Mass protests, surgical precision, the right message

While I’m no expert in DC politics or protest movements, it feels impossible to do anything other than reflect on what’s happed in the US over the last few days, and try to make sense of how best to fight a new Administration that shows such blatant and unmitigated disrespect for anything other than its own ill-informed, hate-filled views. (Warning: this post will ramble more than most.)

To start, I’m struck and inspired by the power of the mass protests that broke out. This weekend’s demonstrations at airports around the US were both immediate and spontaneous, which made me feel, happily, that public, large-scale resistance will be the new normal.  A new standard of civic engagement would be a great thing in both the short-term (holding the line on policies) and the long-term (by creating a much more engaged and empowered population). This, combined with the ACLU’s immediate and effective actions that resulted in a nearly-immediate judicial response, is a template for future resistance.

Second, while mass protest is one important ingredient, we must remember, in the midst of our passion and our outrage, to keep our wits about us. While there are nuances of the inner workings of power and politics in DC that are foreign to me, one thing that has to happen is for a small number of elected Republican officials to feel that the cost of supporting unacceptable and un-American policies is too high (whether they take a stand because of principles or pragmatism doesn’t matter much). We must identify these individuals, understand what motivates them to act, and then engage in the actions that directly raise the cost of continuing to play along with the current nonsense. This is the kind of surgical precision that could quickly limit the power of the Executive Branch.

And third, the message. Hillary was ultimately brought down by a simple and repeatable storyline that had to do with an email server, Bengazi, and “corruption” at the Clinton Foundation. There might have been additional details, but the message that the people on the fence repeated to me was always short and simple. One risk in taking on the current administration is to be sucked into each individual battle while losing sight of a simple, repeatable counter-narrative that has just 3-5 headlines, not a hundred. “Alternative facts” feels like it’s already on the short list just a week in. What else will be the defining narrative that the opposition writes of this administration?

Beyond these three ideas, a few other reflections from this weekend, with no attempt to connect them to each other:

  • Steve Bannon is clearly Emperor Palpatine to Trump’s Darth Vader. Palpatine lurked in the shadows, was nearly all-powerful, and was always strategic. Vader was the figurehead, but he was flawed, stunted in his development, and he never showed much subtlety. But Palpatine was the guy who was really in charge. Whenever this administration does something outrageous, one must come up with a “why” on the assumption that there was a reason. So, while I wasn’t surprised, given Bannon’s record of anti-Semitism, that the White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day excluded mention of Jews, I let myself be outraged and forgot (until today) to think about the “why” behind it. Was this an intentional anti-Semitic nod to Bannon’s/Trump alt-right base? Was it part of a storyline that they’ll also create against Black Lives Matter? Did it have to do with Israel? An angry response isn’t good enough, we must understand the motives behind the actions if we are to respond effectively. (Similarly, why did the Administration include, against the advice of counsel, green card holders in the Muslim travel ban? Maybe it was a mistake and the protests were unexpected, but it could just as easily have been an intentional strategy so that the pull-back – which still leaves the US with a policy that’s both stupid and un-American – looks good by comparison).
  • I think it’s possible that a lot of good people just don’t know enough Muslims well enough to understand that this feels like an attack on all Muslims, especially those living in the US who woke up on Sunday feeling less safe and more fearful. A Muslim friend shared how Muslim friends of hers living in the Midwest, surrounded by a sea of Trump supporters were feeling more isolated than ever. It made me wonder if the appropriate response – if you have the strength for it– is to find a kind, good Trump supporter and speak to them in personal terms about how quickly what it feels like to be Muslim in America has changed. It’s a lot harder to spout generalized hatred when a person you know and like says, “This is what this feels like to me.” My personal experience is that, as a Jewish grandson of Holocaust survivors, the parallels between what’s going on now and what happened in the U.S. in the 1940s are chilling. And while I don’t yet personally feel less safe today, the line that I felt was crossed this weekend was one in which the President of the United States communicated wholesale prejudice against an entire religion and, in so doing, validated that kind of thinking and that mindset for millions of his supporters. This was underlined for me in the seven horrible minutes I spent reading David Duke’s Twitter feed this weekend, which, outside of making me feel physically ill, gave me a glimpse of a bile that I naively thought was no longer tolerated in modern America and which now seems like it being given voice by the President of the United States of America and his staff. This is terrifying and it threatens the very foundation of our democracy and the values upon which this country was founded.

And finally, my favorite sign from the weekend.

first-they-came-for-the-muslims

Two traps

Each day, each post, I walk a narrow path.

I avoid thinking too much about all the people out there who are going to read each post I write – people I like and respect and whose time I know is precious.  Because if I get too hung up on that, I can easily decide that a post isn’t worthy of landing in thousands of inboxes.

Or I could worry that the number of people reading this blog isn’t big enough, and try to write posts that will get more people to sign up.

Instead, I try to show up and do my best, most honest work.  I listen to my own standard of the work I’m striving to produce, and limit internal debates to conversations between me and my computer screen and ask: is this the best version of what I’m trying to say?

And each time I hit “publish” the inner critic, the doubts, the second-guesses lose a little bit more steam.

One day to go – nothing to lose

Generosity Day is tomorrow, and it’s hard not to stare at the #generosityday twitter search results and feel a little bit excited.

At the same time I’m realizing what a tricky thing expectation is.  Last year, when I was hesitating about writing that first (outlandish, crazy) blog post announcing that we wanted to turn Valentine’s Day into Generosity Day, a friend pushed me over the edge by saying, “Go for it!  The worst thing that happens is nothing, and no harm would come of that!”

That’s right.

Great things happen when you realize that no real harm will come from coming up short, but nothing will happen if you don’t try.

It’s possible that a few huge things will happen tomorrow that will catapult Generosity Day into the main- mainstream.  It’s also possible that they won’t and that this will continue to be a grassroots, distributed effort that builds every year without some giant step-change between here and there.

Either way, Generosity Day will always be owned by everybody, for everybody, and we’ve got nothing to lose.

Thanks for being part of it.

Six types of blogging days

  1. “This is such a great idea!  People will love this!  I’m a wonderful blogger!  It’s so easy!”
  2. “What the #*$%# is wrong with my  #%*$%$ computer!!”
  3.  “I’m not used to writing here/at this time of day.”
  4. “Gosh I thought this post was going to be easier to write.  This is taking forever and it’s still not there yet.”
  5. “Is this post good enough?”
  6. “I have nothing to say.  I’ll never have anything to say. It’s all been said before.”

The hard part is: you have to post on all of these days.  And the dirty little secret is that no one, not even you, can tell which is which.

Keep at it.

(p.s. this post isn’t just about blogging)

A better list

Lists are great – a systematized, orderly way to keep yourself on task and keep track of tasks.

Except of course that lists are usually an excuse – an excuse to do everything but the real work we have to do.

Some lists, full of seemingly important stuff, actually just say:

  1. Stall
  2. Stall
  3. Procrastinate
  4. Put stuff off
  5. Stall some more
  6. Look busy
  7. Have a meeting that looks busy
  8. Etc.

(By the way, your inbox is just a fancy list.  And don’t get me started on your Facebook / Twitter feed).

So how about this: keep the list, work the list, but act based on the knowledge that you’ll never get to the end of the list.  Knowing that, why not commit, once a day, to add one thing to the list (just one!!) that’s hard or scary, and commit to getting that thing done today.

Hard and scary is, it turns out, a pretty great proxy for “worthwhile.”

One item, once a day, every day, that terrifies you.

Good posts, bad posts, and the dragon

I have a confession to make: yesterday’s post wasn’t really finished.  I simply ran out of time, and even though I wanted to give it another read, to tweak it some, to tighten it and make it a little punchier, I just couldn’t.

So I published it.

And you know what?  I bet you didn’t notice, because my own inner critic screams a heck of a lot louder than you do.  And if you did notice, you probably didn’t care all that much.

I just finished Stephen Pressfield’s manifesto Do the Work (available for FREE on Kindle), the second book published by The Domino Project.  It’s an entire book about the Resistance, a malevolent force (an actual dragon) out to fight you to the death, to stop you in your tracks, to keep you from producing great art and for sharing your gifts with the world.

It will take you about two hours to read this book, and I promise it will stick with you for the rest of your life.  Every time you start to hesitate, to hold back, to put off something even a little bit, you’ll know that dragon is out there leering at you, snickering in the knowledge that he might win another round.

That dragon was telling me not to post yesterday, was telling me the post wasn’t good enough.   Tomorrow it will tell me that I don’t have a post in me, or if I do come up with something, it will tell me that what I do have to say isn’t good enough or insightful enough or clever enough to make it worth reading.

My ace in the hole is that I’ve already shipped.  I do it every day. I know how to win this battle.

And so do you.  Fight on!

(Here’s the link again to Do the Work, free on Kindle, in case something or someone held you back from getting it the first time.  Pressfield is the real deal, the author of 8 books, and he knows of what he speaks.)