Resources for Becoming an Activist

Resources for progressive activism in the age of Trump. 

(Updated December 18, 2016)

After the election, many peers feel hopeless and helpless.1 This page is for them, and anyone else interested in becoming active but unsure where to start.

Drawing upon past activism, I can see some pathways2 for taking action. This helps me move from despair (and inaction) to optimism (and engagement). I have faith in the power of The People, and the countless organizations and activists already well-positioned for this struggle. Women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+, and the differently abled have always had to fight for any rights we’ve gained in the US; we’ve triumphed in bleak times before, and we can again now.

Apathy: normalization, despair, consent, distraction. Passive dissent. Active resistance.

The Only Way Out Is Up, a diagrammatic sketch, v. 1d.

So many people are being targeted by Trump. If we can forge alliances and demonstrate solidarity and agency, we have the potential to mobilize a mass base and catalyze change.

The suggestions are based on my limited experiences and perspectives. This is, necessarily, a biased, flawed, and incomplete list. The resources skew towards racial justice and immigrant rights. I lack more info about specific POC identities, LQBTQ+, Muslim, disability, feminist, and environmental groups, as well as resources outside of the Bay Area and NYC. Suggestions are welcome. However, I can say that I’ve had direct experiences with many of these organizations, and the individuals mentioned are legitimate radicals with integrity for miles.

Organizations love forming coalitions, so this list could lead you to sister orgs closer to your geographic area, interests, and identities.

What individuals can do:

Show up. Be heard. Bear witness.

Participating in marches and demonstrations is a vital expression of democracy, and an exercise of a Constitutional right. The point of a demonstration is visibility, so show up to see your peers and be counted. If you’re not sure why protests matter, see Jim Down’s article on Slate.

Attend meetings. Forge networks. Volunteer. Participate. Social media is one of many organizing tools; don’t mistake your online presence as your only platform or source of power.

Know your rights, such as when photographing encounters with policeReport hate crimes.

Most importantly, do something. Don’t assume others will carry the burden of protecting freedom, and don’t count yourself out. Resistance comes in many forms; everyday acts of resistance can precipitate the widespread movement needed to make change.

Get involved with progressive community-based organizations.

I like the ACLU/NYCLUSouthern Poverty Law Center, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Project South, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Critical Resistance, and CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. The smaller grassroots organizations may be easier to plug into. Of the big organizations, try a local chapter or workgroup.

White people can get especially perplexed about where to turn; I recommend Showing Up for Racial Justice (they’ve got a great checklist of things you can do, as well as affiliates all over the country, and toolkits for starting a new chapter in your area).

I also want to mention Planned Parenthood, the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance, and the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (a friend suggested supporting this resistance camp; Veterans Against Standing Rocks‘ putting their bodies on the line in solidarity is heartening).

Be an ally.

It’s not about you. See tips for being an ally from GLAAD and Paul Kivel, a white writer and ally to many progressive causes.

Kivel also recommends that we be mindful of accountability:

“Our society is based on myths of saviors, ‘white’ knights, and (super)heroes acting on behalf of others bringing only their courage and good intentions. Good Intentions are not enough. …accountability is a practice, not an understanding. It unfolds in the ways that we … are responsive to the needs and concerns of those most impacted by the issues we are involved with. …an accountable practice develops over time out of relationships and collective action.”

Sign a pledge, and hold steady to those principles. By doing so you make clear where, in the sometimes-subtle process of the erosion of rights, you will draw the line. is a great example of a pledge. It’s by and for tech employees who “refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs” and “facilitate mass deportations.” It’s well-written, persuasive, and woke—they cite numerous past government registries and make their opposition loud and clear. Tech is notoriously apolitical, and it’s cool to see individuals taking educated political stands. (Recommended related browsing: Dorothea Lange’s censored WPA photos of Japanese internment. Don’t miss the captions.)

Be an advocate.

Write letters, email, or call your representatives (one former staffer says that calling district (state) offices is the most effective). The League of Women Voters has an excellent and rare tool that lists your representatives at federal, state, and local levels (thanks for the tip, PG!).

The Association for Young Americans launched, an easy tool for emailing your representatives and posting to their social media accounts. Their essay is compelling (and I think the design and UX are super cute; full disclaimer: my partner did the creative direction).

Be informed, and support independent news media.

I rely on access to NPR and local affiliates. I recommend New America Media, Colorlines, and Jeff Chang’s two latest books. Educate yourself and attend trainings (such as the ones listed below, under tips for organizations and groups).

Make financial contributions.

In addition to the organizations I mention here, check out Jezebel’s list of  Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations to support.

As health coverage will get more precarious, consider donating to non-profit community clinics serving immigrant groups in-language and advocating for equal access to care (such as Asian Health Services and La Clinica de la Raza in Oakland, CA).

If you’re feeling iffy about an organization, check Charity Navigator. You can also give to foundations like Third Wave Fund.

Consider gifting memberships and making donations in someone’s name this holiday season.

Usually, I don’t have a giving strategy. But last year, I planned end-of-year giving with my partner. It felt really good to reflect on the year, review our values, research organizations, and make our selections. When we donated after this deliberation, it felt especially meaningful.3

Hold space.

Often people want to do something, but lack the time and place to discuss and coordinate collective action. Creating that space requires some organizational effort but can have huge payoffs. B, a single individual, made a plan the day after election, found a larger art org to host, and as a result, working groups are mobilizing. Z has been organizing open-invite brainstorming Sunday dinners.

You can hold a space simply for discussion or brainstorming. Or plan activities like stencil-making, poster-making, doing Culture Strike’s art activities, hosting a speaker from a local community organization, reading group, review talking points, phone banking friends, writing letters to representatives, Wikipedia edit-a-thons, planning a fundraising benefit, etc.

Patronize truly progressive businesses.

Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani yogurt, is a really inspiring example of what a socially-minded entrepreneur can do—give workers company shares, and hire refugees despite threats from Islamophobes.

Worker co-ops (like these in the SF Bay area) are great places to vote with your dollars to prioritize people over profits.

Artists, leverage your skills and networks.

The options here are limitless. See When We Fight, We Win (full disclosure: I’m a contributor), the work of Andrea Bowers, Ricardo Levins Morales, Interference Archive, Culture Strike, Dignidad Rebelde, and Just Seeds for a start. The sticky note intervention in Union Square Station—which was met with overwhelming participation—is a manifestation of Subway Therapy by Matthew “Levee” Chavez (and will be partially archived by the NY Historical Society).

You can make a poster freely available to download, like mine. Offer an artwork to benefit an organization or cause, like Issue Press (ACLU) and Artnoose (NODAPL) are. You could partner with a community organization, and develop a longterm mutually beneficial relationship; see what they want or need first, and learn about allyship and accountability.

Artist-teachers, you might also like Melissa Febos’ “Teaching after Trump,” an essay on the delicate work of integrating one’s emotional life and role as an educator (and a great example of continuing to work).

Better yet, form your own group, such as Print–Organize–Protest, which recently held a DIY political art event at print shops in multiple cities. 100DaysAction is a San Francisco Bay Area collective of concerned citizens soliciting creative interventions for their calendar of activist and artistic strategy.

Don’t be discouraged.

There is risk involved. Wins are not guaranteed, and certainly won’t be easy with a strident Republican government and a cynical, divided populous. You may feel like you’re wasting time and energy. Working with others can entail conflict and discomfort. You may be exposed to ideals, demands, and heartbreak that are more than what you signed up for. As heard through activist and photographer Scott Braley,

Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures.
Claim no easy victories.

—Amilcar Cabral

Change takes time, and it takes a lot of endurance to maintain consistent pressure. Nothing’s perfect. Organizations are flawed. People in-fight. Meetings may start and end late, or suffer from poor facilitation. There will be messy emotions. People’s actions won’t always jibe with their words, and vice versa. It’s OK. Remember that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Keep in mind how much past activists have sacrificed, and how much fearlessness and resilience they’ve demonstrated.

It’s called the struggle for a reason. But the alternatives—being complicit to the normalization and institutionalization of bigotry—compel us into action.

I am not accepting what I cannot change. I am changing what I cannot accept.

—Angela Davis

Come up with your own list.

R shared a list he and his housemates brainstormed: it included learning Spanish/Arabic, first aid, and anti-fascist self-defense.

NYC City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer has been active organizing community speak-outs and marches; his list of action steps can be found here.

What organizations and groups can do:

Declare your space a safe, welcoming, hate-free space.

You can do this with a simple sign or organizational email. Uphold these values with actions, confronting abuse transparently and directly. Post it publicly in your storefront, like Minnesota Street Project. Work to create or maintain a sanctuary campus/city.

Issue a public statement and vow to fight.

For example, here are statements from the ACLUNNIRR, California legislators, and Harry Reid. You can also meet to collectively draft a statement of unity and/or a list of demands.

Ideally, translate these documents into different languages and make them widely available.

Encourage members not to shy away from political discussions.

Discord or conflict can be uncomfortable, but this climate leaves many afraid for their civil rights and personal safety. Have the courage to allow openness and dialogue.

Schedule a training or workshop.

Such as: the NYCLU’s know-your-rights training, the National Lawyer Guild’s Legal Observer training, the Center for Anti-Violence Education’s Upstander training (I’ve attended one and recommend it!), or Race Forward’s Dismantling Systemic Racism training.

Give workers paid time off to volunteer. 

Connect with a neighborhood, community, or resource center serving vulnerable groups.

Art organizations.

In addition to the above, consider:

Offering space, like these NYC art orgsSouthern Exposure, and SOHO20.

Leveraging your resources, like Compound Gallery’s poster-printing residency, or Asian American Writers Workshop’s 2017 Open City Muslim Communities Fellowship.

There are generative people and projects all around. One task is to start seeing & treating them as vigorously as what offends.

—Krista Tippett

The inauguration will be on January 20, 2017. A  general strike (#J20) and demonstrations in Washington and around the country are expected. Get involved now! We’re stronger together.

1. Helplessness can lead to feelings of despair, futility, and apathy, which lasts even after solutions become available (See Seligman’s learned helplessness theory).

2. Pathways for taking action are key elements (along with goals and agency/motivation) in some definitions of hope (Shane Lopez, IPPA, 2011).

3. Exercising autonomy, relatedness, and competence can increase motivation (Self-Determination Theory, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan).