13 ways to keep the bastards honest

I received a few emails this evening from readers who have confessed to feeling exhausted and helpless.

“But what can we do about it?”, seemed to be a common theme amongst even the most compassionate of allies.

So I thought I’d write a few suggestions on practical ways to keep the bastards honest. There are plenty of things you can do to be a part of the solution. Some of these you don’t even need to leave the house for:

If you live in the US or UK and want to be a part of the solution, you could start by registering to vote, and then, you know… voting.

Democracy works for those who show up. So show up.

Call your Congressmen, Representative, Senator or MP

Want to make sure your issue isn’t ignored? Get involved. Get on the phone. Not sure what to say? There are a host of great services that provide scripts so that you can focus on being the most effective. Be polite. Be brief. Keep calling.

Write a letter

Not a phone person? (Me either). Write a letter. Like an actual letter, with a stamp on it. Be polite. Be brief. Be grammatically correct. Keep writing. Can’t find a pen? Send an email. But letters are better. Put your policy priorities in writing and then fight for them.

Calls and snail mail demonstrate critical mass. Policy works the same way that ratings do: Much like TV networks, political leaders legislate with what they think they can get away with. Yes, money will still talk louder than your calls, the first time. But maybe not the second, or the third. Regardless, the more people that write or call demonstrates that we are watching, and listening and paying attention and that our needs will not be ignored. And if your representative still doesn’t listen: don’t put up with it. Vote that sucker out. Find a candidate you like and throw your support behind them. Run your own candidate, or if you think you can do a better job, run for something yourself…

Which brings me to:…

Join a party

Democracy works for those who show up. Want to make a party better? Become a party member. Hate your party? Form your own.

Better yet, run as an independent.

There are too many people with good ideas that will never come to fruition because they conflict with party interests.

Listen, you don’t have to do any of the things I just suggested. I get it. Not everyone is going to get actively involved in the political process. People are busy. Just trying to put food on the table. But there are still things you can do to ensure you’re a part of the solution:


I have long maintained that we could change the world tomorrow if everyone on the planet agreed not to go to work. How is it we’re not all out on the streets already? Don’t let them tell you that protest doesn’t matter anymore. There has never been a more important time for direction action.

Join a not-for-profit or lobby-group

Not all lobby-groups are evil, (the biggest ones often are). But there are a lot of amazing small-scale groups that do good work. The best ones run on a shoe-string budget and are understaffed. There are plenty of special interest groups that are in dire need of funds and bodies. If you don’t have time to volunteer, make a one-off or recurring donation to Planned Parenthood, or The Innocence Project, for example. Or Medicins Sans Frontiers. Or Reporters Sans Frontières.

Be informed

Read. (And not only material that automatically shows up in your needs feed or already conforms to your world view). Seek out information that isn’t easy to find. Be in touch with reality. Have difficult conversations with people you disagree with. Read some more. Have more difficult conversations. It may not feel like you’re making a difference, but having an informed opinion and learning to distinguish truth from bullshit will ensure you make more informed and empowered choices.

Question everything

Don’t take anything at face value. Remember almost everyone has an agenda. Ask difficult questions. And keep asking questions until you receive an acceptable answer. Don’t let anyone fob you off or make you feel stupid or unreasonable. If something doesn’t feel right or sound right, it’s probably not.

Learn to be uncomfortable

The instinct for emotional self-preservation creates a form of denial that protects us from accepting the uglier elements of society. Either we convince ourselves that things are not as bad as they seem, or our faith in humanity becomes so eroded it creates this “soup of cynicism”. Either way, the result — apathy — is the same.

Do not be comfortable and resist the allure of unnecessary creature comforts. It is ok — and in my opinion, necessary — to be angry. It is ok to feel upset and overwhelmed and out of control.

You are not mad. The world is mad.

It hasn’t always been like this. And you are not unreasonable for feeling this way. The world is exactly as fucked up as you think it is, more than.

Get angry. Get even.

We could all stand to be a little more uncomfortable. The sooner we come to terms with our worst instincts about the environment in which we find ourselves operating in, the sooner we can come together to create solutions.

Keep accepting more than one idea at a time

It drives the bad guys crazy.

Journalism in 2017 isn’t exactly known for its nuance. And in 2017, nuance is everything. Ideas and conflicts are presented in polarities: giving readers the impression they have one of two choices.

Understanding there are multiple variables and motives at play at any one time will ensure you’re immunised against the coercion of any special interest group.

Be a part of your community

You don’t need to get join the peace corp or get into politics to make a positive impact on the world. Spend time in your community, and get to know the people in your neighbourhood. Help old-ladies across the road. Check in on your neighbours. Or sign-up to be a part of a community that is world’s apart from your own.

Volunteer at a shelter, or soup kitchen, or charity, or a refugee program. Meals on Wheels, or an old-aged home. Or a mental-health help-line. Foster a child. Or get involved in a Big Brother or Big Sister program. Work with at-risk youth. Adopt an animal. Talk to a stranger that has been forgotten by society. Look outside of yourself.

There are hundreds of ways to be of service to each other, every single day. Maybe if we come to expect more of each other, we will, in turn, raise the bar for our elected members. But also we should do these things because it is the right thing to, because we all owe a debt to society, and to each other. They say it takes a village to raise a child. But it also takes a village to raise a village. Strong communities build and expect strong leaders. Decimated communities are filled with crime and exploitation and poverty. We get the leaders and democracy we deserve.

Raise your expectations

Learn to accept less bullshit. From each other, but especially from our elected leaders. Channel your intolerance productively to the root cause instead of the symptom. Who you do-or-do-not vote for matters. Expect more from your elected leaders and punish them when they disappoint you by voting them out.
We shouldn’t just accept that we are all getting screwed with our pants on. No one is going to fix this for us. We have to fix this ourselves. Raise. Your. Damned. Standards.