After the Shipwreck – A Plan for Moving Forward

I’m not optimistic about the future of our country, or the world, under a Trump administration. I think rights and freedoms we take for granted, including free speech, a free press, and security in our homes and persons, will be degraded under the guise of “law and order.” I think the culture will trend toward hostility, violence, and exclusion. Scientific inquiry, education, and critical thinking will be further disparaged. I think the values of evangelical Christians will be imposed on all of us. I don’t think the promised economic revival will come to pass. I think the environment will be irreparably damaged. I think it will take generations to recover from a Trump presidency, if we ever do.

But here we are. It is as it is. I am not without hope, or without determination. We have to work with the new circumstances we find ourselves in.

In a shipwreck it’s useless to cry, protest, complain, and blame. Obviously the ship was off course. Maybe the navigation equipment was faulty, someone sabotaged the steering, or the captain was drunk. Maybe we should have all been on deck watching out for land. Whatever. Here we are. It’s also not helpful to just sit on the beach, enjoying the warm sun, saying somehow everything will be OK. The thing to do is to explore the island, find fresh water, build shelter, figure out what’s edible, learn how to hunt and fish, and find a way to get along. Maybe even build a new ship out of the scattered wreckage.

It’s time to pick ourselves up, dust off the sand, and get work. There’s no help coming. We have to stick together.

Let’s get to know our fellow Americans

We can’t be “Stronger Together” until we can be together.

I am fortunate to have seen a lot of the United States. I grew up taking family vacations to State and National Parks, visiting friends and family in other states, and seeing how other people live. As a kid I played pool in bar along the Columbia river, caught fireflies in the yard of my kinfolk in East Tennessee, and visited many of the places my family came from, including Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

I went to a Southern Baptist Sunday school, attended Catholic mass with neighborhood friends, and used to visit a local Hari Krishna temple regularly for dinner. I have celebrated friends’ bar and bat mitzvahs at Jewish temples, and attended a family funeral at a black church. One hot summer day, after playing in the river that ran across the back of a relative’s yard in small-town Tennessee, my sister and I got berated by an ornery old guy in a pickup who stopped to inform us we would burn in hell for walking around in swimsuits. Culture shock indeed, for two kids who grew up in a Southern California beach town in the 1960s.

I’ve toured groves with California avocado growers, chased cattle on horseback in rural Nevada, and walked all night with a friend down a train track in upstate New York. I’ve worked on open-space cleanup projects with hunting groups, helped build and maintain riding and hiking trails, and worked in a hot little Internet marketing agency downtown. I’ve been involved in amateur radio, general aviation, equestrian groups, traditional music, and martial arts. I’ve led fitness classes for low-income Iraqi immigrant seniors, and I assist in the children’s program at the dojo. Each of these places and groups has its own culture. Even with my privileged exposure to so many kinds of people, there are more to meet and connect with.

Writer Patrick Thornton discussed the importance of getting out of our “bubbles,” our geographical and cultural comfort zones, in his brilliant essay “I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America.”

“We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.”

I have relatives back east who will not visit us in California because of the earthquakes. I used to work with a young man who grew up in the city of San Diego but had never visited the mountains or desert here in our own county. When people talk about the value of travel, and learning about other cultures, they almost always mean international travel. But we have places to see and people to get to know here at home, too. If you can’t get there in person, make friends online, watch documentaries on YouTube, meet people from different cultures in your local area, and read. Failing to get to know your own country is a kind of willful ignorance.

Let’s make it a priority to get to know each other better.

We are the new system of checks and balances

The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government are meant to keep each other in check. Now they will all be working together. That’s a frightening prospect.

A free press used to be the fourth part of that system of the checks and balances that made our country work. It gave us a way to keep an eye on what our government was up to. It was the immune system that helped us discover and fight disease. But our immune systems has failed due to years of lying, fear-mongering, politically- and commercially-motivated “news” sources promoting drama over information. Trust has been undermined, such that even reliable sources aren’t believed by many. The commercial media is completely broken. Useless.

But we are not helpless. We can observe directly, and we can communicate directly. We can share, discuss, and organize. We are the new immune system. We have to use this power effectively. Here are some thoughts on how we can do that:

  • Stop pretending we can count on the media. They completely failed us. We knew it was happening, we just didn’t want to see it. Now we can’t pretend to be naive anymore. Assume not only that the other guy’s favorite network is spreading lies, but that yours is too.
  • Read, view, refer to, cite, and share source materials. Read proposed bills. Read transcripts to see what was actually said. Watch live broadcasts from regular people (Periscope, Facebook Live, etc.) so you can see what’s happening instead of filtered highlights. Click through to what’s actually being discussed in third-party articles. Don’t trust others’ interpretations – see and hear for yourself.
  • Exercise radical intellectual integrity. Stop spreading crap you know isn’t true. Focus on what’s important, not slips of the tongue, statements taken out of context, snarky memes. Spreading these things is counterproductive.
  • Call out falsehoods, exaggerations, and omissions you see in articles and reports, even when they serve your own interests. Spreading baseless fear riles people up without accomplishing anything. Sharing out-of-context quotes leads to mistrust. Don’t selectively cherry pick just the information that reinforces your beliefs.
  • Support good journalism when you do find it. I hadn’t considered this until my friend Maryjo shared it: “If you’re worried about the freedom of the press: Pay for journalism.” She went on to suggest supporting the best sources you can find, saying “Can’t afford it, can’t afford not to.”

Five critical things we can all do

We need to build community, pick our battles, and fight effectively.

  1. Stay well. Take care of your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Be active. Go outside. Breathe. Move. Eat well. Rest. Without this, nothing else can be accomplished.
  2. Get connected. Meet your neighbors. Stay in touch with friends and family. Keep lines of communication open. Get to know people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, classes, religions, ages, genders, interests, and values.  Hillary Clinton said we are Stronger Together, and that is no less true now.
  3. Find common ground. Talk to people. Ask what’s important to them, and then listen. There are things we all want. Let’s work together for our shared best interests. This helps build the relationships that allow us to address the issues where we disagree, too.
  4. Be informed. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Watch documentaries. Keep in mind the points above. Get out of your comfort zone. Think critically.
  5. Speak up. Alert others when you see trouble ahead. Propose solutions. Direct people to information. Let your representatives in government at all levels know what’s important to you, and what you want them to do about it. Encourage others to do the same.
  6. Work for good. Find a way to make a difference. Write. Create. Build. Volunteer. Donate. Teach. Pick one or two causes you believe in and actually do stuff to help.

Specific things I plan to do

I can’t fix everything. None of us can. I can’t even keep an eye on everything. Paying scattered attention to many issues – knowing just enough to complain ineffectively to the folks around me – isn’t productive. I’m choosing just a few focused actions I can take, and issues to stay on top of.

Help people stay healthy and sound.

Right now the work I’m doing for good is my own career as a fitness coach, personal trainer, and writer. I can help people keep their bodies and minds in good working order by staying active, building strength, and avoiding injury. I don’t like negative marketing messages, but this one is true: “If you think staying healthy is expensive, try getting sick.”

Some of the responsibilities of leadership in this area is to share solid information and encourage people to get started. Another, which is crucial to our collective future, is to advocate for increased opportunities for physical activity in schools and workplaces.

Whether or not we find ourselves having to work well into old age, without access to decent healthcare, taking good care of ourselves starting now is a smart, safe bet. Even with universal healthcare, a weakened, injured, and sick population is expensive for all of us. This is something I can help with directly.

Practice Aikido.

Aikido offers an inclusive community of people dedicated to a better world. It’s a physical and philosophical practice that helps us to be more balanced and and peaceful. When people say “be the change you want to see in the world” the dojo is a good place to do that. I’ve been practicing Aikido since 2009, and will continue training, and invite others to explore the idea as well.

You may turn to music, dance, religion, being out in nature… Whatever works for you, I invite you to find it and participate in it.

Support access to broadband Internet.

For any of this to work we need unfettered access to the Internet. We have to be able to speak out, gather, share, and support each other. We must defend our access to the Internet, and expand it to include the urban poor, rural communities, and everyone else.

It’s hard to imagine for those of us with instant access to Damned Near Everything right in our pockets, but many people in the United States don’t have decent Internet access – or any access at all. Many of my rural friends around the country have slow, unreliable, expensive, and limited Internet. They have to wait until they get to work download anything that requires serious bandwidth. They get cut off if they go over their monthly limit. That’s not cool.

There will be pushback from the same privileged whiners who complain about “government cell phones” (Lifeline service for low-income people). They’ve got theirs, so why should they help anyone else get ahead? We’re just going to have to fight educate them. It does not help anyone to have millions of Americans excluded from the online world.

Universal broadband Internet access is a natural extension of the vision behind Carnegie libraries. Free access to information is critical for our democracy, and helps level the playing field for all citizens. Among other things, the Internet offers…

  • Access to educational resources, from science blogs for kids, to eBooks from public libraries, to universities offering online degree programs.
  • An infrastructure that enables people to start businesses, sell products directly to consumers, or work remotely when no jobs are available locally.
  • A way to communicate and connect directly with people across the country and around the world.
  • A venue for all of us to seek out and share information.
  • The means for the elderly, disabled, and geographically isolated to stay connected with family, friends, and the world.
  • Access to government resources, information, records, and representatives.

Donald Trump was elected, but that doesn’t mean the country as a whole rejected what Hillary Clinton was proposing. Indeed, more than half of voters favored her. In California she received 2.6 million more votes than Trump. There are many, many people who support her proposals, and we should go right on working for them.

One of the most important was Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation

“Hillary believes that high-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury; it is a necessity for economic success and social mobility in a 21st century economy.”

Close the Digital Divide: Hillary will finish the job of connecting America’s households to the internet, committing that by 2020, 100 percent of households in America will have the option of affordable broadband that delivers speeds sufficient to meet families’ needs. She will deliver on this goal with continue investments in the Connect America Fund, Rural Utilities Service program, and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), and by directing federal agencies to consider the full range of technologies as potential recipients—i.e., fiber, fixed wireless, and satellite—while focusing on areas that lack any fixed broadband networks currently. Hillary also backs the FCC’s decision to extend Lifeline support to broadband, and she will work to connect this policy with community-based programs that help citizens with enrollment, offer digital literacy training and expand access to low-cost devices.”

This is the cause I’m taking up. I invite you to choose something you’re passionate about, and focus your energies on that. I will do my best to understand these issues, follow developments, educate others, share information, and keep pressure on people who can make it happen.

Speaking of which…

Stay in touch with people in government who represent me.

Many times I’ve thought “I should write to someone about this!” Occasionally I’ve done exactly that. Most of the time, though, I mean to get around to it later, when I have a minute and can find who to write to. But then I never get back to it. To support myself in more effective communication with my representatives, I am going to create a document I can easily access from anywhere (in my case, that means putting it in Evernote), and keep in it the contact information for each of them right at hand. I invite you to do the same.

My list will include:

  • Our local Planning Group members and County Supervisor
  • State Assembly members and Governor
  • Members of Congress and Senators
  • Representatives involved in expanding Internet access
  • The President.

In the past when I have contacted representatives I’ve sometimes head that I was one of just a handful of people they heard from. I know my input has added to their understanding, and even shifted their thinking in a few instance. I’ve been on advisory committees and even served as an elected member of our Planning Group for several years. What we have to say can make a difference, but we have to say it.

Remember:

  1. Stay well.
  2. Get connected.
  3. Find common ground.
  4. Be informed.
  5. Speak up.
  6. Work for good.

Let’s get to work.