Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.
— Barack Obama
Farewell Address, January, 2017
Buoyed by those comments from the outgoing president of the United States, I begin my third (and almost final) column in a series on how “ordinary people” can “get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand” change. (I say almost final, because I am feeling the need to write an addendum to this series, about the partisan divide that now occupies the political landscape. That will come next week.)
OK, ordinary people (and I’m including myself here): what can we do if we feel the people at the top of our government do not reflect our views and do not listen to our arguments? A few suggestions:
Call your representative or senator. This is a time-honored political tradition but can still be effective. Need the phone number? Go to www.callmycongress.com to get the name and phone number of your member of congress.
Take a page from the opposition’s playbook. That’s what’s happening at the Indivisible Guide, an online handbook written by former congressional staffers who, they say, “witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own members of congress to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism — and they won.
“We believe that protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda — but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness. Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities.”
The Indivisible group outlines four opportunities for holding members of congress’s feet to the fire: At town halls, non-town hall events such as ribbon cuttings and other photo ops, district office meetings, and the time-honored barrage of phone calls on a specific issue.
As the congressional staffers behind Indivisible state, members of congress “want their constituents to think well of them and they want good, local press. They hate surprises, wasted time, and most of all, bad press that makes them look weak, unlikable, and vulnerable. You will use these interests to make them listen and act.”
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — a tactic suggested by Princeton professor Sam Wang. As many know, Wang’s highly touted poll aggregation system, which had called the three previous presidential elections with great accuracy, failed in 2016. Wang had promised he would eat some bugs if his prediction proved wrong, and he did just that (with a little honey to lessen the pain) on national television the Saturday after the election.
But Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium is not designed only to forecast presidential elections. It also identifies close races for Congress and Senate so that political activists (from either side) can concentrate their time and money on races where it will matter the most. Wang knows about statistics and understands that big results can be effected in small samples. That is especially true at the primary level of Congressional races. Think of the fear that Republican congressmen have of being “primaried” by far-right elements of their party if they don’t adhere to Tea Party principles. This brings us to Wang’s somewhat counter-intuitive proposal: If you don’t like the views of your member of congress, join his or her party and influence the primary election. You can always cast your vote for the opposing candidate in the general election.
Voice your expert opinion on relevant policies and regulations as they are being implemented. I had never thought of this before, but apparently the Federal government is often required by law to invite and acknowledge public comment on regulations and policies in a process known as “commenting.”
Cymie Payne, an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers and the School of Law – Camden, will explain the commenting process in a workshop at Labyrinth Books on Thursday, January 19, at 6 p.m. Once legislation is passed you might think it’s too late to do much good talking about it, but as someone once said, the devil is in the details.
Let big companies know their ad dollars are funding fake news sites. As reported by the New York Times on January 7, this tactic began in late November when an environmental science professor with a graduate degree from Duke visited Breitbart News for the first time and encountered headlines such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.” When he clicked on the link he discovered ads from reputable universities, including the program at Duke he had attended.
The professor notified officials at Duke, who because they purchased advertising through various “programmatic” agencies had no idea where their ad dollars ended up being spent. The advertising was quickly pulled, and the matter closed. Others are discovering the same advertising connections and, as the Times reported, “engaged in a new form of consumer activism, one that is rewriting the rules of online advertising. In the past month and a half, thousands of activists have started to push companies to take a stand on what you might call ‘hate news’.”
Now the activism is being coordinated by a Twitter group called Sleeping Giants, which has communicated with more than 1,000 companies and nonprofit groups whose ads appeared on Breitbart News, and about 400 of those organizations have promised to remove the site from future ad buys. “We’re focused on Breitbart News right now because they’re the biggest fish,” one of the Sleeping Giants founders told the Times. But he hoped the group would eventually broaden its campaign to monitor more of the purveyors of “fake news.” As he told the Times reporter, “it has only been a month since we started doing this — this has been the longest month of my life.”
Get over it. Be for something else. In the first installment of this series I wrote that the Trump crowd will view any opposition to its policies as an example of lingering resentment of the election. You saying that you are over it will just prove that point. I have chosen to take a stand on behalf of “climate realists,” as I would call those of us who take seriously the many scientists weighing in on climate change.
As a group climate realists do not do much to express our views. You will find a few climate realists buying Priuses to help the cause, or putting up solar panels on the roof or in the yard. But most of us are otherwise silent, living and working in air-conditioned comfort. I propose that we all speak up by living one week of our lives — the last week in July, say, or the first week in August — with no home AC.
Last July James Conca, a Cal Tech-trained geochemist, an energy expert, and considered by some to be an apologist for nuclear energy, wrote an essay for Forbes.com on the impact of air conditioning on the electricity grid. “Air conditioning is the main contributor to peak electricity demand in the summer. During extremely hot days or heat waves, this jump in energy demand leads to blackouts and brownouts, keenly felt in the most populated parts of the country. Energy prices also jump during these times where supply and demand combine to as much as quadruple the costs.”
If enough people join in, the utilities may even feel the difference. And politicians may realize that climate realists are willing to stand up for their beliefs, a phenomenon that is known to carry over to the voting booths. Yes, it is over. Something else is just beginning.