After the longest, angriest, scariest, and most catastrophic four years in the United States’ political history, you may finally feel hope again. On Saturday, former vice president Joe Biden was officially called the next president of America. Like the rest of 2020, the White House race was a messy run that inspired many women to speak up, get involved, and become activists. While yes, we should take a brief moment to celebrate—we suggest a fine bottle of champagne—it’s also vital to remember our activism work isn’t finished. Campaigning for what we believe is important during an election season, sure, but it also matters every day since lawmakers make decisions that impact our lives, futures, bodies, and rights.
Lisa Perry, the executive director of The Common Ground Project in Florida, urges women to demand the government functions from a place of authentic democracy and service for the public good. This means fighting against racism, oppressive, institutionalized policies that foster suppression, and becoming vocal for equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, immigration status, and so on. Even with a democratic candidate in office—the senate still has the power of reform.
“Many women are still struggling to confront issues like cost of housing, putting food on the table, access to quality healthcare, struggling with childcare, virtual learning, and the sweeping economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she continues. “Most of these struggles have been issues that women have been advocating for well before the election of Donald Trump and will continue to fight for long after his administration is over.”
So how can we keep the good fight going? Here, activists share their thoughtful advice.
Join—and participate in—organizations.
Nsé Ufot, the CEO of the New Georgia Project, defines activism as a goal “to promote, impede, direct or intervene in social, political, economic, and environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society toward a perceived greater good.” Read that again and let it sink in. This means voting isn’t the only piece of the puzzle, but rather, being actively involved in organizations and causes that match our values will streamline change.
Ufot puts it best: there is always work to be done, on the ground, from immigration and healthcare to the environment and racial injustice. “Activism is vital to democracy and is not just about winning but about action. No action or work for the common good should be stopped based on any election win or loss,” she continues. “No matter who wins, many strides were made, including an increase in voter turnout, newly registered voters, and new volunteers whose passion will continue to burn as they work for other campaigns and/or causes.”
Don’t shy away from positions of leadership—seek them out.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: there is a desperate need for women in leadership positions. According to current statistics: females make up only 24 percent of Congress, 28 percent of the state legislatures, 18 percent of governors, and 23 percent of mayors in the USA’s largest cities. For women of color, the stats are alarming: they represent only 2 percent of governors, 9 percent of Congress and only 10 percent of the mayors.
But even if you have no plans of running for office, you should still seek, compete and attain levels of leadership, according to Jessica Goldman Srebnick, the CEO of Goldman Properties and Goldman Global Arts.
“Whether at a board level, a city level, a county-level or at a national level, there are many places that need the talent and perspective of women,” she continues. “The government, non-profits, arts and cultural institutions, hospitals, schools: they all need the best and the brightest. We must do what we can to protect all people’s rights and enhance the quality of life for as many people as we can. If your desire is to make a difference, then you cannot be a spectator; you must be a participant.”
Brush up on your history.
To change the future, we must acknowledge and learn from the past. Dedicating yourself to a lifelong learning journey will help foster and fuel your activities skills and deepen your belief system. That’s why Sarah Seidman, the Puffin Foundation Curator of Social Activism for the Museum of the City of New York, recommends digging into the roots of activists in your community in any way you can. Every day, more feminists are creating ways to understand where we came from to inform where we’re going.
“The 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment has spurred a whole new array of books that delve deeply into the battle for woman suffrage, and which communities of women still couldn’t vote after its passage—all of which facilitates understanding of barriers to voting today,” she continues. “Understanding our place in a long continuum of struggle and achievements is empowering and also helps maintain perspective about how long change can take.”
Hold representatives and elected officials responsible.
Often, Perry says we pour so much effort into who gets elected—and not often enough to what they do once in office. “Women must commit to holding our representatives and elected officials accountable once they assume office,” she continues. “Don’t stop calling, schedule visits to advocate for issues impacting your lives, write those postcards. The election was just the first step.”
And remember, elected officials aren’t mind-readers, so being vocal about your community needs is part of continued activism efforts. You don’t have to fight for the whole ocean, though, since small fish matter too, urges Lauren Browdy Weiner, the interim vice president of the West Side Democrats. As an example, she shares there used to be a bus shelter on Riverside Drive in Manhattan that faced the wrong way. It might not seem like a huge deal, but it created a wind tunnel that didn’t offer enough protection for those waiting for their ride, especially the elderly or handicapped. People involved in a local political club in the neighborhood brought the issue to elected officials. And guess what? It was turned around. “Joining a political club, lobbying your elected officials on important issues, protesting when something is unjust, all help to tell our elected officials what we want and what we expect,” she continues. “If your elected official seems not to care about important issues, is ineffective, or doesn’t show up, run for office or help someone who represents you and your community run for office.”
Don’t go back to sleep—but do take a rest when you need it.
Largely due to COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the struggling economy, many citizens woke up, opened their eyes, and realized, hey, something has to change. Stephanie Wagner, the CEO and Founder of For The Feel, says it’s essential to stay in an alert state since we can’t afford to go back to sleep.
“This is just the beginning of the most important fight of our lives, and the lives of future generations to come. Between the global pandemic, our current and future climate crisis, and the social injustices that are being brought to light daily, role models and activists are needed now more than ever,” she shares. “We must remember that one person can’t fix all our problems. It takes all of us. Together, we can truly make a difference.”
Does this mean being on 24/7? No. Instead, it means checking-in with yourself when you are reaching your mental and emotional overload capacity. As Gloria Feld, the co-founder and president of Take The Lead, explains, activism can be exhausting, and we need to manage our energy carefully. “It’s easy to get sucked into activities that have a few outcomes. Focus on your primary mission and preplan your boundaries of time, talent, money, and other resources that you may wish to contribute to the cause,” she continues. “Nobody can do it all—but everybody can do something.”