To the horror of many Americans, some in Congress began the new year by voting to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, which was established in 2008 to combat what then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called a “culture of corruption” within government. The news was especially worrisome considering concerns over the potential for corruption within the Trump administration, and therefore within a Republican-led Congress that could cater to the whims of the president-elect.
But after a closed-door meeting on January 3, Congress decided to pull the plan. Some attributed the reversal to tweets from the president-elect, but the news of the vote had also been greeted by a massive campaign to flood the phone lines of congressional representatives. Reports indicated that it was the high volume of calls that played the largest role in the reversal. As podcast host and former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted, “Trump didn’t do this. You did this. Remember that.”
The news was inspiring for progressives who have felt helpless before the coming Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress and Senate. Yes, Trump won and things are going to change, but there are still ways for Americans to help shape the future of the country on a day-to-day basis. "People have power outside of the two- to four-year voting cycle," says Gene Stone, whose book, The Trump Survival Guide, was published this week by HarperCollins. "There are things you can do, and probably the most important thing is to get in touch with your representative and make your views clear."
Stone, a author of more than 40 books, penned his guide for progressives looking to make a difference in only 12 days to ensure it would be on shelves before Trump was inaugurated. The book is divided into 12 sections, each addressing an issue that could be affected by a Trump presidency, such as the economy, civil rights, health care, abortion and the environment. Included in each section is an overview of the issue, how it was handled by Obama, how Trump might endanger the progress made by his predecessor and ways for everyday Americans to bring about change.
Though the book includes specific ways to attack every issue—joining your local school board to help with education, reporting hate crimes when you see them to help with civil rights, signing up for Obamacare so it is more difficult for Congress to repeal it—there are broader, universally applicable ways to fight Trump’s agenda. Here’s what to keep in mind, according to Stone.
Call your representatives
After setting aside the plan to strip the Office of Congressional Ethics, Congress has shifted its focus to repealing the Affordable Care Act. Once again, the difference could be in constituents voicing their discontent. “What may well happen is that if the Republicans start the process of repealing Obamacare, people in their districts may rise up and call and write and make it clear that they don’t want [their insurance] taken away,” says Stone. “If that particular representative votes to repeal [the ACA], they may not get reelected, which may change their mind.”
If it worked after Congress voted to gut the ethics committee, it could work for Obamacare, especially considering some Republican congressmen have been hesitant to repeal it without a viable replacement ready. Flooding their offices with calls might not make the difference, but it could, which is enough reason to do it. “Clogging up your representative’s phone lines is the most effective way [to express your views],” says Stone. “It’s another form of voting.”
Donate to causes, join organizations, sign petitions
The easiest way to make a difference is to support the organizations fighting for your beliefs. Whether it’s the ACLU, Planned Parenthood or the Sierra Club, groups that champion causes that a Trump administration might undercut need all the help they can get.
“People have been taking for granted that women will have their rights, that there will be health care and that the environment will be safe,” says Stone. “Now that we realize [that these things aren’t guaranteed], it’s important to donate to these organizations, to join them, to work for them and to sign their petitions so that they will have a much more powerful voice in Congress. I do think a lot of these organizations will see an uptick in membership and donations because they are in effect the lobbying groups for their causes. The more people and money they have behind them, the more likely they are to be listened to in Washington.”
Live with civility
It’s hard to prescribe a concrete way to combat deeply rooted ideological issues like racism and xenophobia. Regardless of what legislation may be passed, if Trump “seems to passively condone these types of feelings,” as Stone puts it, Americans are going to feel empowered to act on their prejudices. We saw it with the rash of hate crimes that were documented on social media the day following Trump’s election, when 202 incidents were reported. Just as some Americans now feel inspired to act on their prejudices, progressive Americans should feel similarly inspired to express empathy and understanding.
“More important than calling your representative or joining a demonstration or signing a petition, if you really want this country to maintain its image of dignity and freedom, is showing civility,” Stone says. “You should show support to everybody, whether it’s a South African or a Guatemalan or an Algerian. Letting the people around you know how much you appreciate them for their differences, for their contributions to this country and for just being there is one of the most powerful statements an American can make as we enter the age of Trump.”
Just do something
“The most important thing is to do something,” says Stone. “It doesn’t matter what it is. Too often in our country, people just don’t do anything. They take things for granted. They don’t get involved. This is not the time to be uninvolved. I don’t care what people do. If all you can do is bake a cake, find a way to bake a cake to promote the cause you care about. If you just want to stuff envelopes, go do it. If enough people go out and bake cakes and raise $10 million through those cakes, that $10 million gets funnelled into an important issue, then that one cake is just like one vote. You may say that one vote doesn’t matter, but we’ve seen so many close elections where one vote does matter. Then you become a role model. When you vote, other people around you see that and are more likely to vote. When you take some kind of active step and they see that, they take an active step.”
Stone then referenced the efforts of the Tea Party throughout Obama’s two terms in office. Though he doesn’t agree with what they stand for, progressives could learn from their determination. “They are relentless, they never stop, they work and they work and they work to get their agenda accomplished,” he says. “Progressives need to learn to do the same thing. You can’t be lazy. Do something.”