January 20, 2017
These days, one thing is for certain: We are in for change. What does this mean for ProSocial clients and issues and our work? Meredith and Larry watched the election returns together and before the last polls closed began to reflect on those questions and come up with answers.
What were your personal reactions to the election?
Meredith: The emails I received from family, friends, and colleagues mostly divided into two camps. One group was all doom and gloom. The other camp wrote things like, “What’s our move?” and “Who can meet up?” These people moved into action even if they didn’t know what the plan would be. There were so many events and conference calls, I couldn’t attend all of them. Very quickly this group had gone from “OMG OMG” to “Let’s go.” I don’t want to over-generalize, but people take action when they have hope of making a difference. There is a sense among many of feeling compelled to act, and I think this says something important and powerful about our country.
Larry: At about 7:30 on election night, my gut said Trump would win, and my mind just clicked into a new mode—actually an old mode. I immediately starting thinking about 1994 and the Newt Gingrich/Dick Armey “Contract With America” takeover of the House, and I immediately realized there would be important movement-building opportunity in addition to the setbacks and damage. The day after the election we were working on campus events for Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt, and there was a student meeting. I began penciling out what we would say. I guess I’m really an organizer at heart and an organizer can’t stew, can’t stop, can’t get demoralized, because success depends on their response and leadership. And the next generation of leaders will learn from what they see, for good or bad.
What does the Trump era mean for the social-change sector?
Meredith: There is a silver lining. I see lots of people stepping up, people who were never active who are getting active. Among philanthropists, new money is flowing, and important questions are being asked. Moms I know who had never marched in their lives took part are taking part in the Women’s March in cities across America. For kids and young people, this has been an empowering entry point into advocacy. And for a lot of smart people who have been intellectually engaged with opinions on issues but haven’t necessarily taken action, this is a wake-up call and a tipping point. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem: That’s not a cliché; in our world today, that’s an important statement. We can’t stand by silently while whole people are scapegoated and denigrated. But we also must look for opportunities to work together with people we disagree with to make progress where there is common cause. The future of our kids demands this. I’m energized by the calls and emails I’m getting from clients and entertainment executives and influencers wanting to do something. We already see the influx of new people and dollars.
“Far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.”
—William Lonsdale Watkinson
Larry: The answer to what this means is complicated by the fact that we don’t know what a President Trump will do. He’s not ideological. But we certainly have much to be concerned about. I started campaigning on the issue of “global warming,” which of course we now refer to as “climate change,” back in the late 1980s. I’ve been fighting that fight for a long time. I also now have an 8-year-old daughter. So it’s alarming to say the least. On the other hand, I am very hopeful because the threat and risk is brought into very, very stark relief with a Trump administration. It’s going to be pretty hard to sit on the sidelines, for example on climate, and not take a position, not do something. It’s like back in 1994. Bad things were happening when the Democrats controlled the House before the Gingrich and the Contract, but most people weren’t paying attention. After the election, the threat was out in the open and crystal-clear.
Meredith: This is massively altering across systems. Every four years in our political system, the losing party Monday-morning-quarterbacks, asking, “What could we have done to win this state? Redistricting?” We go through that every cycle, but that’s not the same as true introspection. And I think the election is prompting true introspection for Democratic and progressive independents—about what’s fundamentally not working with communications and messaging and more—beyond what would have ever taken place if Hillary had won or had lost to someone else in a different scenario. All social change requires convulsive moments and this kind of deep, and even painful, reflection about who we want to be, how we want to live our lives, and how we’re going to manifest and exemplify values from generation to generation. Without that deeper reflection you don’t really have sustainable movements; you have pivots. I think this will lead to sustainable movements down the road.
What do you think is important to focus on going forward?
Meredith: We have to think about which “change buckets” are worth investing in during this time, in terms of both issues and tactics. There’s a recalibrating. With environmental work it’s not about policy reforms necessarily, but can we have a conversation with the guy across the street and get him to engage in solar energy because he sees an economic return for himself? It’s about how to mobilize strategically knowing where we’re going to lose but looking four to eight years down the road teeing things up for greater success.
Larry: Well, we are going to have to be on our toes. Look, public policy and government action are critically important, but they are also slow. On climate and other issues, the action will move into other arenas. In fact, this is already happening on climate, with technology innovation and with cities and states stepping up to replace likely federal inaction or backsliding. I think it is very, very important that we think about how we are communicating and who we are leaving out in our communication as well. That could be another silver lining. Out of necessity, we and our clients are going to have to get good at talking with people we haven’t been talking to, and I think that will lift all our communications. Ultimately, the story of what will happen has not been written. Our leadership and choices and actions will write this story. Let’s make this a good ending.