Many of my friends have stopped watching the news, checking their social-media feeds and listening to talk radio. They feel bombarded by claims and accusations and misstatements and alternative facts and post-truth political strategy.
Even people who have been active in the past are feeling disempowered and just hoping their lives don’t go too far south over the next four years. They hope we don’t get into a war. They wish the president and political parties would just get on with governing and let the process take its course. They’re tired.
However, Carlynne McDonnell isn’t tired at all. In fact, she’s expanding her activism—and organizing others to do the same.
Back in 2015, I wrote about McDonnell and her efforts to support and influence women with her book, The Every Woman’s Guide to Equality, containing advice on how women can stand up to situations in which they are treated with less respect than they deserve, in both the workplace and society in general.
After the presidential election, McDonnell decided to respond to what she saw as the “lack of people educated about how government works and (people) frustrated that they didn’t know what to do, or how to take a stand. Along with many other people, I was very disappointed after the election, and I don’t do well with sitting around. I’ve always been an activist. If I see a problem or situation, I need to find a solution.”
McDonnell began a Facebook group, Action for Societal Change, to provide information and organize others toward actions both public and private—from phone calls or emails to attending meetings or public demonstrations.
“People were feeling anxiety and despair,” she says. “They were having trouble knowing what’s real and what isn’t. Mostly, they wanted to know what they could do.”
McDonnell wanted to present information and offer suggestions on how to take action based on what she calls “vetted, proven, factual, mainstream news sources like (the Associated Press) and Reuters. I never post articles that have not been verified. Too much information is put out designed just to stir things up and provoke a desired response. I want to help people understand that everything posted—email, Twitter, news—isn’t always something that requires action. You have to be strategic. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
McDonnell, 57, a Palm Springs resident, came to the desert with her husband from Claremont almost five years ago. In addition to her writing and her activism, she’s in the process of fulfilling a personal soft spot by opening an animal sanctuary. Although she worked on a couple of political campaigns in the past, she says she would never run for office.
“I would never be able to keep from telling somebody to f--- off!” she says.
In a hyper-partisan and often vitriolic political climate, is there really anything individuals can do to make a difference through civic engagement?
“People need to slow down and take a breath. Understanding issues should be nonpartisan and regardless of religion, gender, or ethnicity,” says McDonnell. “I’m not a Pollyanna. I have no false illusions. But people have to realize the issues we’re facing are not going to go away, and we have to be able to trust the integrity of our information. We need an educated, measured approach to responding that doesn’t leave people feeling exhausted.”
McDonnell’s concept of how to feel empowered and make a difference is to put pragmatism over ideology.
“We all have to feel able to communicate: ‘That is not acceptable to me,’” McDonnell says. “Every day, our website posts at least one action individuals can take on their own. Whether you can give time, money, or just show up to learn and get involved, we welcome everyone regardless of political party.”
The group also has in-person meetings; the next one is scheduled for 2 p.m., Sunday, April 2, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, in Rancho Mirage.
“There were so many people really hurting after the election, and some who are now regretting having supported the president,” she said. “I just wanted to find a way to bring people together. So far, we have about 450 local followers across the Coachella Valley. What we’re doing is not ‘hot and sexy’—it’s a methodical approach to being informed before you act. I want to appeal to those who have never marched or turned out to demonstrate and help them make their voices heard. I judge people on their willingness to do things for others, and this is about the willingness to make a commitment to bettering our country.”
Amid claims that professional organizers are orchestrating negative response to President Trump, Carlynne McDonnell stands as a refutation of that claim: She decided on her own to do whatever she can, and she is committed to helping others come together to do the same.
There are similar local organizing efforts throughout the country—individuals motivated only by their desire to make a difference. They are not paid protesters or political hacks. They’re people like Carlynne McDonnell, encouraging everyone to get beyond being tired of it all—and instead, to get up and make a difference.