independence day resolutions
Instead of “Happy Fourth,” I’m just going to say this:
The 4th of July is one of those holidays (like Thanksgiving) that a person can really love as a child without any kind of baggage, but as you get older loving 4th of July feels like a choice, a weighty one, one that indicates a certain set of priorities, a specific flavor of values that in this day and age feels, at the very least, controversial. Patriotism is a loaded fucking word nowadays.
Sometimes people say patriotism and they mean they’re making what John Lewis calls “good trouble” - uncomfortable disruption of the toxic systems that consume the lives of marginalized people to power the America we have. Sometimes patriotism means “no more.”
Sometimes people say patriotism and they mean they’re stocking up on tiki torches and retweeting Richard Spencer because gosh darn it, the man just makes sense. Sometimes patriotism means “me first.”
Sometimes people say patriotism and they mean they’re wearing an American flag onesie. Sometimes patriotism means “#America.”
And when you see the word “patriotism” flung about by friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and strangers, it can be hard to tell sometimes what they mean when they say it.
Me, I aspire to be the good trouble kind of patriot, someone who loves America so fucking much she is absolutely done enabling its garbage behavior. And if you’re standing there with me, but unsure about how to make that happen in your own life, let’s start here:
Let’s make some Independence Day Resolutions.
Now if you’re skeptical of the power of resolutions because for every January 1st for last 10 years, you’ve vowed to floss every day, and you’re reading this post from the dentist’s chair after you spit mouthfuls of blood and lies to the dental hygenist, I get it. New Year’s resolutions don’t have a great track record, it’s true. But if you’ve read this far, I think you’re committed. I think you give a shit - NAY, one thousand shits! And I think that’s already half the battle.
The other half of the battle is, of course, putting one foot in front of the other to keep your promises, but we’ll get to that. In fact, fuck it! Let’s get to it right now.
How to make an Independence Day Resolution
Relieve yourself of the responsibility to fix EVERYTHING.
Oh babe, I know. The children. The environment. The election. The criminal justice system. The sexual coercion. The education access. Everything feels fucked. It’s overwhelming and depressing and panic-inducing, and I don’t know about you, but when I decide to DO SOMETHING, more often than not what I’ve really decided to do is EVERYTHING.
The “I WILL FIX EVERYTHING” roller coaster is quite a ride, but I’m sorry to tell you that after all the swoops, climbs, drops, and loop-do-loops, it always drops you off right where you started. I promise.
Stage 1 of I Will Fix Everything:
Manic Explosion of Activity in the General Direction of GOOD STUFF.
$3 to 10 different organizations? Check.
427 Change.org petitions signed? Check.
Signed up for emails from Indivisible, Kamala For the People, the local food bank, the International Rescue Committee, Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood, Girls on the Run, and Showing up for Racial Justice? Check.
912 retweets in an hour? Check.
After that flurry of intense activity, you close the computer feeling jittery and unsatisfied. It’s like you’ve just thrown 10 dozen eggs at a brick wall, and when you walked away with your throwin’ arm shot, and the wall stood dripping and unfazed behind you, all you did was prove to yourself that you couldn’t knock down that fucking wall.
Stage 2 of I Will Fix Everything:
Failure and Despair go together like Rama Lama Lama
I mean, that was predictable, right? You knew you couldn’t ACTUALLY fix everything, right? If one person who cared a lot could fix everything, we wouldn’t be here right now.
You hop in the shower for a good cry and the panic/shame spiral begins. If only you had more money. If only you had more friends, a law degree.
Stage 3 of I Will Fix Everything:
Check Out Time is Noon On The Day After You Tried and Failed to Fix Everything.
Yep, we’ve all been there: I tried, I failed, now I need to drag myself off to a pillow fort to lick my wounds while watching rom-coms and pouring many, many, many glasses of Mommy’s Special Juice.
Whether or not you’re aware of it, whether or not you’ve ever put words to the gut feeling, the fear that you will fail at fixing everything is preventing you from doing anything. Recognize it. Acknowledge it. I have it, too. Now repeat after me: Fuck that. I’m showing up.
Choose a cause that you care about to focus on.
Pick one thing that really gets you out of bed and into the ring every day. What fires you up every time you read about it? Health care access? Criminal justice reform? Pick one thing and go deep with it. Create a relationship with a local organization. Show up.
Now, a couple of caveats here:
First, for many of us, the things that we care deeply about are the things that affect us personally. The classic example among my people (cis white feminists) is reproductive freedom. Now, that’s a hell of a good cause, but too many of us limit our advocacy to reproductive freedom for cis white feminists. Part of your job here is to expand your understanding of what reproductive freedom is until you’re including POC, trans folks, people living in poverty, people experiencing homelessness.
Second caveat: Acute crises inspire rapid response, so for example, if you are deep in environmental activism but then the US government starts torturing children at the border, you might feel like the salmon can hold their horses for a minute. And you should try to support the orgs who have an acute need when they fall under attack. But you can’t bail on your thing for two reasons: 1, you’ll be less helpful at the border than you will be at the salmon run. There are already people at the border who are experienced, connected, networked, organized, efficient, and effective, and the thing they need from you is money and noise, not unskilled good intentions. And 2, when your cause experiences a crisis other people who want to help will need to rely on your experience, connections, networks, organization, efficiency, and efficacy. Donate to RAICES but keep your feet in the stream.
Identify Your Gifts
Yes, you have some. Don’t even start with me, Pam. I’ve tasted your banana bread.
Are you a great baker? A killer knitter? A passionate label-maker? Those are skills.
Do you know a lot about local flora and fauna, how to interview for a job, or how to build a blog? That’s expertise.
Do you have a 4-day work week or pretty clear weekends? That’s time.
Do you have a close group of friends in your area? That’s a social network.
Do you have $5 a month? That’s a financial gift.
Now, find a way to apply your gifts to the cause you care about.
That’s the formula, people.
A Cause + Your Gifts = DOING SOMETHING
Let’s take some random ones!
Criminal Justice Reform + I Love Reading = Join a local Books For Prisoners program!
2020 Election + I Have a Lot of Friends = Throw a Postcard Party (bonus if you ask friends to bring cash donations for a local food bank.)
Homelessness + I Love Fashion = Find out how you can support a Dress for Success program that supplies people experiencing homelessness with clothing for job interviews.
Anti-Racism + I Love Writing = Teach a college essay workshop for first-generation high schoolers! (I do this one!)
DO NOT LEAD.
PLEASE NOTE that I did not INVENT a college admissions program. I did not START MY OWN mentorship organization. I found one that already existed, with outstanding leadership, a thriving network, and a need that my skills could meet. BOOM.
One of the most exhausting and common mistakes that well-intentioned helpers make is that they get an idea to help and then, instead of contributing to an existing organization, they start their own. Of course, they don’t really know what they’re doing and they have no network and no direction beyond “helping,” so their fledgling orgs flounder and fall into stasis, but not before collecting a few hundred bucks or activating a few dozen followers who COULD HAVE BEEN PUT TO BETTER USE IF THAT ENTHUSIASTIC HELPER HAD JUST PLUGGED INTO AN ORG THAT KNEW HOW TO USE THEM.
FOLLOW. DO NOT LEAD. I know it’s not thrilling to become a volunteer at Planned Parenthood and stuff envelopes once a week. I know it’s way more fun to design a logo for your new health care advocacy org, Mapped Out Motherhood. But if you choose to lead your own redundant org instead of throwing your support behind an established one led by people who know their shit, you’re wasting time reinventing the Planned Parenthood. Time that you could have spent doing something.
This is particularly important if you’re a straight/cis person working in LGBTQIA+ advocacy, a white person working in race equity, a man working in gender equity, an able-bodied person working in disability advocacy. If you have a privilege that the people you’re serving do not have, you need to take 9 seats and ask to be told what to do. Be humble and accept that you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about yet. Follow. Do not try to lead.
If you feel like you’re not doing enough, do more.
Have one major project, but touch more if you feel pulled to do that. This attitude sounds like “I Will Fix Everything,” but it’s different in a critical way: instead of committing yourself to everything, forever, you remain committed to your core cause, but when you have the desire, the bandwidth, and the resources, you reach out with a little something extra to those who need it.
I teach essay writing and volunteer to help first-generation high school students with their college apps. But sometimes I don’t feel like I’m doing enough, so I also set up recurring monthly contributions to a number of anti-racism educators. But sometimes I don’t feel like I’m doing enough, so I pay monthly rent to the Duwamish tribe since I live on their land. But sometimes I don’t feel like I’m doing enough, so I reach out to a tribal food bank that doesn’t have a website to see if they’d like me to help make one so that people can access basic information and donate online. But sometimes I don’t feel like I’m doing enough so I set my Amazon Smile to RAICES. But sometimes I don’t feel like I’m doing enough so I might throw a postcard party next week…
What better way to love America today than to renew your vows with her:
America, I am sticking with you for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, but I’ll be damned if I let you be your worst, sickest self on my watch. I love you too much to stand by in a flag onesie, hashtagging #America and ignoring all the ways you’re fucking up good people just because you’re used to doing it.
America, get your shit together. I’ll help you, because I’m yours and you’re mine. I’ll drag your ass back to the right side of history if it takes me the rest of my fucking life, with love and honor, till death do us part.
If you liked this post, comment below with your Independence Day resolutions! What are your gifts, your causes, and how can you bring those two together to DO SOMETHING?
Relieve yourself of the responsibility to fix everything.
Pick a cause you care deeply about, go deep, and stick with it.
Identify your gifts.
Apply your gifts to the cause you care about.
FOLLOW. DO NOT LEAD.
If you feel like you’re not doing enough, do more as your resources allow.