6 Steps You Can Take to Make a Difference (Without Making Yourself Crazy)

By Joanna McClanahan of Ramblin’ Mama

It’s tough to “stay woke” when it feels like we’re living in an alternate, dystopian reality. Anyone who has been trying to keep up with the news over the last few weeks is exhausted. It’s tempting to tune out when it becomes seemingly impossible to keep up.

But here’s the thing: We can’t afford to tune out. Remember that 50% of Americans didn’t vote at all last year. Trump supporters didn’t get us here; it was apathy.

Staying informed is a marathon (ideally a relay race, where we help each other along) and we have to slow down and strategize to keep from burning out. Here are six steps you can take to make a difference, without making yourself crazy:

1. Don’t cut off people with different political opinions

Many people have “unfriended” and “unfollowed” people with different political views. This, along with left-leaning and right-leaning media, has led to “blue” and “red” Facebook feeds, with little overlap.

  • What a “blue” newsfeed looks like: Left-leaning articles, left-leaning comment sections, kombucha recipes, more man buns than I could possibly count.
  • What I assume a “red” newsfeed looks like: Right-leaning articles, right-leaning comment sections, Tomi Lahren videos, rampant misspellings of the word “your.”
  • (^Those are mostly jokes, guys.)

What you can do: Refollow your friends and family you unfollowed. Maybe not the toxic ones, but we need to rebuild some semblance of communication, because both sides are becoming increasingly extremist in their own echo chambers. Try to find things you can agree on, and don’t say things online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Most importantly, we need to call out misleading links when other people share them. Too much false information is being spread, unchecked.

2. Consume news wisely

Both parties have been shouting about “fake news” from the other side and they’re both correct. There are sites on both sides that are sensationalized to get you to click, like, and share (that’s how they make their ad money). Here are some sites where I’ve recently found numerous, deliberately-misleading headlines/content:

  • On the left: US Uncut, Occupy Democrats, Rawstory, Think Progress, Daily Kos, and Huffington Post
  • On the right: InfoWars, Breitbart, The Blaze, RedState, Drudge Report, and Fox News
  • (^ I’m not saying they’re equally terrible, but it’s something they’re all guilty of, and there are many more like them.)

What you can do: Keep these things in mind when reading articles online:

  • Is the source reliable? You can quickly search the topic in Google News to find additional sources.
  • Is it recent? Check dates.
  • Is it an opinion piece? Most opinion pieces are labeled as such, but not always. A lack of references is a sign that it’s an opinion piece. Be equally wary of news claiming to be “unbiased.”
  • Is it satire? This might seem obvious, but as someone who works in satire, let me tell you, you’d be surprised at what people believe is true.

Support quality journalism. I suggest buying a subscription to your local paper as well as subscribing/contributing to at least one of the following:

  • Highly-reputable national journalism sources: NPR, PBS, The Hill, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNN, NBC/CBS/ABC News, Mother Jones, Newsweek, and Time.
  • Highly-reputable international journalism sources: Reuters, BBC, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera.

3. Share news responsibly

Again, most headlines are designed for click-through rates. They want you to be outraged; that means you’re more likely to engage with, and share, their content. They’re trying to make you say, “WTF?!” so they can make those dolla, dolla bills, y’all. (See #2 for garbage sites main offenders.)

What you can do:

  • Don’t be reactionary. Take some time away, or do some research, then share once you’ve cooled off enough to assess the information calmly.
  • Don’t share “news” memes and tweets. If you do, add a link to an article to back up the legitimacy of the claim.
  • Read the articles. Don’t share based on headlines alone.
  • Give yourself a cap of things to share/time spent on Facebook. If you post articles all day, every day, people are less likely to take your posts seriously. Set limits. Put your phone in a drawer if you have to.
  • Consider making political posts “public.” If your post is set to friends, only mutual friends will see it if it’s shared. If it’s public, friends of friends can view/comment and you’ll get additional viewpoints.

4. Keep things in perspective

It’s important to keep a view of the bigger picture to keep from going crazy.

What you can do:

  • Pick your battles. The site What the Fuck Just Happened Today? is a great (referenced) summary of daily events. Overviews like this are helpful when the amount of information feels insurmountable. From there, it’s easier to decide which subjects you’re most passionate about advocating for.
  • Recruit your friends. Don’t just complain; brainstorm solutions. Split up, organize, research different subjects/policies, then share your findings.
  • Focus on the future. Encourage your kids to advocate for others. Show them what inclusiveness looks like; lead by example.

5. Celebrate small victories

Giving yourself, and others, credit can make all the difference to staying motivated.

What you can do:

  • BE KIND. This can be as simple as stopping to ask someone how they’re doing. Spread as much kindness as you can through your words and actions.
  • Make lists. It feels good to cross off items as you get them done.
  • Take care of your mind, body, and spirit. Make something beautiful, binge-watch a show, go for a walk, do yoga, meditate, etc. Taking a break is not normalizing anything; it’s about self-preservation.
  • Practice gratitude. Remind yourself of the things you’re thankful for and the accomplishments you’ve achieved.

6. Get involved locally

We can complain about things on Facebook all day, from our couch, in our cheeto-dust-covered yoga pants (okay, that last part is just about me), but the only way we’ll impact legislation is to get involved locally.

What you can do:

  • Learn who your local representatives are and contact them regularly. The site 5 Calls gives users easy, one-minute scripts, along with the names and numbers of their representative, each week.
  • Find, support, and volunteer for local advocacy groups. Unitarian churches are great resources for finding local groups. This is also a great way to meet other people who want to help.
  • Run for office. Many women already have since the election.

I know it can feel overwhelming at times, but it’s going to take all of us getting involved to truly make a difference.