We need to stop debating which methods are going to work and realize we need to build a whole ecosystem of change-making.
I’ve worked in electoral politics for almost 17 years. I’ve been a communications director, I’ve worked for nonprofits where my main job is to get people to vote.
And let me tell you, it’s more important now than ever that we stop telling people that voting is the solution.
Voting is one small piece of what it means to be an active citizen. There are all kinds of things that go with it—door knocking, getting out the vote, holding our elected officials accountable—that have to be done together to have a solid strategy for change-making through the electoral process.
But electoral work alone is also not the answer to our current situation. We need to reach beyond our comfort zones, join movements, build mutual aid efforts, and get ready to break laws that we know are unjust.
How did we even get here? The backslide of reproductive rights, the refusal to take action on climate, the attacks on trans kids… none of this happened overnight. It’s all connected, part of a decades-long strategy by the wealthiest, most powerful corporate and political elite. And they aren’t going to stop. Court watchers are already predicting that the next attacks will be on equal marriage, LGBTQ rights, birth control, even interracial marriage.
We’ve been told so many times that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. But that is not what we are witnessing. So what do we do?
There’s so much to be done that it can be overwhelming. I like to narrow the scope by thinking about a concept that adrienne maree brown lays out in her book “emergent strategy”—fractals. The idea that big things are made of smaller versions of those things. Like how a fern has tiny leaves that look like little ferns. This is how I like to give context to how I take action. To change the world, we have to start with ourselves, with our relationships, with our blocks, our neighborhoods, our cities, and states.
Do you know your neighbors names? Do you know the people who are already doing the work in your community to help people access abortion, or to keep immigrants safe? Do you know about the mutual aid networks helping the houseless population in your city?
This is where we have to start. As close to us as possible. Let me give you a plan. Invite a few of your trusted friends to dinner. Maybe a potluck. Have a real conversation about your fears right now. Talk through different scenarios. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses as a group, and where you’re interested in plugging in. Make real plans.
I say plugging in intentionally. Black women, Indigenous women, immigrant women, rural and poor women, have been doing this work for a long, long time. We don’t need 1,000 new organizations to spring up and all try to invent the wheel. We need to invest in growing and expanding the infrastructure we already have. If you are invested in protecting reproductive rights and helping pregnant people in places where abortions will be restricted, abortionfunds.org is a great place to start.
But don’t just donate to an abortion fund and walk away. The time has come to do more than that. Do you live in a state with abortion protections? Do you have a spare room where you could host people? Could you volunteer and drive people who need your help? The abortion funds you find in your area will have a way to help you do this, or be able to point you in the right direction.
You can likely find other groups in your area that are doing mutual aid work and movement building.
Lessons that many allies have failed to learn, time and time again (Please read this, if you read anything else):
- Look for existing information. Google is your friend. People that are doing abortion protection work are already overextended. Don’t rely on them to give you personal advice.
- Show up and plug in to existing work.
- Do what people ask of you. If you’re new to movement work, try and listen more than you talk, keep your head down, and learn. Offer skills you have, but also realize that you taking out the trash allows someone to do work that only they can do.
- Don’t waste your time and energy critiquing people if you disagree with their tactics. Find your lane and do your thing.
Maybe reproductive justice isn’t where you plug in. All of these tips can be applied to any issue that calls to you. But we are in a time where your action is necessary. We cannot afford to have people that have progressive values sitting on the sidelines, or just voting and thinking that’s enough. It’s not enough. People’s lives have been, and continue to be, on the line. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and take action.
And when you aren’t out in the world doing things, educate yourself on movement history. Learn about how people have fought for justice in the past. Ask your elders what it was like before Roe.
Remember. All of our issues are connected. We have everything we need to win. Another world is possible—but only if we fight for it.
This Op-Ed is by Ashley Fairbanks, an Anishinaabe artist, writer, organizer, and digital strategist.