Blame + Accountability in the Times of Trump

Hating Trump all the time takes up a lot of energy! Kate Werning shows us how we can channel that energy into sustainable resistance.

It’s been a tumultuous few months for those of us in the US and internationally who love peace, justice, and care about the future of our planet from a global perspective that includes all people. So many of us had worked ourselves to the bone to prevent the election result that happened… that had seemed so impossible.

CTZNWELL activists engaged in the Fight For $15

At CTZNWELL we engaged thousands of yoga and meditation practitioners across the country through our voteWELL campaign in mindful civic engagement through mindful debate watching parties, Vote Together community circles, learning about our ballots, and even teaching empowered civic engagement-themed yoga classes at festivals and studios.

But the seemingly impossible did happen… and in addition to the mass destruction and huge safety threats for Muslims, immigrants, people of color, poor folks, women, LGBTQ people, and more, there is a major shift happening in civic involvement. Millions across the country are getting engaged for the first time – calling their legislators, taking to the streets in the historic Women’s March, donating money, and circling up to take action. Just the top three post-election-engagement organizations have seen a combined 10,000 brand new groups start up since inauguration. People are ready to rise up. As organizers, a moment like this is an unbelievable opportunity to really create a shift in power.

Last Saturday, I went to get my hair cut. I was enjoying a grounded, laid-back political conversation with my hairdresser and a few relieved deep breaths during the long-awaited shampoo scalp massage, when a woman walked in to wait for the next appointment.

She was a white grandmother, there to convert her gray roots to match the blonde – recently activated by the Women’s March, and convening her friends weekly to call legislators using the Indivisible Guide. I told her I am thrilled to see so many people getting engaged and thanked her for what she was doing.

Which launched her into a 30-minute monologue version of what felt to me like the following:

“Have you heard what he did now? Outrageous. Did you see that tweet? Ridiculous. What a disaster. Can you believe it? It’s so horrible. He is evil. They all are. PAIN PAIN PAIN. BLAME AND SHAME. OUTRAGE FOREVEKate Werning quote for blog2R.”

I know this broken record — I heard it from my own people in Wisconsin about our massively destructive Tea Party Governor Scott Walker for 5 years. And I immediately felt totally exhausted and disinterested.

Many of my friends have been asking me, “How much bad news do I continue to take in? I feel like turning it off is disengagement and I don’t want to turn the other way… but I know I can’t go on like this. What can I do in the face of so much crisis?! I’m exhausted and I haven’t even begun.” Perhaps even across the globe folks are feeling this overwhelm from the bleak reality of the US political consequences for our international wellbeing, or perhaps there are analogous moments in Australian context where similar dynamics play out. Even after 10 years as an organizer with a full toolbox of wellbeing practices, this overwhelm is so available to me. How do we keep our eyes open and keep showing up, but not become sleep-deprived apocalyptic bad-news zombies?

Later that day, I re-watched this video and it touched a nerve.

Especially this part:

“Blame is the discharge of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability.” — Dr. Brené Brown

AHA! moment. Spilled coffee and politics: could the dynamic of blame be working similarly? So this is where I’m at:There’s something about the Trump-haterism, nationally and globally, that makes us feel like we’re doing something. Yes, injustice has to be clearly named. Yes, his actions are horrific and must be responded to. But discharging that deep well of energy that has potential to move us toward sacrifice and brave action for change by complaining… well, that’s just an avoidance of accountability. The more we blame Donald Trump, the more we get to place accountability outside of ourselves, and avoid the excruciating discomfort of looking at the structures and systems our cooperation maintains that are the very building blocks that make this horrifying moment possible.

So what would it look like to shift from blame, complain, and sprints of action into powerful, sustained resistance? Because whether we’re new to the movement or seasoned activists, our mental health and clarity of thought is essential to our victory. A few thoughts for shifts we can make together…

BLAME –> ACCOUNTABILITY
When you hear the next piece of outrageous news, pause and take a deep breath. Ask yourself: What is at stake here that I love? In what ways might I be accountable for a part of this crisis? (not being involved, staying silent, choosing convenience over aligning my personal life more closely with my values, etc.) What steps can I take now to noncooperate with this threat on my values? (boycott companies that support Trump’s policies, speak up, post a sign at my home, donate money, make calls, reduce my own environmental impact, etc.) When you feel yourself shifting into super-blame-mode, stay reflective. Notice what pieces you can own and take responsibility for, knowing that the crisis is much bigger than any one of us but also includes each of us. Notice your power to divest from the destruction.

BAD NEWS OVERLOAD –> SHARED VISION
Another insight from Brené is that one of the quickest ways to create cohesion in a group is through a common enemy. Being anti-Trump is an enemy-based uniter for so many of us right now… but it’s a shallow and short-sighted point of unity. There is so much urgent action to take… tragic cabinet appointments, dangerous executive orders, immigration raids, and more. Many of us are overwhelmed by the tidal wave of crisis intake. We’re going to need something more than “stopping Trump” or rallying against right-wingers globally to help us focus our way forward.

So let’s go deeper. What is the world we are working toward and how do we believe we can successfully get there? If you’re not already involved in a conversation like this with a local organization, I love the Women’s March Huddle conversation guide, which helps guide you through a visioning session that takes us beyond crisis response. This format could be easily adapted to any national context. Gather a couple people, lead a conversation (however imperfectly), and start there.

Intaking more news can have an inverse effect on showing up more fullyIntaking more news can have an inverse effect on showing up more fully. Have a conversation as a group about where you feel most called to focus your effort, and give yourself permission to focus there. And even if you’re a professional organizer or seasoned activist, or you feel like you already have your needs met – take a second look. Do you have a community you’re talking things through with outside of your organization alone? None of us are exempt from this need for a shared vision that goes beyond any given issue area or political moment.

ISOLATED ACTION –> COMMUNITY
Taking bursts of action alone is like throwing back a shot of espresso. It works, it moves energy, and is a good place to jump start. But if you don’t get some protein in your system soon, you’ll get shaky and eventually crash. If you’re new to this work (or not), you need to get yourself into community ASAP.

Taking action together is not only how collective power works to create change, but it also ensures that our own needs for meaning and relationship are met along the way, which is the best way to make sure you can show up for the long haul. Show up to a local organization out of personal interest or have a dinner and invite friends to talk about how we can make a difference together. Commit to meeting a second time. And make sure that you’re meeting the need for these types of relationships in your personal life, not just through work. Resist isolation so we can resist together in powerful community.

URGENCY –> SUSTAINED COMMITMENT
We are at critical global turning point moments in war, climate change, refugee and immigrant rights, and so much more — and every one of us needs to show up to help tip history in the best possible direction. But feeling more urgent and more rushed is not the same thing as being more committed. Take care of yourself and know that taking the next step in showing up, and then taking the next one, and then the next one, is enough. Peep this article for a few ideas to pace yourself: How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind: Self-Care Lessons for the Resistance.

As we move forward into this new political era in the US, I am working with fellow organizers and wellbeing teachers to guide newly engaged folks into sustainable, committed, visionary changemaker work. We are fiercely committed to turning around the direction of our country to recognize through our policies and global actions that for any of us on this planet to be well, we all need to be well. No person or nation can succeed alone.

Through redirecting blame and bad news overload into shared vision, we create the possibility of sustained successful action. And through building community and sustained commitment for ourselves, we combat the possible burnout factors of overresponsibility and reactive urgency so we can stick with it for the long haul. Because for any change strategy to succeed, we’re going to need to be here to move it forward. Our presence is foundational to the strategy.

And as you take empowered action in your own local context, know that there are millions across the sea that are joining you in deep dedication to transforming our world into a place where all of us can thrive.
Kate Werning is a community organizer, immigrant rights activist, and yoga teacher living in Brooklyn, New York. She works at the intersection of personal and collective liberation. Kate most recently served as the national Organizing Director for CTZNWELL, an organization mobilizing wellbeing practitioners for social and political change in the US. Read more of her writing at www.katewerning.com and find her on Facebook at Kate Werning Yoga.

How do you control how much bad news you ingest? How does involving yourself in activism empower you? Please share your feedback in the comments section below.

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