Volunteer, Give, Talk: 19 Actions and Ideas for a Better 2017

What You Can do for a Better 2017

Does everything seem normal again? Has your pure terror following November 8, 2016 given way to Westworld or La La Land or “which lotion should I give my mom this year”? If so, stop reading this and go read thisa reminder from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She writes, among many smart things, “Now is the time to refuse the blurring of memory…”

Nothing is normal again! And we need to work harder than Beyoncé in Lemonade to make 2017 a year worth preserving, unblurred. You’ll recognize some familiar faces on this list of things you can do, change, or throw money at: Planned Parenthood and the ACLU appear here. But where does your money go if you donate to Planned Parenthood? How does the ACLU actually work? We discuss that and other lesser-known, vital organizations, and include a list of ways you change your habits (for free) and what you consume (it’s easy) to make 2017 livable for everyone.

Local and national organizations that will take your money or your volunteer hours, in no particular order: 

THE AUDRE LORDE PROJECT 
Through radical, non-violent activism and organizing, the Audre Lorde Project supports gender-variant people of color. The ALP keeps offices in both Manhattan and Brooklyn and regularly produces actions and events. To get updates, email cleo@alp.org. If you’re looking for holiday gifts, consider giving to the ALP on someone’s behalf—or, check out their incredible SOS gift guide, which lists LGBTQI, people of color-owned apothecaries, chefs, and artists with gorgeous goods and services for sale.

THE NATIONAL NETWORK OF ABORTION FUNDS
This group gathers organizers who know how and where you can get an abortion, even if you can’t afford it, and organizes that information in an easily searchable database (scroll down for a list of funds organized by location). “No matter where you live, how much money you have, or how you get your insurance, only you should get to decide if you want to be pregnant,” is the organization’s claim. The site itself is an excellent resource, and giving will support their ongoing efforts.

EMILY’S LIST
Emily’s list works to get pro-choice democratic women elected. What’s first on their Get Involved page? A plea for you to run for office. What’s next? A plea for volunteers. It’s kind of like raising your hand in class: if you don’t do it, somebody else will. Oh—and you can also donate, of course.

THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION
The ACLU was founded in 1920, and the organization’s goal is to uphold and defend the rights and liberties allowed by the Constitution and laws of the United States through public education, lobbying, and direct litigation. (The ACLU appears before the Supreme Court more than any other organization except the Department of Justice.) In 1939, the ACLU won the right for unions to organize. In 1942, they denounced the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans. The ACLU’s current Supreme Court cases involve the rights of transgender people to use their preferred bathroom, immigrants and long-term detention practices, and whether Simon Tam can call his all-Asian American punk rock band “The Slants”.

The ACLU has two arms: gifts to the ACLU Foundation can’t, by law, be used for legislation initiatives. This money supports communication efforts, litigation, and public education; it’s also tax deductible. Gifts to the plain-old ACLU can be used for legislation efforts, which is the core of the ACLU’s work, but are not tax deductible.

PLANNED PARENTHOOD FEDERATION OF AMERICA
Planned Parenthood operates approximately 650 health centers across the United States, providing both reproductive health care and sex education. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is the political advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and their work involves political organizing and legislative advocacy. Recognizing that by 2035, one-third of all youth in the United States will be Latinx, Planned Parenthood is devoting particular funds and energy into the Latino Outreach Initiative (your donation to PPFA supports this). When giving, you can select a specific PPFA location to receive your money; you can also donate directly to the Action Fund (not tax deductible because their work directly affects legislation). You can also volunteer.

BUDDHIST INSIGHTS 
Centering and calming yourself can be the first step towards compassionate response (ask the Dalai Lama). Buddhist Insights is an entirely donation-run organization that recently renovated a house down in the Rockaways and offers free meditation retreats. You can volunteer, donate, or attend a retreat to support their good work. Event calendar here; donation instructions here.

MAKE THE ROAD NY
This organization, with centers in Brooklyn (Bushwick, Queens (Jackson Heights), Staten Island (Port Richmond) and Long Island (Brentwood) supports Latinx New Yorkers through community and electoral organizing, transformative education, and survival services. Daniel Altschuler, Make the Road’s Director of Civic Engagement, contributed research to this article in The Nation about how cities can protect immigrants right now. If you want to help, show up at an event or donate.

ACCOMPANY YOUR NEIGHBOR / THE ARAB AMERICAN ASSOCIATION
As Deputy Director of the Arab American Association, Kayla Santosuosso recognized a need for community support directly after the election: a friend asked if she could find someone to accompany a Muslim woman who was scared to walk in New York City alone. After seeing incredible response to her Facebook post asking for help, Santosuosso devised a google doc that allowed concerned citizens to pledge to accompany an at-risk neighbor—whether minority, Muslim, LGBTQ, or immigrant. After finding that most volunteers didn’t have bystander intervention training (surprise), the Arab American Association has organized several trainings throughout the city. If you can’t attend these, fill out the form and check your email for a new round of 2017 intervention trainings.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR A BETTER TOMORROW
Want to build a United States that elects thoughtful leaders? Invest in education for everyone. Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow picks up where most public education leaves off, with coding classes, a medical administrative assistant training program, job and internship-seeking support, and a range of immigrant services. Almost 4,000 adults and children were trained last year, and 85 cents of every dollar donated goes to services. You can donate here ($100 supports two weeks of ESOL classes!), or hire an OBT grad here.

COOL CULTURE.
Like OBT, Brooklyn-based Cool Culture picks up where arts and education funding dries up: through grants and donations, this organization connects diverse youth and their families to vital arts and culture experiences; their base reflects the diversity of New York, in that 52% of participants are Latinx and 30% are black. Donate here.

TRANSGENDER LAW CENTER
There’s an urgency now for trans people to update official documents to match their chosen gender identity. The Transgender Law Center site gives step-by-step instructions for this process as well as legal advice. In addition, this Oakland-based center works to change laws in the United States that discriminate against gender self-determination and trans people. The future is only female if it has the right to self-determine! Donate here.

OFFICE OF REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT
You’ve heard about registering Muslims, right? Well, as Beenish Ahmed explains in her Vice article, that’s a real thing, and even though Obama suspended the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), Trump’s transition team has expressed interest in reviving it. You can volunteer for resettlement programs on the right side of history by using this link—the Office of Refugee Resettlement lists organizations (many of them churches and ministries) devoted to settling refugees.

Ways you can change what you consume—media-wise, food-wise—and how you act to help the planet, yourself, and others:

RECONSIDER YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MEAT
Did you know that, according to The Guardianyour burger fix is worse than the pollution you cause by calling an Uber right after? Drop mass-produced red meat altogether for a major environmental impact. Buy grass-fed beef and eat less of it. Eat at restaurants that use quality, sustainably-produced meat. Check the website; call and ask. In the years ahead, when responsible environmental policies are pushed through the wood chipper, your actions will matter more than ever.

READ TO INFORM, NOT TO CONFIRM
Forget the fake news browser extension (or add it if you want, who cares, and while you’re at it, add the Washington Posts’s twitter fact-checker): the most important thing you have, until you die, is your ability to think critically. Are you reading to confirm a bias or are you reading to inform yourself? Read widely and thoroughly. Subscribe to Mother Jones or the Economist, because good journalism costs money. Get freaked out by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, and acknowledge his bias. Read more. Don’t stop. Listen to Ahmed Ali Akbar’s BuzzFeed podcast See Something, Say Something about being Muslim in America. Watch T(ERROR) and 13th.

PROTECT YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION AS BEST YOU CAN
The New Inquiry is another good source: read Kade Crockford (Director of the ACLU Massachusetts’ Technology for Liberty program) on ways to keep your information private. In case you haven’t noticed, the stakes are high (she uses the word comrade a lot): we’re not talking about keeping your Instagram private or your browser incognito; we’re talking about encryption.

CALL PEOPLE. YOUR REPS, MOSTLY. 
Figure out who your reps are and what they’re up to. Call their offices and let them know what you think. Here’s a good place to start that project. Call someone once a day!

ACKNOWLEDGE THAT NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, IT HAS RACIAL IMPLICATIONS
Are you hiring an assistant? Writing about news? Making a movie? Making friends? Everything you do has racial implications. If you’re a white person, admit that you have work to do, and that this work has racial implications.

READ JAMES BALDWIN. READ TONI MORRISON.
Because they’re smarter and more resonant than ever. And then read more Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie! Because, in her words, “an ugly idea left unchallenged begins to turn the color of normal.” She challenges some very ugly ideas with incredible style.

TAKE THIS ADVICE HOME, AND THEN TALK ABOUT IT
If you’re going home for the holidays, take this advice with you: were you too scared to talk to your family about Trump before the election? Get them to volunteer at a food shelf in your hometown. Find out which churches are providing dinners or support to immigrants; go to an event together. Volunteer at your local Planned Parenthood rather than giving money nationally. Talk to each other, and use facts—because most issues are multivalent, politifact.com and factcheck.org are your friends, but they’re not your only friends. Stay open but don’t be scared to stand your ground.