My Shift from Political Hobbyism to Activism
January 21, 2017 was transformative for me. It was on that day that I went from political hobbyist to political activist. On that day (the day after Donald Trump's inauguration) I joined an overwhelmingly female multitude of my fellow citizens who simply couldn't believe that Trump had become president. Representing my wife and daughter and granddaughters I attended the first Women's March in downtown Los Angeles, resolved to do everything I could to resist Trump's presidency. I went alone, not as part of any group. I had no idea what I was going to do to actualize my desire for resistance. I just knew I had to do something.
Luckily, I bumped into (literally!) a smart young couple who invited me to join their local Indivisible group. Within a few weeks I had a meaningful assignment on the team, began attending regular organizing meetings and was taking my first baby steps as a political activist. In the years to come I would attend advocacy meetings with politicians and elected officials, participate in more marches and demonstrations, help with get-out-the-vote campaigns, etc.
|That's me, at the Women's March in Downtown LA, Jan. 21, 2017
As we would soon see in the 2018 midterm elections, many of those born-again-as-activist women who attended that first Women's March would run for office and win political positions. And a vast army of us would continue pushing an anti-Trump, pro-democracy progressive agenda at all levels of government -- local, state and national.
Soon, to my surprise, my noisy political rants on Facebook and Twitter dwindled down to almost nothing. They just weren't that much fun anymore. As my energy shifted to real, meaningful political action, my need to bluster and debate had all but disappeared. And better yet, I began to see a direct connection between my tangible work as a budding activist and actual, real-world political progress.
The Problem with Political Hobbyism
|From "College-Educated Voters Are Ruining American Politics" in The Atlantic
I know from personal experience as a political hobbyist that it can be addictive to follow the cable talking heads, dig into opinion pieces, quote the pundits and wax profound via memes and social media link-posting. I get it! I've been there and I know it can feel good to raise hell online -- especially if you are raising hell alongside a core group of like-minded ranters (a.k.a. an "echo chamber") who have targeted and do regular combat with opposing ranters from "the other side." But eventually you have to ask yourself: What is this accomplishing? Am I making a difference or just letting off steam? Or worse... Is this just about getting attention and proving how profound I am? And, finally, if I have the energy to do this stuff, then why not channel it into concrete action that has a chance of getting meaningful results?
American political scientist Eitan Hersh is the author of Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change. In his podcast interview with Hersch, Chris Hayes (of MSNBC fame) asks him to explain "what he diagnoses as 'political hobbyism,' what real political engagement looks like, and .. how this self-gratifying online hobbyism can be detrimental to the real political activism needed to create change." Check it out.
Okay. So if political hobbyism is the problem, what's the solution?
The solution: Channel that rant energy into political activism!
You might be surprised how easy it is to become politically active! In fact, most of us who helped get nation-wide results in the 2020 election were able to work from home, on our own schedules (mostly part-time) with not much more coordination than occasional phone calls and Zoom meetings. The work itself usually consisted of simple stuff like phone banking, text banking, calls to voters to help them figure out how to get registered, etc. And yes, from time to time, we made calls to our local or national elected officials as part of one initiative or another. The bottom line: All of this was much more fun and rewarding than merely ranting on social media.
(Do you dare?) running for local office.