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The Activist Workout

This newsletter encourages readers to develop the stamina for civic engagement.

Protesters hold up signs during a march in L.A. on November 12, 2016. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

For many Americans, the days and weeks after the recent presidential election have reverberated with calls to action. Waves of protestors took to the streets, and as some citizens worried that a Trump administration could erode or walk back protections for the environment, reproductive rights, and civil liberties, organizations championing those causes were flooded with donations. Meanwhile, a rash of hateful xenophobic, racist, and sexist attacks linked to the political fall-out broke out, as tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Political activists and news organizations (including CityLab) responded with guides to handling such aggressions and working more broadly for tolerance.

Laurel Eckhouse, a PhD student in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, noticed a surge of enthusiasm for civic activism, but also some trepidation about getting started. After the election, she observed some people feeling overwhelmed by decision fatigue, she says, yanked in a bunch of directions at once; others are concerned that small-scale efforts don’t add up to much. “People get worried that they’ll start getting involved and all of a sudden it will be three meetings a week, each of which is three hours long, and they won’t be able to do anything valuable unless it’s a huge time commitment,” Eckhouse says. Like exercise, she says, “some people think it’s not real if you’re not doing a marathon.”

In response, Eckhouse and seven other activist collaborators rolled out a newsletter that features a smattering of ways to get engaged, organized by the amount of time each action requires. Five minutes is enough to signal boost a cause by giving it a social media bump; in a half-hour, readers can compose letters to the editor of a publication.

The first installment of My Civic Workout went out today; another one, on Wednesday, will focus on the Standing Rock protests, and Friday’s digest will hinge on things to do during the holiday season.

The creators share “broadly progressive political commitments,” Eckhouse says, adding that the actions may appeal to “people who are concerned about racism and inclusivity, regardless of their partisan affiliation.”

The goal is to introduce folks to activism in an engaging and accessible way, balancing short-term interventions with an ongoing commitment to equality. By working their way through the exercises—the quick burpees, the longer relays, all a sort of civic calisthenics—readers build up stamina to flex their activist muscle. “Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist,” the newsletter reminds followers. Sign up here to start warming up.

About the Author

  • Jessica Leigh Hester
    Jessica Leigh Hester is a senior associate editor at CityLab. She writes about culture, sustainability, and green spaces, and lives in Brooklyn.