We draft letters. We hold meetings. By the day’s end, I and others like me all over the country (working in affected fields like immigration, women’s health care, and environmental science) are thoroughly Trumped-out.
I let out a heavy sigh and enter the conference room.
“Policymaking in International Education: The View from Washington,” the poster reads. Some of the faces look familiar, and they should—I attended the same session last year. But that was in the summer of 2016, when the upcoming general election was still a giant question mark. We had entered the session cautiously optimistic, reassuring ourselves that the work we do wouldn’t be impacted for the worse come November.
So many of the events at the 2017 NAFSA Conference—held annually for the members of the Association of International Educators—feel like part of an alternate timeline. The title slide to this talk reads, “Is conventional wisdom an oxymoron?” None of us had anticipated such a dismal “view from Washington” this year. That an administration with no understanding of immigration policy would be driving international perception of the United States into the ground.
I work in Washington, and am deeply entrenched in the policy decisions surrounding immigration and international education. I advise students, scholars, and science professionals during their visa application process. And since many of these folks are citizens of the six countries outlined in the March 2017 executive order, the simplest of my interactions with them, and intent to facilitate their travel, are in defiance of the Trump administration’s agenda. My daily tasks, and the daily tasks of everyone else who works in international education, have become newly politicized acts of resistance.
Since the inauguration, my line of work requires reviewing any recent news on the travel ban, institutional statements calling for open immigration policy, and data on changing rates of student enrollment. We draft letters. We hold meetings. By the day’s end, I and others like me all over the country (working in affected fields like immigration, women’s health care, and environmental science) are thoroughly Trumped-out. Any additional consumption of information feels like, as Amy Monticello said back in March, “living in a permanent state of hyper-vigilance.”
But because that permanent state is no way to live, here are my best tips for resisting when you may feel maxed out on resistance—at your job or otherwise.
Focus your attention; don’t spread yourself too thin
I’ve always joked that I’m whatever the opposite of a multi-tasker is. I go to great lengths to block out unnecessary noise and distraction, finish up an intensive task, and move on to the next one. The Information Age has tested this working style of mine, and especially since the election, I’ve found my attention increasingly split between a task or assignment and whatever dumpster fire is raging in Washington that day.
During the international education conference, I didn’t have much time to keep up with the constant stream of news. Conferences are notoriously jam-packed with sessions and networking and maybe grabbing lunch if you’re lucky, and this one took place in a large city that I’d never visited before. When my friends would text me about the impending Comey testimony or the Paris Climate Agreement, I felt guilty for not keeping up more with the news.
But then I realized that my attendance at the conference was valuable work, and more proactive than scrolling through angry tweets from my favorite columnists. While the dumpster fire raged on, I learned how to support frightened Muslim students, what bills to keep an eye on that would potentially hurt international exchange, and which government resources are most helpful to visa applicants. I was equipping myself with tools to do my job more effectively in the face of uncertainty.
There’s a difference between multitasking and caving into interruptions. The latter undermines productivity, so that tasks take longer to complete and are filled with more errors. Bear this in mind while resisting. Where are your efforts best concentrated?
Yale historian Timothy Snyder, appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher in March, cautioned the audience against believing our institutions will save us. “We have to save the institutions,” he said. “They don’t do it on their own.”
Working for a non-profit, I recognize just how much institutions rely on funding to do research, disseminate information, engage with communities, and provide opportunities for those less fortunate. And under an administration determined to slash funding for the environment, women’s health, and basically everything else that betters our lives, the institutions need us now more than ever.
One of the great things about donating is that it requires very little time: just a few minutes to set up an automatic monthly contribution online. Even if you can only provide $5 or $10 per month, the organization of your choice will be grateful for the support. (Really, they will. I received a handwritten thank-you card from a Planned Parenthood volunteer last Christmas, which made my day just as much as my donation probably made theirs.) This is also an ideal option for those who aren’t keen on more social acts of resistance, like talking to strangers on the phone or marching in large crowds.
In Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, clones in a dystopian future England are encouraged to draw pictures at their boarding school. This was, the teachers told them later on, an effort to prove that the clones had souls.
Authoritarians do not like art, and actively try to suppress it. As Eve Ewing noted in The New York Times, “art creates pathways for subversion, for political understanding and solidarity among coalition builders. Art teaches us that lives other than our own have value.”
Beyond its value as a tool of resistance, art nourishes artist and audience alike. When I write, I feel like my best self, and that kind of bliss is something that no administration will ever be able to take away from me. It’s also a nice way to detach from the political immersion of my workday. I throw myself into something that’s not only healthy and satisfying, but something that I can directly control.
If you don’t feel creatively inclined yourself, consider supporting organizations like the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, a theater and gallery that promotes local art especially by or about marginalized groups.
Don’t be afraid to laugh
One thing that I didn’t escape while at the conference was Trump’s late-night Twitter blunder on May 31. “I’ve had my covfefe and I’m ready to go,” one attendee joked at the café area. Of course, covfefe was followed by a legion of social media party poopers, reprimanding those sharing memes for a good laugh that there are much more serious matters to attend to.
Humor is a unifying force. Speakers often open with a joke because comedy gives us a sense of camaraderie and relaxes us, meaning that we’ll be more attentive to the message that follows. Humor also makes us feel good and raises our pain tolerance, as the act of laughing releases endorphins in the brain. Just as we can’t spend this entire presidency constantly on edge, we can’t spend it constantly serious. Laughing at the absurdity of covfefe, alternative facts, and taco trucks on every corner doesn’t detract from the severity of our situation—on the contrary, it reinforces that none of this is normal, not by a long shot.
There are plenty more items I could add to this list, and I’m sure you could, too. As our nation is tested in continuously surprising and unfathomable ways, above all remember that you are not alone, and that the world is full of folks who will resist alongside you, point you to resources and events you may not have known about before, and restore your faith in the good in people.
Chelsea Cristene is a communications associate and English professor based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, and MamaMia, and runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen. Find her on Twitter.