Illustration by Carly Jean Andrews

5 People Committed to Making 2017 Suck Less

Everyone agrees 2016 was a dumpster fire. But who’s working to help make sure this year isn’t worse?

There are 1.7 billion Google results to the query, “What do we do now?” and a good chunk of them were written the day after Trump’s election. Clearly, many writers would like to give the electorate advice on how to proceed in these Dark Times.

Their advice, however, has been fairly obvious, if important: Donate, call your representatives in Congress, hold Trump accountable for everything he says. But how, you might be wondering, are people taking these ideas to heart? Are folks re-evaluating their professional lives, doubling down on activism, committing themselves to art or otherwise pursuing more work that’s of national interest?

For all the talk about how much 2016 sucked — and how nervous we are about what the future holds — it hasn’t been that clear what any of us are actually going to do about it. So we went looking for people who’ve formulated game plans for how to help make the world better (or at least less terrible) in the years to come.

Jon Danforth-Appell, Los Angeles

Writer

I joined the L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America pretty soon after the election. The DSA’s numbers have exploded in the wake of Trump and I’m thrilled to be a part of a vibrant organization that speaks to the very real concerns of the working class, people of color, the LGTBQ community and religious and ethnic minorities. DSA is a big tent organization featuring everyone from Trostskyites to Sanders supporters.

I’ve also joined the group IfNotNow LA, a lefty Jewish group dedicated to ending the occupation of Palestine and helping to fight Trump at home. This is the first time I’ve really engaged with other Jews in a political sense and I think there’s a growing feeling of unease in the community that I’ve never really seen before. So much of Jewish political life in this country has been focused on Israel and in a weird, fucked up way, it’s nice to see fellow Jews engage with their identity in a political way on the home front.

The election was fairly recent so everyone is still gearing up for the fight to come — I believe January 20th will be a pretty big day for the left in this country — but I’ve already started to go to protests again. In a lot of ways I feel like I’m in college again under the Bush years: there’s a deep, dark undercurrent of fear, but also a renewed sense of struggle.

I think my role and the role of people in the creative arts is to make sure we don’t make Trump look like an idiot. Liberals did it to Bush in the early 2000s and it was a big mistake. While liberals were making fun of how Bush pronounced “nuclear,” he started a Muslim registry and Karl Rove redistricted the entire country on a local level thereby turning everything fucking red (and not the good Commie kind of red).

These people are not idiots. Idiots are harmless. Idiots eventually stumble like clowns. These guys goose-step in a vulgar precision.

Maddy Clifford, Oakland

Artist and educator

I wasn’t very productive for about a week after Trump was elected. I went through a period of depression. My stomach was in knots — it was the raw realization that millions of Americans decided they gave zero fucks and voted for a dictator. Then I was like: “Maddy, why are you surprised? This is the reality of our country. Now we can face it head on.”

After the initial shock I started to feel free and grateful for the beautiful community I surround myself with here in Oakland. It was fascinating because everything was just falling into place. The art I had been creating was freeing, so I just kept working.

I refocused my fears into action. I was already in the process of curating an annual hip-hop show my collective, Brujalyfe, puts on called The Brujas You Couldn’t Kill. I felt relieved because I was paying queer, black and Latina artists and the show was going to be free, at a safe venue. It turned out to be a great way for folks to process their grief about the election.

Another artistic project I’m working on is a collaboration between my new band, FR333, and an apparatus based dance company called Flyaway Productions. The show is called The Credibility Project and it tackles women’s rights issues, from consent to reproductive rights. As you can see, I’m really grinding right now.

I started working four years ago at a juvenile hall in San Francisco and it changed my professional life from day one. I no longer accept the idea that there aren’t enough financial resources for youth or artists or art. If there’s a budget to build million-dollar cages of concrete and barbed wire to house the most traumatized young people in our communities, then there’s a budget for my ideas about how to improve the lives of disenfranchised kids; for my art; and for my work on the outside.

Tom Wheeler, Arcata, CA

Program director at the Environmental Protection Information Center

The day after the election, we threw out our 2017 work plan. No one at EPIC (The Environmental Protection Information Center) had expected this to happen. We sat around our conference table and talked about the future. We know that the fight over public lands is going to ramp up. From the existential threats — the Bundy clan’s dream to give away our national public lands was well received by the Republican Party — to smaller threats, such as individual timber sales, EPIC expects to play defense for the next four years. This means everything from reengaging our grassroots activists to filing lawsuits.

On the one hand, this is also an opportunity. While public lands are going to be a mess, we have a chance to influence the development of California environmental law and policy. After we threw out our 2017 work plan, we imagined a world where cornerstones of federal environmental law — things like the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act — did not exist. And then we asked, what can we do in California to mitigate that blow? After the election, we critically looked at California environmental law for weaknesses or areas to improve. In 2017, EPIC will be filing a number of rulemaking petitions to ensure that our laws will continue to protect California’s special species and ecosystems that make this state great.

I know this sounds clichéd, but getting shit done is cathartic. I just finished a legal brief for a friend in Washington. Doing the work. Fighting the fight. That helps. Standing Rock taught me a lesson: If you create a loud enough din, eventually the government will have to listen. The conservation community has always been most vibrant and engaged when our backs are up against the wall. Reagan’s environmental legacy inspired the birth of the EarthFirst! movement; Bush’s attempts to weaken federal environmental laws were fought tooth and nail by the next generation of conservationists. Whereas in the Obama administration, we often tried to “get along,” in a Trump administration, we are going to fight over everything.

Toby Crittenden, Seattle

Executive director of the Washington Bus, a nonprofit for young people interested in politics

The election definitely made me take a step back and think about what I’m putting my energy towards. I’m in something of a unique spot, because I believe that what we do at the Bus — youth empowerment, building political power for disenfranchised people, doing explicitly anti-racist/homophobic/misogynist work — is what we need to do at scale. Right after the election, two things happened: the first was everyone felt punched in the gut — not about a R or a D type of thing, but that the person who won was so explicitly grounded in racism and violent misogyny. All of us, myself included, felt like the rug had been pulled out from under us. Second, everyone showed up at work the next day still totally hurting and confused, but really, really focused on fighting back.

I consider myself very lucky to wake up every day and be able to come do work that is pushing back, but man, it can be really hard to see so much of what you think is an immutable (or at least core) set of values get upended.

As far as how we’re resisting, a couple of things: first, we’re committing to use our organizational resources to protect vulnerable people, including our staff members who are immigrants, have DACA status, are queer, and are at the front lines of being vulnerable. We’re looking into how we work with our partners on university campuses to make sure hate crimes are being reported, and to provide support for students/connecting their experiences to legislation and political happenings.

Second, we’re doubling down on our belief, pre-Trump, that states matter, and that what happens at the local level is going to define much of the future. So we’re looking at policy locally that is not just defensive but also proactive — like voting rights and equitable tax policy.

As far as donations are concerned, money is going to the groups on the front lines — the CAIRS, the Planned Parenthoods, ACLU, SPLC. At this moment, it’s one of those ‘this is bigger than any of our own individual organizational ego’ moments

The last piece of response is doing the leadership development with young people of color — basically making sure that there’s a pipeline of decision makers who aren’t old white dudes.

Brett Horvath, New York

Co-founder of Scout, a news site focused on the social implications of technology

We recently realized that someone in Silicon Valley is going to build what we call “the truth machine.” Who knows what it will look like exactly, but it’ll likely be some combination of technology, natural language processing and machine learning that will be able to determine what’s true and what’s not. Now that the election is over, I’m advocating for someone in the tech world to build this thing. Facebook and Google are saying that it’s hard to ascertain whether something is true or not, and that’s absolutely accurate. But these companies are spending billions of dollars on artificial intelligence to identify our faces in photos and mine our psychographic profiles — just so they can sell us sneakers. If they can do that, they can figure out what’s misleading and what’s fake online.

What we’re doing is trying to spark a dialogue about how we can move past incremental changes in reporting fake news. We’ve recognized that the algorithms Facebook uses are editorial — that debate is stupid and over. We have a responsibility to make sure that the information that goes out to users is accurate, while also making sure that speech isn’t perverted by the business interests of companies.

What if the biggest tech companies agreed to an open system where anyone in the system could report a piece of information as false or misleading? Where human reporting and algorithms could collaborate?

If you had a neural net and AI, you could feed it the top 100,000 articles and discussions related to topics that are going to be discussed at the presidential debates. But in the future, I don’t even think you’ll need to give it a head start. If the algorithm’s advanced enough, it could analyze a statement immediately — it could parse that information, reference it back to embedded fact-checking websites, analyze whether the claims were ever proven to be inaccurate and then give the statement a score.

By reaching out to techies, we’ve already found a couple teams that are building these systems. We’re now working with them to identify their technical and policy needs.