Readers who follow me on Twitter and The Metaphor Project’s FB page may have noticed that as 2018 began, I started using the hashtag “#AmericansStepUp_______” or variants of it. (1) With it I identify news about people, communities, or states countering DC folly with positive projects at home. Some examples from my Twitter feed include a story about the Weather Channel’s decision to report honestly on local climate change signs, a report on the City of Portland, OR’s decision to ban fossil fuel use expansion , and an account of the way Iowa citizens are organizing to stop destructive factory farming in their state. Of course, continuing to resist the GOP/Trump cabal by lobbying and election organizing is vital. But we also need to hear the good news about communities and states stepping up with new moves. Too much immersion in the tidal wave of DC horrors saps our morale and makes us bone weary. If we stay well-informed, burn out, shock, despair, and a paralyzed incredulity are the biggest risks we face. Knowing about the many ways Americans are stepping up can restore our energy. Language that signals this positive direction is key to spreading it on social media. So I invite you to use “#AmericansStepUp________” or your own version of it to spread the good word even further.
But just cheering us up is not the only reason for doing this. Good news about what other people are doing is like fertilizer, water, or sun for the seeds of grass roots creativity. Real change and progress are always lying dormant in the grass roots, along with the toxic weeds popping up right now. This is especially true of Americans, who have long cherished an Ideal American Identity Story about who we are at our best. It’s true that some have recently criticized our national penchant for optimism.(2) But if we pair it with our ideal value of being a “can do” people, it can help us “move forward,” even when the going gets rough. Those traits have always been vital to our recovery as a nation at every stage. This is not the first time we’ve seen a national regression or a rising tide of public bilge. In fact, it’s usually true that as a people, we Americans have to be punched first, before we are ready to rise up and fight back.(3)
A very encouraging election-related example of the grass roots “fight back by doing it better trend” comes from a recent Yes! Magazine story on rural organizing right now. Although the prospect of winning a rural election contest by paying very close attention to what local citizens say they want is very encouraging, I’m seeing another benefit from this close-to-the-ground focus . Some people argue that the level of destruction these GOP clowns have inflicted on our country (and the world) is so deep, widespread, and lasting that there’s no comparison to the past. It’s as if a massive forest fire, hurricane, or cyclone had roared across the whole country, reducing everything in its path to ashes. There’s truth in that metaphor. But here’s another metaphor we can apply to that one: rebirth. Scientists know that the ecological succession following a natural disaster can stimulate a real rebirth, not just regrowth. In a March 17, 2009 blog, The Grass Roots Stimulus Story, I quoted the following writer on this subject:
“Reporting in World Watch magazine (March/April 2009), Thomas Homer-Dixon noted that collapse in nature “liberates. . .enormous potential for creativity and allows for novel and unpredictable recombination.” The emerging pattern is “far less interconnected and rigid. . .and far more resilient to sudden shock.” It encourages “new behaviors and relationships.”
This model is also true of many human communities. At their best, after a disaster, human beings also tend to find and foster the seeds of creative rebirth hibernating deep within their own groups. Stories of people doing just that right now, no matter how simple or isolated a case may be, feed and nurture that creative spirit in us all. And that’s the way, as a nation, we will be able to truly counter and rise above the GOP/Trump cabal’s demolition derby.
So let’s look for and promote good news stories now, along with all the necessary warnings about current horrors and ways to resist them. Fortunately, today, in the age of social media, we don’t have to rely solely on the regular media to do this job for us. We can do it ourselves. In the end, I think our America will come back from this nightmare, better and stronger than ever, more “woke,” as the saying goes. We will emerge with more potential to face honestly so much that we used to sweep under the rug and ignore. Now it’s all out in the open. Every day we know more about what our true challenges are and what we need to do to meet them.
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project, http://www.metaphorproject.org, and author of our new book, Move Our Message: How to Get America’s Ear. The Metaphor Project has been helping progressives mainstream their messages since 1997. Follow Susan on Twitter @SusanCStrong.
(1) On my Twitter feed these days (and on The Metaphor Project’s FB page) I’m also pointing out good opportunities to pick holes in the latest GOP/Trump moves: for example, just posted are my comments on Pruitt’s shift to praising climate change as a good thing, and the giant backward steps of Trump’s new National (In)Security Strategy.
(2 )”Seeking a Cure for Optimism: A Pessimistic Spin on the Power of Positive Thinking,” New York Times,12.30.09, by Abby Ellin and a number of other articles after that. Search Google for “A critique of American optimism.
(3) Denis Hayes, founder of the Earth Day Network, made this observation many years ago.