Friday, December 09, 2016

For People Who Want to "Do" Something But Don't Know What to Do (Downloadable Zine + Text)

UPDATE: One quick action to help fund this project! Printing isn't cheap, and it's important to me to be able to give out as many of these-- for free-- as possible. So rather than set up a kickstarter, I've decided to do this: for the rest of the month, ALL proceeds from my name-your-price sampler album will go directly to printing costs

Design by Olivia Novotny; words by Guante
I shared my post-election thoughts a while back, and here's something a little more substantial. As an artist who routinely gets up in front of hundreds of people and talks about activism and power, and as someone who also has lots of friends who do that same thing, in some way or another, I've been trying to think more critically about how we USE that platform.

Because talking about issues is good and important, but so many of those performances or conversations end with "talk is not enough; go do something." And for those of us who have had a political education, we know what that means. We may still struggle with the specifics, or experience anxiety about not doing enough, etc., but it's a statement that makes sense.

For a lot of people, however, I'm wondering if "go do something" is a little too abstract. Especially for young people, or people with no prior activist experience, or people who are isolated due to identity or geography-- how can we make "go do something" really mean something concrete and specific? How can we use the platforms that we have access to to cultivate a culture of organizing, to promote activism not just as some weird hobby that a few hippies do, but as something that everyone can and should and must do?

That's the impulse behind this zine project (text by me, design by Olivia Novotny). It's nothing revolutionary; just sharing what I've learned about action, power, and change, while highlighting concrete action points and plugging people in to existing networks. The image at the top of this post links to a PDF of the entire document (which needs to be cut and folded a particular way to become a book, which I'm sure you can figure out). The basic text is included below as well.


The key is focusing less on the power that we don’t have, and more on the power that we do:

Listen. Read books. Take classes. Follow activists and organizations on social media. Challenge yourself to think more critically and more tactically, to ask more questions, and to never stop learning. Engage in critical self-reflection; be humble and willing to grow. Take care of your physical and mental health too. This all builds our capacity to do the work, and while nothing here is enough to change the world by itself, it is an important step. ACTION EXAMPLES:
  • Do some research about activist organizations in your area, and then make a point to get looped in: sign up for email lists, follow them on social media, and pay attention to the work already happening.
  • If you’re a student, set up a meeting with your advisor to explore pathways into change-making career fields.
  • Use existing resources: educators and activists often put together online "syllabi" like the Ferguson Syllabus, Standing Rock Syllabus, Syllabus for White Self Education, etc. (find links to all of these and more here).
  • Commit, while also taking the time to breathe, to find joy, and to organize your life in whatever way works for you, in order to ensure that that commitment is sustainable.

Power is a platform: no politician or millionaire has access to your friends, family, co-workers, and networks like you do. So start conversations. Post compelling articles on social media. Write blog posts or letters-to-the-editor. Show up (if you are able) to rallies, vigils, teach-ins, meetings, or other events in order to plug in and build community. Also, be mindful of your own identities; for example, don’t expect someone who is oppressed in a way that you are not to “teach” you everything. Proactively bring this work into spaces where it isn’t already happening. ACTION EXAMPLES:
  • Start a book club or study group addressing the issues that you are passionate about.
  • Media matters; not everyone can “show up” in the same ways. Cultivate a more intentional social media practice, signal-boosting activists whose voices need to be heard, as opposed to just memes or opinions. More of my specific thoughts on this here.
  • Communicate with your elected leaders to keep the pressure on; in-person meetings, phone calls, and personalized letters are best. Emails, tweets, and petitions are less effective but can still be useful tools.
  • Remember that “ally” isn’t something you are; it’s something you do. Think about your own identities, and how they might impact your ability to disrupt the status quo. Don’t let harmful talk/actions slide. Challenge people.

Change doesn’t happen because “things just inevitably get better,” or because we vote for the right people and they “save” us. Real, sustainable, progressive change is always the product of organized movements: everyday people joining up in community groups, student organizations, unions, cyphers, living rooms, and beyond, working together to figure out what we have, what we need, and how we can make it happen. ACTION EXAMPLES:
  • Find (through internet searches, conversations, databases, etc.) an organization working on the issues you care about and get involved—that might mean sending an email inquiry, attending a meeting, working with friends to start a local chapter of a national organization, or even starting something brand new.
  • If you are able, set up a monthly donation to an activist group, or find other ways to support existing work.
  • Vote—but also understand voting as one small part of a much larger movement-building process; organizing can also be about tactical voting campaigns and holding politicians accountable after they’re elected.
  • Some people go into careers that are explicitly about social justice. Other people have to figure out how to infuse social justice principles into the work that they’re already doing. Cultivate a sense of the structure of your school, workplace, or community. What could be different? What rules, policies, or elements of the culture could be changed? With whom can you work to make it happen?
  • March, protest, and resist in whatever ways might be effective, while also working together to create plans for next steps, to provide alternatives to the status quo. Find local ways to apply pressure to national/international issues. Tearing down oppressive systems is necessary; so is building something better.

TAKEAWAY: We need all three levels. One or two, without the other one, are not enough. Luckily, they’re all connected: we can strive to be better individuals, while building relationships with each other, while we work on challenging systems and shifting culture. The point here is that we already have the power that we need to win; what remains is the work.

A big part of this document is attempting to demystify how change happens. Power is not magic. It is not some commodity that only other people have. We all have power, and organizing together is one of the best ways to bring that power to bear. That being said, all of this comes with a few caveats:
  • Some people have more time, energy, or resources than others. After all, just surviving is a kind of activism too. So it’s important to think critically about our own identities, levels of access, privileges, etc., as we begin to figure out how we can plug into this process and make our work sustainable.
  • Take some time to think about why you want to get involved. Trying to “save” other people or act out some altruistic hero fantasy will never be as effective or sustainable as figuring out where your own self-interest intersects with activist work.
  • No organization is perfect, and no organization alone can do everything. But they are important starting points.

This list is not about pointing to any particular organization as “the one” or endorsing some over others. The purpose of this list is to make it easier for people to get a “snapshot” of some of the work that is being done in our community right now—with some of these orgs, you may be able to run out and join them, get a job with them, or volunteer with them; with others, it may be about supporting their work through donating money or services, or even just getting them on your radar. This is a starting point, and one very simple action you can take right now, if you’re on social media, is to “follow” everyone on this list (if you're in MN).

Additionally, only Twitter handles are included here, and not everyone is on Twitter; find a more detailed list with full website links and blurbs about each org (and ones not included here) at


• MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC): @mnnoc
• TakeAction Minnesota: @TakeActionMN
• Voices for Racial Justice: @MNvoices
• Black Lives Matter MPLS: @BlackLivesMPLS
• OutFront MN: @OutFrontMN
• The Sexual Violence Center: @svcmpls
• Showing Up for Racial Justice: @surj_mn
• MN Council on American-Islamic Relations: @CAIRMN
• MN Public Interest Research Group: @mpirg
• Navigate MN: @navigatemn
• Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha: @CTUL_TC
• Wellstone Action: @wellstoneaction
• 15 Now Minnesota: @15NowMN
• Indigenous Environmental Network: @IENearth
• Shades of Yellow: @SOY_LGBTQ
• Socialist Alternative: @SocialistMN
• Black Liberation Project: @blklibmn
• MN Immigrant Rights Action Committee: @MIRAcMN
• Communities United Against Police Brutality: @CUAPBMpls
• Hope Community, Inc: @Hope_MN
• UMN Women’s Center: @mnwomenscenter
• Minnesotans for a Fair Economy: @FairMN

• TruArtSpeaks: @TruArtSpeaks
• Intermedia Arts: @intermedia_arts
o IA Youth: @ArtsYouth
• Juxtaposition Arts: @JXTA_ARTS
• The Center for Hmong Arts and Talent: @HmongCHAT
• The Yarn Mission: @TheYARNMissiOn
• Unicorn Riot: @UR_Ninja
• Line Break Media: @LnBrkMedia
• TC Daily Planet: @tcdailyplanet
• KFAI Radio: @kfaiFMradio
• Insight News: @insightnews
• Ancestry Books: @ancestrybooks
• Pangea World Theater: @PangeaWT
• FLOW Arts Crawl: @FLOWNorthside
• Tru Ruts: @TruRuts

MORE: this is just a starting point. In addition to these community organizations, there are dozens of campus organizations, high school organizations, neighborhood groups, etc. all over. It may just take a bit of research to find them.

STEAL THIS IDEA: If you’re not in Minnesota, feel free to make a list like this for YOUR community and share it.

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