Donald Trump, the GOP, the DNC’s election shenanigans, the DAPL, President Obama’s drone strikes, crony capitalism in political offices from the local level to the international level… It’s hard to have any faith whatsoever in the political process today. How can we know that calling senators and representatives has any effect whatsoever on their actions?

Sure, we can vote and sign initiatives; that at least has the data to back it up. But what about while we’re waiting for our elected officials to take action? What can we do?

Listen, Then Advocate

“Advocacy” and “awareness” (fairly) get bashed on a bit in the age of digital slacktivism. But persuading others, on an individual level, from a place of empathy, compassion, and aspiration for the truth is, in my limited experience at least, the most empowering tool in the political tool for the average citizen. As Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” And don’t seek to understand just so you can be understood; actually listen, live their story as if it were your own. It’s likely that there’s a vital piece of the picture you are missing from the subjective experience of those around you.

How do you think we as a nation elected such an obvious (to progressives) neo-fascist, neo-liberal demagogue? The Democratic Party, along with a great deal of progressives, in their tonedeafness, continuously pushed away Trump’s quarter of the country with flowery language, what could be seen as “identity politics”, and a disregard for the few genuine grievances aimed at them. They drew a line in the sand and shut down the conversation.

Yes, the alt-right is full of immature and selfish men. But it’s also full of people that have been hurt by their own upbringing, by their parents that failed to prepare them for a cooperative society, by an educational system that taught them they were all special and then failed to deliver, that failed to teach them why equal rights and equity for women is a good thing, and how systemic racism is alive and well in America.

Honestly, if it were not for my former-hippie parents, my good, patient friends, and several strokes of luck, I could easily see my past self tumbling down the alt-right rabbit hole.

Sure, the leaders of the movement have taken this dis-ease and fashioned a terrible weapon out of it, and they should be held responsible. But the leaders of a movement are not a movement, and not all of our actions should be aimed at them.

Once you’ve listened thoroughly, to the point that you could restate their story as emphatically as they did, in your own words, but with the same amount of energy and passion, as if it had happened to you… only then should you begin to share your own story. Only then will you have built up the social capital to begin showing them the truth. Only then will they listen.

Sure, of course: rich, white, Christian men are at the top of the social food chain in America whether they realize it or not, make no mistake. But therein lies the point: they don’t realize it, and they won’t listen. They see scholarships for minorities and think “Why aren’t there scholarships for men?!” It looks unfair out of context. Conversations on Twitter about how companies need to seek out and hire more minorities when they themselves are struggling to get a job… The way they see it, it’s a zero-sum game, and the competition is cheating. Again, they fail to realize the massive headstart they’ve been given as a result of the way they were born, but they will not learn this through yelling, insults, or condescension.

Contrary to some popular belief, these philosophies trickle up more often than they trickle down. The discontent of white men began with laypeople, and the right-wing media and politicians have taken advantage of it. The only way to reverse this is to, again, work from the bottom up. Reach out to your friends, individually, and listen. Truly listen. Then have a conversation.

This isn’t going to be easy a lot of the time. But few things are that are worthwhile. I’ve completely failed at this before and probably will again. But I think it’s an ideal worth aspiring towards.