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Birthday Call-To-Action

Photo: Glacier National Park, Nathan Chan

tl;dr: Find your issue, get organized, and make political change.

It has become fashionable to ask people to donate to a charity of their choice on Facebook on their birthday. This warms my heart: it is so great to see so many people thinking of how to help others.

If you have come to wish me well on my birthday and are wondering what cause I will ask you to support, I have a different type request for you: make this the year you engage politically and organize for the long-term. While you might automatically think of the presidential election, I actually want to encourage you to explore other issue areas and levels of government. The presidential election is definitely important (I will probably end up canvassing at some point), but I think it is too polarizing and high-level for any individual at our level to have much leverage over the final outcome relative to the leverage we could have over issues and jurisdictions much closer to home.

Four things have motivated me to ask you all to take up this call to action today:

  1. My favorite podcast, On The Media, had a recent episode with Eitan Hersh describing the phenomenon of "political hobbyism", or the practice of consuming lots of political news and thinking a lot about what is happening in Washington, but not doing political activities, like organizing, canvassing, and volunteering. Hersh says that if you truly care about political outcomes like election results, legislation, and court rulings, it is important to work on trying to take power. Otherwise, you are just ceding that power to somebody else, and nothing you want will get done.
  2. Today's youth activists have nothing: no money, no ability to vote, and no direct power. And yet, they are the ones who have reinvigorated climate and gun rights' activism.
  3. Nikole Hannah-Jones opened her series 1619 with the following quote: "Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true." (source)

Finally, over the past two years, I found my issue and organizing group in housing and Yimby: I have access to the decision-makers, housing affects every social, economic, and environmental issue I care about, and I have been inspired by others in the movement, whose passion and commitment utterly overshadows my own.

Housing has also shown me that it is impossible and irresponsible to disengage from the political process. Federal, state, and local government policies like interest deductions, highway planning, and zoning have all contributed to the mess we are in today. No business model, technological innovation, or entrepreneurial zeal is going to solve this without organized collective action. And housing is not the only issue that demands this sort of response.

Find the issue that touches you most deeply, and organize to solve it.