Staying connected in uncertain times

Jenny Muir suggests a number of positive, progressive ways to respond to the current political climate

Demonstrators brave the elements for a vigil at Belfast’s US Consulate, 2 February 2017

January 20 seems a long time ago. President Trump got down to work quickly, signing executive orders to cut business regulation, build the wall with Mexico, reinstate pipelines, weaken Obamacare, ban international abortion counselling by organisations receiving US funding (the ‘global gag’), freezing government recruitment and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But it is his travel ban that has galvanised protests worldwide. Although many of the other issues are very serious indeed, there is something about the profound injustice and illogicality of the travel ban that has proved to be a tipping point. It feels like the 1980s all over again – or perhaps even worse. Add Brexit to the mix for those of us in the UK and the future starts to feel very uncertain.

It’s all very overwhelming and sudden, and it’s hard to know how to cope. Here are seven suggestions that might help.

1. Face up to the situation: Trump, Brexit, Putin and the like are not going to go away any time soon. Accept things are not going well and acknowledge your feelings about this, such as anger, fear, uncertainty, sadness, a lack of control. Do not retreat into your private life and pretend it’s not happening. People in power are relying on that – and on you not caring about people elsewhere in the world.

2. Be the person you want to see: remember, when they go low, we go high. Behave decently and treat others with respect, even – or perhaps especially – if they disagree with you. But also challenge prejudice whenever you feel you can: work on this in advance so you have some responses ready. Be nonviolent: dignified and peaceful protests have a greater impact and will attract a much wider group of participants.

3. Join and use social media: it’s a great way to find out what’s going on in your neighbourhood, connect to global protest movements and to publicise your own events. Use it to keep informed, and ignore the trolls.

4. History is made by those who do something: no matter how busy you are, you can commit to doing one thing – protest, organise, join an organisation, volunteer, donate, sign online petitions. But make it something you are comfortable with because it’s in line with your values, ideally something you enjoy at least some of the time, and something you can commit to in the medium or long term. Things are not going to get better any time soon, after all. Your choice might be overtly political, but anything that makes a positive contribution to your community will do just as well.

5. There is one exception to no. 4: even if you are not comfortable with street protests, try to join them if you possibly can. The visibility and originality of anti-Trump demonstrations has been an important aspect of keeping the message on the front page and has been an inspiration to others. Go with friends and family, wrap up warm, and try to enjoy it.

6. Look after yourself: as they say on the plane, fit your own mask before helping others. These are trying times and we need to take both physical and psychological health seriously. Eat well, don’t work too hard, get enough sleep, make time to do something you enjoy, spend time with people you care about. Be aware of the importance of your belief system, whether it’s an organised religion or a set of secular values. A very small minority will be affected more seriously by current events. If it’s you, get help; don’t ignore it.

7. Support others: Some people you know are angry, some are scared. Some may be activists in danger of burning out. Do what you can to support your friends, family and comrades. Sometimes the most important thing is to listen. On other occasions a cake would be nice. You know the person and you know what they need. As in your own case, if they are in the rare position of being more seriously impacted then they may need professional help.

These are tough times, but recent events have shown how many people are prepared to stand up and be counted. Remain concerned, remain connected, and remain human.

Jenny Muir
3 February 2017