

STEP TWO: Next, I would sign up for one or two of the hugely useful action email lists that have come into existence. These are well-vetted and thoughtful actions are easy to do. And because they come to you (in your inbox or Facebook page), it’s easy to keep abreast. It can be overwhelming — the bad news comes in so fast, and it can be hard to know where to start. But these offer a way to take a concrete step.

Here are a few:

 If you are on Facebook, there are some excellent groups doing day-to-day, activist work. Many of them are “secret” groups, meaning you can’t search for them. But if you are unable to link up with any leave a message in the comments and I will try to share some options.
Here’s a hint: don’t try to do everything. But try to do something. And take a little time to figure out what the most effective “something” might be.
  • Got time but no money? Maybe look for a place to volunteer to tutor English to recently arrived refugees, or mentor a kid.
  • Got money but no time? Maybe set up a recurring donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace, or another organization that will be greatly needed.
  • Live in a “blue bubble” — a phrase used to describe very liberal enclaves, where Democrats are consistently in office? Keep an eye on Sisterdistrict and flippable and others who will be working to engage voters across districts and states.
  • Hate making phone calls? Tough. Do it anyway, because by all accounts, they really do matter, and honestly, I’m here to tell you it’s not that bad. Even if you mumble and stutter and feel like a fool, it will be over in a minute and you will be heard. Here’s a great link on how to deal with making political phone calls if you have social anxiety:
STEP THREE: Take some time to educate yourself, and try to help start a dialogue that will educate others. How do you do this? Well, I know I’m biased, but I’d start by reading (of course).
Congressman John Lewis’s account of the Civil Rights movement, Walking With the Wind, is incredible. So is Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist. Also the incredible young adult novel All-American Boys. Still on my to-read list is White Trash: The 400-Year Untold Story of Class in America. Below are some reading lists with good suggestions.
Suggest some of these in book club, or for a family read. Download the audiobook and make it your commute. See if your local library or adult education program has any events that center on race, class, politics, privilege, or other important subjects. Actually GO to these events, even if you’re uncomfortable — you don’t have to speak up. In fact sometimes it’s better just to listen.
Another critical education task: educate yourself, your kids, your colleagues and your family about how to spot fake news. Both the left-wing media and the right-wing media are guilty of click-bait headlines and false statistics that provoke outrage without the facts.
Do better. Do better by committing to pay for content — journalists need to get paid, and in order for reputable media to pay them, they need subscribers. So consider subscribing to the New York Times, the Washingon Post, The Atlantic, and others. Then, do better by learning about fake news. Believe it or not, some of the best journalism coming out these days is in Teen Vogue. Yes, as in a fashion magazine for teens. But here’s a great article they had on learning to spot fake news. (And yes, I am a paid subscriber!)
Also, this graphic is useful — share it widely. You may disagree with some of her placements; that’s fine. Just consider it a starting point for a research-based conversation, not a screaming match.

Courtesy of Vanessa Otero 2016

STEP FOUR: Remember we are playing the long game. My mantra, when things feel overwhelming, is simple: Help the most vulnerable. Work toward a better future. When I’m spinning my wheels, that’s what I return to. Because at the end of the day, change will happen. It always does. But what form that change takes is up to us.

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