November 30, 2016
Q: I am freaking the fuck out that America just elected a fascist. I’m bouncing between wanting to fight and hiding under my bed. I’m just a designer, what can I do?
Hi. Take a deep breath. I’ve been breathing into a paper bag for three weeks myself. Let’s not white-wash (ha!) this. We are truly fucked. We’re standing at the very edge of the American experiment. I can’t blame you for not wanting to take that next step.
So let’s take stock: barring any last-minute Hail Marys such as vote audits, appealing to faithless electors, or praying that Congress actually gives a shit about conflicts of interest, Donald Trump is set to become the President of the United States. We should behave as if he’s going to do the things he’s said he’s going to do. There’s no secret liberal inside the orange jumpsuit. And while he may not be a fascist himself, he’s a needy narcissistic Zelig-like sociopath who needs to be loved and admired by those closest to him. And he’s chosen to surround himself with fascists.
In the next four years, civil rights in America will be under constant massive attack. As designers, we don’t get to opt out. And since you’ve all been screaming about changing the world, now’s the time you realize it’s not done by disrupting viral video consumption delivery systems, but by actually getting involved in some of that civil shit. This is not a healthy human being.
First off — and I cannot stress this enough — get your shit together. Your mental health is important. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re in no position to take care of others. And right now, not taking care of yourself the most selfish act possible because we need you. So go to your therapist, get back on your meds, do some physical activity to get those endorphins going because we need you strong and we need you healthy.
And look, if you’re seriously freaking out, know that I totally understand why you would be, because this all sucks. Then know I love you. Then call this number: 1–800–273–8255. They will take care of you. If you need some help figuring all this out, but can wait a few days, you can find someone to talk to here. Please take this seriously.
Once you’re healthy, we can get to work.
Be a citizen first
Before we need you as a designer, we will need you as a citizen. As a citizen there are three things you can give: time, money, and haven. Give what you can of each.
The most important thing you can do is make phone calls. Call your representatives. Call your senators. Do not tell them about your feelings. They don’t care about your feelings. They care about your next vote. Tell them what they need to do to get it. Be relentless. Be the person who calls every day. You can make 5 calls a day and you’ll be in and out in under 15 minutes. And yes, I mean phone calls. That’s how these people work. A call is ten times more valuable than an email, or a petition. You all have phones. You’re probably reading this on one.
Look for the helpers
There are organizations out there busting their ass to keep the flame of democracy alive. Find them. They need your money to keep doing this. Give to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, the Anti-Defamation League, the Trevor Project. There are so many more.
Help those still willing to speak truth to power. The media failed us in a big way, but there are enough thinkpieces about that already, and this is not that. But donate generously to the ones still standing proudly: Mother Jones — still fierce after so many years and stronger than ever, ProPublica — going deep into the data to expose corruption, The Washington Post — still standing tall. And, oh how I love adding Teen Vogue to this list. Because they’re kicking a lot of ass, and they’re talking directly to the next generation. The New York Times has already fallen.
Mostly, though, as a citizen, look out for each other. And especially look out for people most likely to be the target of roving jackbooted deplorable thugs. There is more safety in numbers. We’re past the point of pretending not to see that hate crime happening on the bus. It’s happening. And it will keep happening until the people on the bus, or on a plane, or in the street, stand up to the haters.
Here are four simple steps to stop all types of harassment. Is this putting your safety at risk? Yes. Is it increasing the overall safety? Yes. If we’re going down, we’re going down as a community.
They’re not smart. And there are more of us than there are of them.
There’s no wrong way to help
Some of us are fighters. Some of us are check writers. Some of us like to protest. Some of us are focused on vote audits. Some of us are preparing for four years of absolute terror. This is all good. And this is all necessary. Don’t tell someone they’re helping wrong just because they’re doing something you don’t agree with. (Unless you think it actually runs contrary to their goals. That’s called critique.)
If it gives people hope it’s worth doing. Hope is gonna be in some short supply in the next four years so let people generate it where they can. If you’re organizing a protest, but your friend Bob would rather sit at his desk and make phone calls, that’s cool. He’s doing his thing and you’re doing yours.
The amount of time we spend arguing with each other only subtracts from the amount of time we spend fighting fascists.
Fix yourself. Fix your house. Fix your street. Fix your neighborhood. Fix your city. Fix your state. Fix your country. That’s the order to work in. Start small and work up. This election was lost at the local level. We won it at the national level!
Get a grip on what’s going on in your local community and find out where you can help. Maybe it’s keeping your street free of swastika graffiti. Maybe it’s making sure the two Muslim kids down the street have a clear path to school and back every day. If you own a business, make sure everyone knows they’re welcome there. Put up signs. Make them visible. Make sure that any fascist walking into your place of business feels unwelcome.
Who are your local elected officials? Where do they stand on things? When are their terms up? Local officials turn into state officials. State officials turn into national officials. (Unless of course, we keep electing idiots who run golf courses. Badly.) Weed the bad apples out locally so we never have to deal with them nationally.
And I can’t emphasize this enough. The shit on the ballot that actually affects you is that long winded badly worded local shit. (It’s designed that way on purpose, by the way.) That shit has an almost immediate effect on your community. And as a local voter in a smaller voting base your vote has a higher percentage of mattering. So read it, try to understand it. Someday you’ll be so far up in it you’ll be able to influence it.
Don’t work with fascists
We do not work with fascists. There is no reason to reach out to fascists. We don’t build bridges to fascism. We burn down the bridges that link them to us. These are people who think those who don’t look like them as subhumans. I have no desire to reach across the aisle to that deplorable vomitous shit.
If you help them you are advancing their agenda, and become no better than them.
Work ethically, now more than ever
More than ever we need to look at how we’re designing the world. We also need to look at who is designing it. Don’t look for much resistance from Silicon Valley, which is run by rich white boys, towards a government run by the rich white men they aspire to become. Take stock in who you’re working for, what they’re making, and who they’re hiring to make it.
We have serious problems to solve. Make sure you’re working at places that are interested in solving them. And if you’re working at large companies, especially companies in the social space, keep an eye out for how your products effect the marginalized. Work on ways to empower those who need empowering. And if you’re in the “news” business, maybe take a look at what kind of lies you’re spreading. (Yes, I’m talking about you Facebook.) Take a look at the words you’re using. Stop sugar-coating shit. Don’t say alt-right when you’re talking about Nazis, dammit. (Yes, I’m talking about you, New York Times.)
As designers, we need to fulfill our missions of being gatekeepers. Your job is to improve the world for everyone, not just those in power. When you are asked to work on something that can marginalize people, you must stop. When you are asked to come up with solutions that tighten the grip of fascism on your community, you must stop. And not just move over so that someone else can take the oar, it is your responsibility as a designer to make sure that work never sees that light of day. Even if that means throwing your body across the gears of fascism. This is the job. This is what you signed up for.
And the company that signs on to build the Muslim database can go fuck themselves.
The world is watching.
Prepare for a better future
We’re in this situation because we designed the world to work this way. The rescinding of the Voting Rights Act, the gerrymandering of congressional districts, the existence of the electoral college, the underfunding of schools to create an undereducated electorate. We did all that. And we’ll have to undo it. This will take a fuckton of time, which honestly I’m not sure we have. But we have to try.
Right now, as we speak my friend Dana Chisnell is working on how to improve our election process at the Center for Civic Design. Part of me thinks she is insane because we’re never going to have another election. But I’m trying to listen to the part of me that wants to ensure she has a chance to get there.
So we fight. We fight because we can’t not fight. We fight because maybe this is the cliché darkest before the dawn. We fight because if we don’t people get beat up, rounded up, stripped of their dignity, and killed. And while this may or may not happen in a large government-sanctioned way, it’s definitely going to happen in small pockets of deplorable misery throughout the country. And there are things we can do to prevent it. We have to try.