We’re on the precipice of an election that could potentially be life-changing for many Americans, but if there’s anything this past summer of protests has taught us, it’s that individual and community activism needs to be ongoing regardless of who is elected to the White House.
In that spirit, Vogue spoke to seven activists around the country about their most immediate priorities and what they see as the most important things people can do to take meaningful political action, no matter who wins on Election Day; read their responses below.
Opal Tometi, co-founder, Black Lives Matter
While I believe we must address several issues at once, I also believe that the government must reunite 500+ children with their parents. It’s unconscionable that children could be taken from their parents, and that the U.S. government can’t find them. I’m disgusted. This is reprehensible and I can barely sleep thinking that vulnerable children are subject to the whims of the Trump administration. Sadly, tearing families of color apart is something that this country has been doing for quite some time now, but I long for the day where each family matters, regardless of color.
Leah Thomas, co-founder, Intersectional Environmentalist
I’m still going to advocate for diversity and inclusion and environmental policies, and make sure that people of color don’t continue to experience the brunt of climate injustice.
It’s surprisingly an amazing time to mobilize. I’ve seen my personal organization, Intersectional Environmentalist, grow tremendously when it comes to building an online community. People are engaged online now more than ever to learn about the different issues that they care about. One of my co-founders for Intersectional Environmentalist always says, “I was a lonely eco kid, and I was looking for other lonely eco kids. And now I’ve found that community as a lonely eco adult; so what if we created a community for all the other lonely eco kids, so they can add other people?” And I feel like that’s happening in so many different areas. Even though we are isolated in our homes, there’s been kind of this reemergence of beautiful art and creativity and community. And hopefully that means that people are going to have stronger support systems and spaces where they can talk about what matters most to them. From those conversations, I think there will be policy changes and activism. So that gives me a lot of hope.
Tenicka Boyd, National Organizing Director and Deputy Political Director, ACLU
The end of the election does not mean we at the ACLU and our volunteers are backing down. We’re doubling down. We and our affiliates across all 50 states are ready to fight locally and nationally to push for progress on areas such as immigration policies, policing, and abortion rights.
The ACLU will work with our People Power activists to make sure civil rights issues, specifically racial justice, are front and center in the next administration and Congress as well as on the local level. We will work on a holistic policy platform that aims to convert our country’s history of systemic inequality into a future of systemic equality. This will include key pieces of legislation on voting rights, criminal justice and marijuana reform and reparations. The best way to get involved is to sign up. We need everyone’s help to bring true, lasting political and economic equality to all people.
Rebecca Davis, founder, grassroots voting activist organization Rally + Rise
I think a very big issue for 2021 could be voting rights; protections, expansions, and coming up with a strategy for dealing with a Supreme Court that’s shown itself to be pretty hostile towards protecting those rights.
My advice to anyone recently activated by a specific event—whether it was the George Floyd killing, COVID, or the 2020 election—is to shift your mindset around activism. How can you treat it like a habit (rather than a response), so that it becomes a regular part of your life? Look at how you hold yourself accountable to, say, working out or meditating, and apply that to activism. Finding whatever it is that’ll motivate you to keep doing the work is the best thing you can do to set yourself up for channeling your energy into new (or continued!) forms of action.
The sheer number of people who have taken action in some way for the first time—from attending a protest to phone banking for a candidate—keeps me optimistic. Once people realize that, yes, activism is for them, that it is something they can do, I think they’re more likely to start viewing events and issues through that lens of: Okay, what can I do to impact this and how do I get involved? I’ve seen that from new Rally+Rise members this year, and it’s so inspiring and motivating.
Whitney McGuire, co-founder, Sustainable Brooklyn
This year has been brutal for our psyches, and I’ve been incubating ways to feel more empowered. One of those ways is by creating a data tool modeled after the original “Green Book” that’s focused on creating a standard of care for Black lives. Once businesses pledge to uphold those standards, they’re listed in this directory, and then it’s up to the consumers to sort of hold them accountable. We’ve partnered with MoCADA, we’ve partnered with Protect Black Business, we’ve partnered with a policy firm called Pink Cornrows to bring the data tool, which will hopefully be open to the public in the spring of 2021, to life. There are already existing standards of care when it comes to property ownership; when it comes to what type of establishment you operate, whether it’s a bar or a clothing store. We’ve a spectrum of non-safety, and we’re not taking it anymore.
Locally, our elections are really impactful. It’s vital that we take the extra step to go to the police commissioner’s website and see who our actual representatives are, to go to our County Board of Elections and see who the gatekeepers to our safety are. So I would encourage people to use this momentum from the national election to form habits of politically engagement. I haven’t always been engaged and informed about political elections because I always felt like someone else would handle it. But as we’re seeing, even one person not showing up can have dire consequences.”
Rebecca Walker and Lily Diamond, co-authors, What’s Your Story?: A Journal for Everyday Evolution
Rebecca: One of the most important things for me, and I think for all of us, is to try to remember this is our country. We in many ways belong to this place. And if we want to see it change in a positive way, and be a place that our children can feel they belong to as well, we have to remember that it’s up to us to keep refining what it means to be a person of this land. And I think we can’t stop imagining—we can’t have a crisis of imagination just because the election is over. The failure of so many enterprises, so many communities, so many companies, is this crisis of the imagination.
So I think we have to make sure we keep our minds active and creative and engaged and aspiring to something better for everyone. What should all Americans get for the taxes we pay: health care, excellent schools, unpolluted water? Who should pay taxes—do we want a wealth disparity that means the majority of the population struggles for basic food and shelter while a tiny number live in luxury? What should we teach our children: history from all the points of view of those who experienced it or just one or two? How do we want to relate to other countries, other peoples, other lands: should we be enemies, allies, co-stewards of the earth—how should resources that come from the earth, and thus belong to no one group, be allocated? How do we want to feel when we speak of being American: proud, ashamed, determined, engaged? What do we want to represent to ourselves and to the world: justice, equality, the best of humanity or greed, ignorance, fear, divisiveness and the worst of our humanity? Do we want to stand for a system that kills and suppresses based on how people look, or one which values the vast diversity of our country and recognizes it not only as a resource, but a boon in every area of life including the arts, politics, tech, et cetera. It really is up to us.
Lily: The first 100 days [of a new term] are when we’re actually getting to put to work all of the values and ideologies that we have been standing behind and shouting about, but this work needs to happen first in our own families, our communities, and within ourselves. For me, it becomes a question, really, of how do we talk to each other about identity, about race, about inequity? How do we offer mutual aid in spaces where it’s needed? How do we show up when we’re called to show up, and not just on a national scale? We may never be aligned fully with what’s happening in the White House, but there are still always ways to show up for each other closer to home. A huge issue for me across America, in my backyard here in Hawaii, is structural inequality. Here a lot of that is centered around access to natural resources, but I would say access in general—looking at how our current systems have been shaped by white supremacist ideologies for centuries now, and ensuring that we start to look at rewriting some of those systems that prevent access to really basic human rights, like water, safe housing, affordable housing, the hiring processes—minimum wage for women and for working mothers is a huge one. People are asking themselves really hard questions right now, and are willing to be uncomfortable. Finding a way to be in that space together is so helpful—profoundly helpful.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.