Can You Effect Change?

The Black Lives Matter protests—expressing the frustration over the killing of George Floyd and police violence and racial injustice more broadly—involved an estimated 15 to 26 million people in the US. These mostly peaceful demonstrations in 2020, likely the largest in US history, galvanized the country and spurred changes in some police departments and municipal authorities, but also led institutions from universities to corporations to rethink their own policies on equity, diversity and justice. The first Women’s March, held the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated in 2017 primarily to protest his anti-women behavior and stances, attracted somewhere between 3.3 and 4.6 million marchers in America—possibly making it the largest single-day protest in the nation’s history. Both of these protests inspired similar protests around the world.

Yet throughout the Trump years, despite intense criticism and anger over the words and deeds of the former White House occupant, Americans largely stayed home. It’s my belief that the constant barrage of degradations and violations made it difficult for anti-Trump Americans to concentrate their attention on a single or even a narrow set of issues (and fears of Covid didn’t help). Perhaps many people felt overwhelmed, doubtful of their ability to push back and unable to act. Perhaps many others focused their efforts on calling or writing their elected officials and getting involved in call banks, knocking on doors and otherwise assisting get-out-the-vote work. Of course, many stuck to social media to express and share their consternation and horror.

The current attacks on democracy—on voting rights and free and fair elections—from GOP legislatures around the country and at the federal level have spurred a growing outcry. We can see the ongoing battle to pass federal voting rights legislation. But this national danger, playing out around the country, hasn’t yet led to the kind of mass and sustained responses noted above. Nor have other major challenges, including and particularly the accelerating climate crisis. (Then again, we have seen a growing contingent of right-wing extremists and anti-vaxxers willing to disrupt school board meetings and employ similar intimidation tactics against healthcare workers and others to seek what they want.)

So here’s today’s discussion question: Do you believe that you can effect change? Are there specific issues most likely to motivate your action? Can you share ways in which you or others close to you have gotten involved? Are there examples of how your efforts made a difference?

I look forward to hearing from you—and the opportunity of this community to learn from each other. As always, I ask all of us to be respectful of each other.

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*Photo Credit: Women’s March, Jan. 21, 2017. By Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.