who needs you now?
Two domestic terror attacks within 24 hours. And here we are back at the beginning of the cycle we’ve all come to know and loathe: shooting -> “how could this have happened?” -> “thoughts and prayers” -> “something must be done!” -> silence.
Here we are back at the beginning of a conversation that we’ve heard a million times before, that always ends with competing shouts to ban all guns, vote them out, and BUT WHAT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH CARE IN THIS COUNTRY????
Here we are, scared to go shopping, to take our kids to school. We’re all saying the same thing, again and again, this is an epidemic. This is a disease. Our country is so, so sick.
Nobody would blame you for wanting to get the hell off the Internet today, self-medicate with some soothing television re-watching and time spent in the company of a good dog. Despair is real.
But I understand if you’re still online because feel you must participate, because participation is the only thing, we’re told, that can possibly move the needle in this epidemic of white supremacist domestic terrorism. You don’t want to be complicit. You don’t want to prioritize your comfort over the lives of other people.
What to do?
So on days like today, I have created a few questions that I ask myself when it comes to consuming news, social media activism, and real world impact. I might be wrong. I’m doing my best, same as you. But I hope you find them useful.
Who needs my support most right now?
Those are the people that you should be reaching out to, whether that’s online or offline. Our instinct is to grieve with like-minded activists who are both similarly heartbroken AND similarly distanced from the event; OR to pick fights with people online.
I would argue that neither privileged activists nor politically defensive opponents most need our support right now.
Immigrant communities in El Paso need our support.
Blood banks in El Paso and Dayton need our support.
Anti gun violence organizations need our support.
Politicians putting their asses behind their rhetoric when it comes to gun violence need our support.
Who is going to see my social media shares and what is the potential impact of my social media shares?
If you have curated a pool of like-minded activists with whom you interact in your digital spaces, like I have, then the impact of our social media shares will be to reflect the same outrage and devastation back to each other. Sharing pain isn’t meaningless, but if you’re already in pain, absorbing the pain of other people might push you over the boundary between “in pain and taking impactful action” and “in pain and unable to do anything but address my own pain.”
If you have access to a pool of other-minded people, your social media shares will likely trigger the same “yuh huh racist” “nuh uh snowflake” level of discourse that we’ve all come to expect when talking about politics on the internet. Resisting the narratives that justify racist terrorism isn’t meaningless, but it also keeps your focus on the thoughts and feelings of people who justify racist terrorism, rather than on the people who most need your support.
If you have a message to share, you can submit it to a letters to the editor for your local paper. You can also write letters to your local immigrant rights organizations or anti gun violence organizations to tell them you support them. You can reach out to your place of worship to share your feelings and ask to sit down with leadership to discuss how your congregation can combat white supremacy.
Also, most importantly, you can and SHOULD also share your thoughts with your elected officials.
Social media has been shown to be an effective way to communicate with elected officials, but usually only if you get good volume behind your message. If someone else has already tagged your elected officials with the message you were going to send, make sure to add your voice to that chorus as well.
Will reading more about this event help me be better educated about what happened and how I can do something about it? Or will reading more about this event push me into a spiral where I’m incapable of remaining focused on people who need my help today?
The math on this is sticky because the pain of the observer pales in comparison to the pain of the survivors. I think there’s a conversation to be had about the fact that when it comes to domestic terrorism, we are all survivors because these events make all our lives smaller, but the fact remains that I, sitting in my parents’ house in Colorado, feel fear and grief in a very different, incomparably insignificant way from the people who lost loved ones to senseless, hate-fueled violence.
That line between “in pain and taking impactful action” and “in pain and unable to do anything but address my own pain”? Know your limits. Once you paralyze yourself, you’re not useful to anyone and your internal narrative remains focused on you, rather than on the people who most need your support.
Talking about it is important, but what can I DO?
I’m not going to tell you that the things that happen online aren’t “real.” It’s 2019 and we should all be past dismissing online rhetoric, pain, action, or organizing as frivolous or meaningless. But I am going to tell you that your online activity is less likely to be impactful if you’re relying on shares, retweets, and signing petitions. If it takes you one click, it’s not likely to be impactful. If it takes you one click, the #1 thing you’re doing is making yourself feel impactful.
(Some one-click actions are impactful - donations to organizations, for example, or sharing the words of people who most need our support.)
But I want you to start having a conversation with yourself about how you can balance one-click work with long-term investment in the people who most need your support right now. Financial, vocal, service. What can you DO, BEGIN doing today, that will commit you long-term to the eradication of white supremacist domestic terrorism?
I’m really asking.
So the long and short of it is that if you need to get offline because you’re catching yourself crossing that line into “unable to do anything but address my own pain,” that’s okay.
First, remember who needs your support the most right now. Donate to an immigration support organization, an anti-gun-violence organization, an anti-racism organization. First, write a letter to your newspaper, congressperson, place of worship.
And while you’re offline, start to ask yourself what you can invest in, what you can begin to DO, long-term, to keep yourself in this fight until it’s won.
I donated to Las Americas in El Paso, a small immigration advocacy group.
If you have another organization that you’d like to amplify, please comment below with links.