Note; the bottom of this post will be continuously updated with resources and action links. Please add any useful resources in the comments, to be added to the list.
This topic needs no introduction; if you are not already aware of the crisis and political turmoil I’m not sure this document could reach you anyway. This is for the woke scientist, scholar, and other academics ready to fight fear with resistance. I’m not exactly sure how to best arrange this document but it must be written. My goal is less to review the state of affairs, of which I’m sure you are aware, but rather to provide concrete tips and guidelines so that you can break free from ‘oh-dearism’ and leap into action.
With that in mind, lets break this down into a few sections:
- No action is too small.
On the progressive left, particularly among intellectuals, we have a history of infighting over which action is the best action. While I think there is merit to our culture of critical thought and inquiry in a democratic society, we are now past the time where such a response is enough. Fascism is at our doorstep and we must organize together any coalition of those willing to rise up. This means that no act of resistance is too small. I know from my interactions that the majority of academics are seriously worried about what they see in the daily news. We know that democratic principles are under serious threat, but we’re unsure of how to respond. The academic life is a rat race, and few feel ready to dedicate hours of their day to a cause whose efficacy of which they are unsure.
But this is exactly the attitude that our opponents are counting on. They are happy for us to share the latest outrages within our filter bubble, knowing we are too caught up in our daily lives to translate that outrage into action. With this in mind, it is imperative that we embrace any action. Intellectuals and academics have important skills to contribute to resistance; as the tenders and growers of knowledge we have a social duty to speak out against fascism. What we face now is nothing less than an existential threat to our craft and culture.
It is with this in mind that I earnestly beseech my colleagues and collaborators to cast aside doubt and one-upmanship. In times like these, you can’t condition your voice and action on the probability of success. Instead we need to organize together and present a unified resistance to Trumpism.
Of course, we have all busy lives to attend to. Our professional and personal commitments do not pause as we attend to Democracy. So I urge everyone to seek out the causes and actions with lie closest to their home and heart. Don’t waste time asking if your action is likely to succeed. If you feel strongly about the gagging of scientists, then join a pro-science march. Write to your MPs and professional societies asking them to publicly denounce such activities. Whatever the causes – women’s rights, social justice, the abuse and discrimination of people of color – leap into action with whatever help you can give. These movements need your talents; they need your thought, your code, your data, your critical thought and skills at debate. Your ability to communicate complex ideas in useful packages. They need these things as much if not more than your time and money – although you should also not hesitate to join the common foot soldier in standing up. Everyone’s rights are under threat, which brings me to my next point – the resistance must blossom everywhere.
- Neo-fascism is a global movement; the resistance must also be
Make no mistake; the current wave of authoritarian politics is not constrained to any single nation. It neither begins nor ends with Trump. Certainly in Europe there are far right movements springing up like weeds in every corner of the continent. As such the movement to resist must also be global. We must show our politicians that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere, and that we will not stand for appeasement.
In eras gone past, the academic ‘intelligentsia’ played a critical role in shaping democratic reform movements. Such movements require leadership, critical thought, writing, and other such skills, which are the tradecraft of the academic. Today globalism has spread our kind far and wide around the globe. Most of us have too few local ‘resistance’ contacts. Do you know who your local union leaders are? Or where to go to work with women’s rights groups? Many of us are expatriated from our home countries, and may feel unsure if it is our place to fight in local political movements. As an American, should I join ant-Brexit movements? Should I vote in local politics? Or is this an intrusion?
The global nature of today’s oppression means that our resistance must also be global. This is tricky because ultimately we can all have the most influence in our local communities. If we are to unite together and defend Democracy, we must overcome our isolation and build a global movement with one cause celebre’; the defense of freedom. We must connect our global ties with our local leaders, to rouse the slumbering giant of the concerned majority. To do so it is vitally important that academics, scientists, and researchers reach out to their local communities and work to build politically active networks.
- We must organize and unite.
To overcome this isolation, which breeds inaction, we must organize. Today’s academic is woefully isolated. Many of us have moved continuously from state to state. This means that our local networks are typically impoverished, but our global networks are quite rich. We must shore up this weakness, while also capitalizing on our strengths. This means we need to start talking amongst ourselves, in the workplace and outside it. Don’t just stand at the water cooler saying ‘oh dear, it’s really all quite terrible, isn’t it’? This only contributes to the feeling of paralysis. Instead, take literally any action that builds a community around you. Organize a local action group at your university. Build a Facebook group around your international network. Find a cause that excites you and dedicate an hour or two a week to working with them. Go to marches! Marches are an important way to build community. Once you find a group of people dedicated to the resistance, offer your services to them. They are likely to be desperate for people with professional skills.
- Any resistance is effective resistance
Now you have probably already asked, but what can I really do? Will it really matter? I know how easy it is to fall into despair. After Brexit and the Trump election, I felt a deep darkness as never before. The triumph of fascism and radical capitalism seemed inevitable. I wallowed in self-pity, watching the unending tide of bad news, shouting ‘I told you so!’. This is totally ineffective and will make you and your colleagues feel horrible.
Here is the thing. Resistance is not about winning and losing. It’s about standing up for a moral cause; about drawing a line in the sand and saying: “here I will go no futher”. To paraphrase MLK Jr; “if you do nothing out of fear, then you are already dead inside”. History will judge us for the action we take in the coming weeks and months. Are you going to wait until someone drags a friend or coworker out of bed? Would you be more likely to stand up and fight knowing that the boots of fascism have been just past your door?
Now is the time to stand. And as an academic you have many ways to fight. Chances are you’ve been through at least a decade of advanced training in skills which are vital to any democratic movement. So shake off the chains of defeatism and DO SOMETHING! Your resistance, no matter how small or focused, sends a message to your friends and colleagues. It tells the oppressed that no, you will not stand idly by as they are persecuted. Trust me; you will sleep better and breath more easily with each and every action you take.
As a researcher/scientist/academic, it is likely that you were already on the edge of burn out before our world imploded. For your resistance to be sustained, it must be self-nurturing. While marching and acting can be an effective way to retain a feeling of control, it must also be moderated by self-care and practical constraints. This means regulating your information intake and being disciplined about how and when you resist.
A few practical tips; reward yourself for effective action. If you go to a march, or write an essay on the evils of fascism, also take time out to relax. Read a good book, play some videogames, go for a walk. Take time to remember what it is you are fighting for. This goes double for social media. By this point is probably clear that Twitter, Facebook, and similar outlets are going to be a never ending stream of bad news, as well as an organizing hub for the resistance. While it’s vital that you participate in these forums and remain well-informed, you can also easily burn yourself out. Set specific times of the day when you take in the latest news and social media, and other times when you turn off these inputs and work on your own things. Again, if you are engaged in concrete action, there is no reason to feel guilty about taking time for yourself and your work.
- Use your time wisely – do not feed the trolls
While it might be an effective way to blow off steam, I recommend avoiding the pro-Trump/Brexit/Le Pen trolls entirely. I know this isn’t easy for most of us, as we want to believe that free debate and the exchange of ideas can solve most of the world’s problems. The issue is that, we are also fighting an unprecedented information war. Remember that 2.5 million more people voted for Hillary than for Trump. We have the moral high ground here; we’re fighting against fascism, and they are fighting for it. Not only is it unnecessary to convince these people, it is almost certainly impossible. What we need now to is build an effective resistance; the authoritarians will either realize the error of their ways and join us, or be judged by history accordingly. And the sad truth is, many of these accounts are likely fake, ‘astroturfed’ trolls being paid to support the radical right agenda. It just isn’t worth your time and energy; research suggests arguing with these people may actually strengthen their resolve. This also applies to the far-left; those who voted for Jill Stein because Hillary was ‘the same as Trump’. We need to be focused on turning out the moderate, silent majority, who are appalled at what they see in the news but have no idea how to stop it.
- Concrete action
Hopefully by now you are on your feet, ready to act. So what CAN you do? First, you need to choose a domain of resistance. The best thing you can do is to find forms of sustainable resistance. You can’t go out and lose your job; this only reduces the longevity and depth of your possible action. The first step to effective action is therefor to select a cause, which is geographically and morally closest to you and your heart. This will help you build local roots and a community from which to grow your action. It will keep you motivated and prevent the tendency towards defeatism. We are all only human; for a resistance to be sustained it must come from a wellspring of the heart. It should enrich and grow your wellbeing, not sacrifice it.
With that in mind, here are some concrete ideas for how you can best resist:
- Write. As an academic, you likely have a talent for thoughtful and persuasive writing. Write letters to your local newspaper, your political representative, on your blog, on facebook. Don’t just spread alarmism; state with force your opposition to concrete policies. Advocate for clear and decisive action. Lobby your representatives frequently and let them know that you and your colleagues will be voting and donating in kind. If you are an academic of prestige or status, then don’t leave that part out. Use your voice to provide the movement with clear and concrete leadership.
- Call. Right now, go find a phone number for your local representative. If you are in the US, it’s important that you call your specific reps even if they are not from your party. It is important not just to call once, but also to call repeatedly. Set a schedule to make a phone call once a week, to give your representative an earful. If they are democrats, insist that they refuse to give a single inch to the GOP. If they are GOP, let them know loudly that you will disagree with their actions. Before calling, consider reading this excellent guide which can help you understand how to make your voice heard most effectively. Calling and/or writing to your representative is an easy way you can make a difference, and it doesn’t need to take more than 15 minutes a week.
- Organize. Reach out to your local movement of choice, and get out there and help them. It isn’t enough to just tweet and share. These groups are desperate for help in a variety of ways, at least some of which you are probably skilled at. They need slogans, leadership, debate, and good writing copy. You could for example dedicate one week a month to lending some expertise to these groups. At the very least; march. It shows solidarity and helps us all feel less alone. Don’t forget to also write and lobby your existing scientific organizations; if enough of us pressure our professional societies to take a stand, it can have a massive effect.
- Code. Are you a data scientist? A web developer? A social media socialite? This is the 21st century. Our resistance doesn’t have to just take the form of just calls and letters. Chances are your technical skills are in high demand. Web apps to organize; OPSEC documents to protect activist privacy; data science to analyze and optimize resistance. Our opponents are winning in part because they are using data science and social media to overwhelm traditional outlets. Your ability to process, analyze, interpret, or communicate data can be invaluable.
- Donate. Choose at lease one professional organization and consider making a monthly, recurring donation. My choice is the ACLU as they have already shown an ability to fight Trumpism in the judiciary. But there is no shortage of causes needing your help. Attenant to the above, consider also getting in contact with local organizations to see if you can offer concrete help.
- Teach. As an academic, you have a lot of experience teaching to an audience. Within the boundaries of your university ethics, use that podium for good. Get your students to consider the ways they can become politically active. Chances are you university has local political clubs (e.g., anti-war, pro-privacy, environmental) who are in need of your sponsorship or leadership. If not, consider starting one. Your critical thought and rhetorical skills can help motivate the youth to the streets and polls.
- Vote. There is still a chance to stop this at the ballot box. But only if we get out there and help opposition parties. We must stop infighting and start supporting politicians who resist. The tea party effectively stymied Obama, one of the most popular politicians in recent history, by implementing a simple, unified vision for resistance. Any politician who worked with Obama, they primaried. Any GOP member who voiced a strong opposition, they supported. We must adopt these techniques. Any politician who shows any hint of appeasement must be opposed. You should consider getting involved in your local political groups, to maximize your impact on your local MP/representative/etc. Start a facebook group of people you know, to make sure you are all voting in local and midterm elections. We must fight fire with fire, and the best way to do this is to democratically stymy pro-fascist movements from the ground up.
- Science. As a scientist, just sharing your data with the public is an act of resistance. The authoritarians seek to control the very flow of information itself. Reaching out to share your data and scientific knowledge is thus a powerful form of resistance. Use whatever data you have to back up the movement. Remember that we must always keep the high ground of truth on our side.
- Create. Use your creativity to write poetry, speeches, to paint pictures of resistance. Craft t-shirts and colourful poster art. A resistance is sustained by it’s art; in this time of need we must unleash our most creative instincts in the fight for democracy.
- The future, and closing thoughts.
Many of us likely feel some degree of guilt; how could we have let this happen? There is no doubt that we became so caught up on the daily machinery of productivity that we have become complacent. But it is never too late to act; so long as one remains free to do so. There will be a time for careful debate and self-incrimination. It speaks volumes that many of us are only now awakening to the dire situation of civilization. We owe people of color, gay and trans, immigrant and all oppressed an apology for our complacency. But do so standing side by side with them in the #resistance. Now we must act together, in hopes of retaining our freedom to dissent.
Ultimately, we must look with hope towards the future. No matter how dark the headlines come, we must know that we will stand together in solidarity. Each day look deep inside and stoke that fire of resistance; know that our goal must not only be to push back the darkness of fascism, but to stem the wound from which it arose. We must build a better society, together.
Resources for the Resistant Academic (continuously updated):
Organizations Worth Donating To – consider a recurring 5$ donation! That cup of coffee can help sustain the fight.
Staying safe when resisting:
Practical guides to resistance:
Excellent tool to organize daily calls to your representative:
How to be your own light in an authoritarian crisis:
Rules for a Constitutional Crisis:
A Trump Resistance Guide
Impeaching the president – a primer:
An activists guide to exploiting the media
Useful media and tweets:
Data for Democracy – a great portal for data scientists who want to resist
The march for science:
Huge anti-brexit march:
Meet the scientists affected by the Muslim Travel Ban:
Resistance Leaders – must-follow voices:
Operational Security (OPSEC):
A resistance playlist – for when you need some moral building resistance songs!
 Note that this only applies in some case. If the brown shirts are coming for your neighbor, you may have to choose between submission and self-sacrifice. It is important to decide now how you will act in this seemingly absurd, but not improbable scenario. But for now I urge you to take effective and sustainable action, for all is not yet lost.