Now that the 2016 election is over, the question confronts us: What are we to do?
Political solutions are not going to come in the next four years for the many urgent problems of the world. Our national politics are not leading us towards policies that will lead to a better tomorrow. Americans in search of real answers will have to look farther afield.
Fear and hate don’t create anything, and they don’t build anything. They can only tear down.
I remember another major “sea change” in the political climate in 1980, when the Reagan Revolution swept aside the idea that government could be a solution to problems, replacing it with “government is the problem!” The morning after that election, I recall crafting a black armband which I wore for days in my anger. People would come up to me saying, “It’s not so bad!” It was bad — and over time, it became even worse than I could have imagined. In the 1980s — the Reagan Era — poverty increased, the social safety net was shredded, environmental destruction increased dramatically, spending on national defense soared — creating an enormous debt we still struggle with today — and we cast out the belief that all Americans need to contribute equitably to the common good through our taxes.
Nevertheless, in the ashes of that era, new seeds were sown, sprouted, and took root, including the idea of “social entrepreneurship.” Bill Drayton was an administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency in the late 1970s; he worked to prevent the destruction of the EPA by Reagan. After leaving the Federal government, Bill traveled the world identifying individuals — he called them “social entrepreneurs” — who were leading remarkable new efforts to make the world a better place, people who were having extraordinary influence and effect on the important problems they were addressing. The Ashoka network of Fellows now numbers in the thousands, and spans the globe.
Yesterday’s election was another major “sea change,” conducted under the banner of division and hate. How should we, as social innovators, respond? I’m no doctor, but here are my prescriptions.
Prescription 1: Take care of yourself. You can’t help others if you aren’t in good shape yourself. There’s a reason the airplane crew tells you to put your own oxygen mask on first before attempting to assist someone else.
Prescription 2: Renew your sense of inspiration. I highly recommend browsing through the roster of Ashoka Fellows to come away inspired and re-committed to your work. There are so many amazing incredible people out there who have overcome hardships and challenges that dwarf our own and still prevailed. Seek them out, learn from them, and re-connect with your passion for change.
Prescription 3: Seek the company of your peers. Friends don’t let friends do this work alone, and at Impact Hub Boston, we look for ways to connect and support each other in the work we all do. “Stronger together” is not just a campaign slogan; it’s something we live each day. We are part of a global network of 13,000 fellow social innovators in every corner of the globe. We stand together.
Prescription 4: Help others. Of course, that’s what you already do, which is why you’re reading this. In the coming months and years, those most vulnerable among us will experience additional pain and suffering, if the campaign promises of the winning party are to be kept. They need our help and support now, and will need it more in the future.
Prescription 5: Work with local government. In the US, the national government will probably be drawing back from its responsibilities. State governments are often constrained in their ability to act due to lack of resources. Local governments, however, are forced to get creative and find new solutions to their problems. They know that “the cavalry won’t be coming” to rescue them; they’re going to have to find a way to address their problems on their own regardless of the difficulties. As Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute says, this means that local governments are where innovation in government will be happening for years to come. If you’re an innovator focused on problems that local government must address, your city is calling you.
Prescription 6: Get involved in local politics. As this election campaign has demonstrated, politics matters too much to be left to the few, with most of us just showing up every four years. If local politics is where real change can happen, we should be part of that change. We bring empathy, creativity, energy, passion, collaboration and negotiation skills, and so much more. For decades, conservatives have turned the word “politician” into a laugh line, the better to weaken the ideal of a government that can help solve real problems for real people. If we want local government to truly help people, we have to be there to support those who are working to make it happen.
Prescription 7: Keep the faith. As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” We owe it to ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and the people we share the Earth with to keep fighting for an America that lives up to its full potential as a global leader in the struggle for liberty and justice for all.
Resources: Here is a curated selection of essays and links you may find helpful. If there’s one that you’ve found particularly helpful in coping with the election results, please share it in the Comments.
• From Inside the Darkness, a very personal journey to reclaim the meaning of the election and the horrors of the campaign, turning it into an opportunity to heal,
• Our100, an open letter to the country from 100 women of color leaders,
• From the Rubble, A New Mindset Must Rise, an essay about how we can rebuild our democracy to be stronger than ever,
• For our coworking members, here is a list of resources available to you to cope with stress.
Geoff Mamlet is founder and President of Impact Hub Boston and Managing Director of CIC. Starting with anti-racism work in high school and college, he has been a lifelong supporter of progressive causes in ways big and small. He is proud to stand alongside the members of Impact Hub Boston who are working every day to make this a better world for everyone to live in.