politics

Care Bear stares do not work in real life

In the Care Bears movies, the heroes could solve just about any problem by speaking truth to power. Whenever a handful of bears cared enough to act, they could get together and give the villain the Care Bear stare. Their intense caring made the villain care too — at least until the next episode. (And in the movies, it was sometime permanent.) Whenever they weren’t solving a problem, it was because they were failing to care about it. The real world does not work that way.

In the Care Bears world, caring is magic. In real life, it’s not enough to care about something — you also have to have power. It’s not enough to know what needs to change — you also have to have a strategy for changing it. Sometimes speaking truth of power can be a source of power; sometimes you need other kinds of power. Sometimes you need to vote, get out the vote, build coalitions, wait for the right moment, make compromises, fundraise, reach out behind the scenes or otherwise find another source of power. Most real-life power is partial, most real life change is not fully satisfying — but it’s real, and it’s worth pursuing.

People unfamiliar with advocacy sometimes cause problems by expecting Care Bear stares to work in real life. They assume that any group of activists who cares about something should be able to get together, speak truth to power, and change hearts and minds with the sheer power of concentrated caring. As a result, when they see that a handful of activists who say that they care about a problem have not solved it, they angrily assume that this means that the activists just don’t care enough to be willing to do the Care Bear stare. When people aren’t solving a problem, it’s important to ask *why* they’re not solving the problem. Sometimes it’s because they don’t care, but often it’s because they don’t have the power to make all of the change they want to make. Often, they’re doing the best they can with the resources available to them.

This also happens in politics: For instance, people sometimes ignore the implications of the fact that the Democrats are the minority party in Congress and that there is a Republican in the White House. They believe, implicitly, that if the Democrats just *cared* enough, they would be able to stop the Republicans from passing bad laws and appointing awful people — and that they could pass the laws that we need without any Republican support. They sometimes reach the dangerous conclusion that Democrats don’t really care and aren’t worth voting for. But in real life, Democrats don’t have the option of using the Care Bear stare — they need power. If we want the Democrats to have the power to protect us from Trump and pass better laws, we have to vote in more of them. 

People also sometimes expect *themselves* to be able to use a Care Bear stare. People stuck in this mindset feel a lot of shame when they notice problems that they don’t know how to solve, because they it must mean that they don’t really care as much as they think they do. It is much more helpful to understand that caring about problems does not in and of itself create the ability to solve problems.  In real life, you won’t have the power to fix everything you want to fix, but you will have the power to fix something. When you accept that caring doesn’t create power by itself, it can enable you to find the things that do — including solidarity with other advocates who are doing the best they can.

T;dr Care Bear stares do not work in real life. In real life, caring about a problem does not in and of itself create the ability to fix the problem. In real life, you also have to have power. When people ignore power and expect caring to fix everything, it creates a lot of problems in advocacy.

Image description: A carton person throwing off-color rainbows in the general direction of a sign that says "Care Bear stares do not work in real life"

Image description: A carton person throwing off-color rainbows in the general direction of a sign that says "Care Bear stares do not work in real life"

Why you should contact your representatives even if they’re already on your side

When your politician wants to do the right thing, they need your help. Calls and tweets are very helpful to them. Here’s why:

Politicians can’t just do whatever they want, because they represent us. Whatever they believe personally, they have to take into account what their voters think. Politicians can do some unpopular things, but they have to pick unpopular issues very, very careful, or they lose reelection and can’t do anything at all.

If you call/tweet your representatives about something they already agree with, you are telling them: We have your back. You don’t have to worry that doing the right thing will cost you the election. Doing the right thing will get you votes, and make you *more* likely to win. That gives them more options.

Another way that calling representatives who are on the right side helps them: Representatives can’t pass legislation by themselves. They have to persuade other representatives to vote the right way. There are usually politicians who are on the fence and potentially open to persuasion.

If your representative can say to other representatives: “My phones are ringing off the hook about this issue”, or “My twitter mentions are overwhelmed with people asking me to do this”, it can persuade other politicians that this issue matters to voters. Every representative who can do this makes a difference. A politician may sometimes be in denial about what their constituents are saying; it’s harder to stay in denial if they’re hearing it from multiple politicians whose states/districts are similar to theirs. Even if your representative is unwaveringly on your side and in a safe seat, your calls/tweets can help them  to persuade others.

Stories and pictures also matter. Telling stories can persuade politicians to do the right thing. During the health care debates, every politician told stories that a constituent told to them. The vote was close, and the Republicans who voted against it said that stories were part of what convinced them to do the right thing. If you tell your representatives stories about why the issue matters to you, it can help them to act on it, even if they already agree with you.

Tweeting pictures at your representatives can also help. Pictures of protests show politicians that people care enough to show up in person and protest. This suggests to them that people care enough to show up and vote. This is reassuring to politicians who agree with you, and they can use those pictures to put pressure on politicians who aren’t sure how they want to vote. Pictures of real people affected by the issue are also helpful. They show, viscerally, that this is about real people. That can be very persuasive.

Another reason why contacting politicians who agree with you matters: If you make the issue you’re calling/tweeting about a safe issue for them, then they don’t have to spend political capital on it. If they don’t spend political capital on it, then it’s available to spend on a risky issue. Calling/tweeting them helps them to do the right thing about the immediate issues *and* future issues which may be riskier.

Tl;dr: Even if your representatives agree with you, it’s still worth contacting them about important issues. Calling, tweeting, and otherwise contacting them can give them them *ability* to do what they already want to do. Tell them stories. Tweet them pictures that tell stories, including pictures you take at any protests you go to. Scroll up for more explanation of why this matters.

Using Twitter to contact (and keep up with) your representatives

This is a US-centric post, but some of it probably applies outside the US as well.

Contacting politicians isn’t just about using the phone to make calls. Twitter can *also* be a really useful way to talk to elected officials.

Politicians who have Twitter feeds pay attention to them. They use them to market themselves to constituents, and to gather information about what constituents care about. The way constituents interact with politicians on Twitter can make a real difference.

This is a post explaining some of how I interact with politicians on Twitter. There are a lot of things, and some may seem overwhelming. Don’t feel like you have to do everything — *anything* you do will help, even if it’s only occasional.

I’ve found that it’s much easier to keep up with and interact with politicians if I make Twitter lists of them. Here’s a way to keep up with your representatives on Twitter:


Step one: Make a Twitter list called “Representatives”. Twitter has instructions for making Twitter lists here.

  • Step two: Find out who your senators and representatives are:
  • You have one Representative in the House. Your state is divided up into congressional districts, and you are represented by the person whose district you live in. Find out who they are here.
  • Your state has two Senators. They both represent you. Find out who they are here.

Step three: Find your senators and representatives on Twitter:

  • Generally, the fastest way to do this is to search for “[their name] Twitter”
  • Senators and congresspeople also often have their Twitter handle on their page.
  • (You likely also have local and state level politicians who are on Twitter, but don’t get bogged down trying to find them if it’s taking a while. There will be more information about finding them in a subsequent post.)

Step four: Add your representatives and senators to your Twitter list:

  • Now that you have a Twitter list, it’s easier to check up on what your representatives are saying. 
  • It’s also easier to remember who they are.
  • This will be useful in a lot of situations.

Step five: Ready the block button:

  • If you’re interacting with politicians on Twitter, you may attract unwanted attention from deplorables, Nazis, misogynists, and other cruel people. 
  • If you do, remember that you don’t have to talk to them. If people tweet obnoxious things at you, err on the side of blocking them.
  • You may also want to subscribe to an automated block list in order to block known cruel people. 
  • (I subscribe to Nazi Blocker

Now that you have a Twitter list of your representatives, here are some things you can do with it:

Check your “Representatives” list, and watch what your representatives are doing:

  • When you open your list, you will see all your representatives. 
  • This can be a fast way to keep track of all of them.
  • Even if you don’t interact directly, or don’t often interact directly, knowing what’s going on can be helpful.

Reward and boost tweets you like:

  • When politicians say things you agree with, like and/or retweet them.
  • You can also reply and say something like “Thank you, I’m glad you’re representing me”.
  • Politicians use Twitter to market themselves to constituents, so it’s useful to tell them when you see something you like.
  • It’s also useful to show *other people* who follow you that a politician is doing something good.

Express disapproval of tweets you *don’t* like:

  • When politicians post bad things, it’s useful to tell them that they’re upsetting constituents.
  • Eg, you can reply saying something like “I’m a constituent, and I’m appalled that you’d do/say that”.

Reply with a comment:

  • You can also reply with comments that say more specific things than “thank you” or “don’t do that”.
  • It helps to say something personal that establishes 1) that you’re a constituent, and 2) that this will have a real effect on you.
  • Politicians respond well to stories. 
  • Eg: “I’m a North Carolina small business owner, and this healthcare bill would damage my business”
  • Or: “As a public school teacher in [your town], I’m appalled that children are at risk of being deported as school”

Retweet with a comment:

  • You can also retweet with a comment. If you do it that way, other people will see it. 
  • One useful thing to do can be to tag your other representatives.
  • Eg: say, your senator @SenatorExample tweets about supporting Good Bill [S. Example Number].
  • You can retweet it with a comment “Thank you @ExampleSenator. @OtherSenatorFromMyState @ExampleRepresentative, do you support it too?”
  • You can also do that with bills that other people’s senators/representatives support. (I also maintain a list of politicians I like in order to do this.)

You can also initiate contact yourself. Use your Twitter list to remind yourself who your representatives are/what their Twitter handles are, and then you can do these things:

When you get an action alert asking you to call your representatives, you can also tweet to them about the issue:

  • Generally speaking, phone scripts are too long for Twitter — but you can still use them to make tweets!
  • The most important part is the specific thing you’re asking them to do.
  • Usually, this will be either asking them to vote for a bill, cosponsor a bill, or vote against a bill.
  • Sometimes it will be other things, eg: Asking senators to call for a Senate hearing on white supremacist violence.
  • Point being, action alerts will contain a specific ask, and your tweet should too: 
  • Eg: “@ExampleSenator @ExampleSenator2 @ExampleRepresenative I’m a constituent from [Your Town], and I’m asking you to vote against Example Terrible Bill”.
  • You can also add more details about who you are/why you oppose the bill.
  • Eg: “@ExampleSenator @ExampleSenator2 @ExampleRepresenative Everyone deserves the right to vote. Please vote against the Terrible Voter Suppression Act.”
  • Eg: “@ExampleSenator @ExampleSenator2 @ExampleRepresenative the Stop Abuses of Power Act would make us safer in [your town]. Please support it”.

Tell your representatives stories about issues you care about:

  • Politicians tend to respond well to stories — and they can also sometimes use stories in speeches and negotiations. 
  • Tweet a story about who you are, and why you care about the issue:
  • Eg: “I’m disabled. Civil rights protections made it possible for me to go to school in [your town].”
  • Eg: “My grandmother came to this country as an immigrant. Please don’t deport other people’s grandmothers”.
  • Eg: “Violent white supremacists marched through my town. I’m scared. What are you doing about it?”
  • (If you have relevant pictures, it can be helpful to include them.).

Twitter can also be very useful at protests (whether or not you’re there in person):

Tweet about protests and tag your representatives:

  • These days, most protests have hashtags. Include the protest hashtag in your tweet. 
  • If you’re there, mention that you’re there:
  • Tweet something like “@ExampleSenator, I’m at #IStandWithPP asking you not to defund Planned Parenthood”.
  • You can also tweet things speakers are saying at the protest.
  • Check what others are saying in the protest hashtags. You can also retweet those, and tag your representatives saying you agree.

Tweet pictures of protest signs and tag your representatives:

  • Tweeting close-up pictures of people with protest signs can be an effective way to show representatives that you and others care about this issue.
  • Ask permission before taking pictures of people at protests — some people may be in danger if their picture is seen.
  • When you ask “May I take a picture of your sign to tweet at representatives?”, most people will say yes.
  • (But some people may ask that you leave their face out of the picture. *Always* respect this boundary. If someone doesn’t want their face in a picture, *leave their face out*).
  • Remember to include the context when you tweet pictures, and make a specific ask.
  • Eg: “We’re at #ProtestHashtag, asking you to protect our care by voting against Example Terrible Bill Act. @ExampleSenator @ExampleSenator2 @ExampleRepresenative” 
  • Some people may ask you to also tag *their* representatives. In which case you can say “@ExampleSenator, one of your constituents asked me to share her sign with you. Please vote against Example Terrible Bill Act.”
  • This can show politicians that a protest is happening, remind them that the people protesting are real people and not just generic “protestors”, and show them that some protestors are constituents.

If you can’t go to a protest yourself, you can still use Twitter to draw your representatives’ attention to the protest by:

  • Tweeting in the protest hashtag yourself, and tagging your representatives.
  • Watching the protest hashtag, retweeting things you agree with, and tagging your representatives in the retweet.
  • It’s especially helpful to retweet pictures. Eg:
  • Say you see a sign that says “Kill the bill, don’t kill us” in #HealthcareProtest. 
  • You can retweet that, and add “@ExampleSenator Don’t kill me either. Vote against #AHCA and anything else that would cut Medicaid”.

It’s also useful to tweet/retweet information about where a protest is happening and why it’s happening. Whether or not you’re there, tweeting about it can help other people to go and/or boost the protest’s message.

Tl;dr Twitter can be a really useful way to interact with elected officials. Scroll up for some examples of ways to do it.

Why you should vote even if an election isn’t close

Sometimes, it seems obvious who is going to win an election. Even in that kind of election, it’s still important to vote.

Your vote matters, even when your candidate loses. Voting sends a powerful message to politicians. Every vote against a politician tells them that some people dislike their policies, and that it is costing them votes. Politicians care about everything that costs them votes, because their jobs depend on continuing to win elections.

It matters who wins elections. It also matters how much they win by. The closer an election is, the more the winning politician has to care what the opposition thinks. Even in a state where one party is almost certainly going to win, there’s a big different between getting 90% of the votes and getting 40% of the votes.

When you vote against a politician, you’re sending a powerful message. It makes everything else you do more effective. It means they’re more likely to listen when you and others call them. It means they’re more likely to feel that they have to show up at town halls, and more likely to take what you say seriously. Voting creates leverage in ways that matter, even when you lose.

This is also true when your candidate is almost certainly going to win. Vote anyway, because it matters how much they win by — every vote they get gives them more power to enact their agenda. When they win by more votes, they don’t have to be as worried about the opposition. 

(And in any case, it’s inadvisable to get complacent. Sometimes elections are much closer than they seem.)

Your vote matters, even if your candidate loses. Your vote matters, even when your candidate is almost certainly going to win. It’s important to go vote when you’re eligible, even if it’s unlikely to change the results. Even when voting doesn’t change the outcome of the election, it does change the political facts on the ground.

Tl;dr Vote when you can, even in elections that aren’t close. It puts pressure on politicians in ways that matter. Whether or not your vote affects which politician wins, it will affect what the winning politician does.

Don’t give up

There’s a lot of upheaval in the American political system right now. 

Donald Trump is violating political norms in ways that we haven’t seen before. In ways that are both dangerous and confusing.

Most people are disoriented — including people who work in government and politics. 

No one has experience dealing with this. No one is very good at it yet. 

Getting good at things takes time. We’re still learning to deal with this new reality.

But a lot of people care deeply about this country and the world. A lot of good people are working to figure it out.

Republicans are reacting to disorientation one way; Democrats are reacting another way. But they’re all figuring things out, and there are good people in both parties.

A lot of awful things are happening — and a lot of people are working to make good things happen. 

It’s hard, but it’s not hopeless. It’s frightening — but we should not let fear become despair. 

If we don’t give up, we can figure out what to do. 

History and the difficult process of learning to tell better stories

Studying history well enables people and cultures to tell better stories, and to change in ways worth changing. This is difficult on a number of levels.

In order to learn things worth knowing about the past, we have to ask good questions, and we have to make an effort to find the real answers to those questions.

The basic premise of historical scholarship is that in order to know what happened in the past, you have to check. You may not find what you expect, and you may not like what you find. But what you find will be worth knowing, and it will inform your understanding of the present.

In historical research, anything can be questioned, and any question may well have an unexpected answer. In order to make a claim about the past within the rules of history, you have to do several things:

  • Explain what your claim is.
  • Reference evidence that supports your claim.
  • (Ex: documents that have survived from the period, artifacts, diaries, graves, laws, TV clips, junk mail, angry letters, hats, etc)
  • Make an argument about why your evidence supports your claim.
  • Reference other arguments, and explain why yours is a better explanation of the evidence

For instance:

  • Say, many historians argue that nobles in the year 500 in Hypothetical Country commonly kept implausible hounds.
  • Their evidence for this is that many nobles kept diaries that reference implausible hounds in great detail.
  • Their diaries also reference business transactions that we have independent evidence occurred. 
  • You don’t think implausible hounds exist.
  • You might argue that: we have lots of laws from that period, including livestock laws. None of them reference implausible hounds. 
  • We have found discarded animal bones for every animal referenced in the attested livestock laws. No one has ever made a credible claim to have uncovered the skeleton of an implausible hound.
  • These diaries also contain accounts of the authors’ encounters with dragons, and no one cites this as evidence that dragons actually existed.

People may be convinced by your argument, or they may not be. People may make counterarguments. They may argue in favor of positions that no one has ever taken seriously before.

For instance, people who are convinced that implausible hounds existed may start arguing that dragons also existed, making arguments along the lines that:

  • The diarists describe their own implausible hounds using very similar language to their horses and other domestic animals.
  • They describe dragons in very similar terms to lions and other dangerous wildlife. 
  • We know from many sources that they raised horses and that lions posed a threat to people and livestock.
  • The diaries also describe unicorns and flying hippopotamuses, and they use very different language to do so. No one claims to have personally encountered or raised one of these animals, it’s always a friend-of-a-friend or an elderly relative’s parent.
  • If dragons and implausible hounds were mythical, they would be described the same way as other mythical creatures, but they’re described in the same way as other real animals.
  • Many buildings were destroyed as a result of the unprecedented forest fires of 1000, including the courthouses that held most of the agricultural legal records. 
  • Given that we know so many records were destroyed, there’s no reason to assume that existing legal documents described all domesticated animals and all dangerous predators.
  • It’s generally agreed that implausible hounds were no longer kept after around the year 850, so it’s unsurprisingly that no new implausible hound laws were passed after the fires of 1000.
  • The dragon problem could also have resolved by then. We know that increased human population, agriculture, and improved weapons caused the extinction of several large predators.

As more investigation is done, researchers may turn up evidence that calls more things into question, for instance:

  • People who argue seriously that dragons existed search archives closely for dragon-related materials — and find some laws restricting dragon-hunting.
  • Or petitions to the king asserting that the local lord was neglecting his duty to provide adequate dragon-proof roofs.
  • A dig at a previously unexplored abandoned farm uncovers an unfamiliar animal skull that may be from an implausible hound.
  • Or a discarded merchants’ log listing dragon scale inventories and sales.
  • These documents and artifacts may be found to be a fraud, they may be found to be genuine, or there may be legitimate arguments to be made in both directions.
  • Or: Newly uncovered diagrams in a clearly authentic diary may have drawings of the animals called “implausible hounds”. 
  • The drawings look like horses and not canines, and look similar to drawings explicitly labeled as horses.
  • Many historians start arguing that “implausible hound” is how people referred to particularly good-tempered horses.
  • Or: There may be evidence discovered that dogs were unknown in Hypothetical Country until 1200.
  • (For instance, there may be records of foreign merchants importing hunting dogs in 1200, sparking a decades-long contentious theological and legal controversy about whether it was blasphemous to domesticate a predator.)

If people care enough to investigate the issue of implausible hounds, dragons, and life in Hypothetical Country, there’s probably a reason they care about it personally. That means that what they uncover may have implications that they don’t like, or have trouble assimilating into their worldview constructively.

For instance, implausible hounds, and the story of their past, may be greatly culturally important, maybe with this kind of story:

  • Implausible hounds allowed the nobles to oppress everyone else.
  • They were vicious attack dogs, and no other people were permitted to own dogs.
  • Eventually, the common people courageously disobeyed these laws. They started raising their own dogs, for protection and companionship rather than attack and oppression.
  • The nobles tried to crack down on the peasants and their dogs, but failed because of the fundamental truth that a man and his dog are not easily separated. (And that these days, we understand the importance of including women in dog culture.). 
  • Resistance aided by dogs showed us that it is possible to rebel and win if we stick together, and led to the greater democratization of society.
  • This story is regularly referenced by preachers, politicians, teachers, writers, and just about everyone else.
  • In this context, uncovering evidence that implausible hounds may not have existed or may not have been dogs may feel deeply threatening.
  • People who make this argument may be seen as unpatriotic or immoral.
  • But even if implausible hounds didn’t exist, the country does.
  • And it has a real past, and some of what it believes about itself is true.
  • It can become more true, as it incorporates better understandings of what descriptions of implausible hounds meant
  • And where the cultural importance of dogs came from
  • And what role that played in democracy.
  • There are probably important truths in the stories about dogs and democracy, even if parts of them aren’t true
  • Learning what really happened doesn’t have to break the stories, but it does have to change them.
  • This doesn’t happen overnight, and can be difficult and uncomfortable.

More generally speaking: Historical evidence with unexpected implications can be threatening to your identity, values, or understanding of your culture. Most cultures have deeply held cultural believes about the past. Often, the best available evidence contradicts these beliefs. It can be very difficult to engage with both your culture and your understanding of the evidence at the same time. It’s also possible, and important.

Studying history involves emotional skills as much as it involves academic skills. One of the skills you need to do history well is to learn how to care more about understanding what really did happen than you do about believing the stories your culture has taught you. You don’t have to reject your culture to do take historical evidence seriously, and you don’t have to stand alone. You can learn these truths, as a member of your culture and tradition, and incorporate what you learn into your cultural self-understanding. This involves learning to construct a new kind of identity that can adapt to accommodate changes in your understanding of the past.

This is hard, but it gets easier. And it’s absolutely worth it.
The real past is much more complex and amazing than the imagined past. Learning about what really happened and how we got here can give us a much deeper understanding of who we really are. Seeing nuance in the past allows us to face complexity in the present. When we seek the truth about the past and take what we find seriously, it enables us to build a better future.

What to expect on election day:

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

What’s the process of voting like when you go to your polling place?

realsocialskills said:

Generally it is something like this:

You go to your designated polling place. (Your polling place is assigned based on your address; in most states you have to go to that exact place and not another voting location.)

The polling place will likely be in either a school or a church.

At most times of day, there will be a long line. When you are done waiting in the line, you will check in. There will probably be a table staffed by election volunteers. They will check to make sure that you are on the list for that location. In some states, they will check your ID. They will then cross you off the list to prevent you from voting twice.

They will probably give you a small sticker with an American flag and the words “I voted”.

Once you are checked in, they will direct you to an available voting booth. The booth will have a curtain that you are supposed to close so that no one can see who you voted for.

Some people bring their children along to teach them about the importance of voting. It is considered acceptable to bring a child into the voting booth with you. It is not considered acceptable to bring along an adult, unless you have a disability and need physical assistance voting.

The exact process of voting depends on the state. Some states use various kinds of paper ballots. If your state uses paper ballots, you will mark your ballot in the booth and then bring it to a ballot box or ballot scanning machine. If your state uses voting machines, you will complete the voting process inside the booth.

Most ballots allow you to decide between voting a straight party ticket, or voting for individual candidates. If you vote the straight party ticket, that means you select the party you want to vote for, and automatically vote for all of their candidates. This is a good option if you know that you only want to vote for Democrats, or only want to vote for Republicans, and you’re worried that you might make a mistake in marking your ballot if you mark each candidate individually. (It’s generally not a useful option if you want to vote for third party candidates, since most of the races will only have Republican and Democratic candidates. It is likely to be a better idea to vote for your third party candidate in their race, then vote in all the other races for the candidates you prefer.)

You don’t have to vote in every race. For instance, if you only care who is running for Congress, you can leave the slots for mayor and school board blank.

Some states (eg: California) have ballot initiatives you can vote on. That means that the voters directly vote on some laws. Voting a straight party ticket doesn’t affect those issues one way or another; you vote on them individually.

Most counties have bond measures. That’s basically a vote on whether to raise taxes in order to fund something like a library or school expansion. Those are also things you vote on directly even if you voted the straight party ticket for candidates.

Campaigning isn’t allowed inside the polling place, or within a certain distance of the polling place. No campaigning means that no one is allowed to put up signs for candidates, or try to convince you to vote the way they want you to. At the polling place, they are required to leave you alone.

In practice, this means that campaigners will usually hang around as close to the polling places as it’s legal for them to be. There will probably be signs right at the border, and likely people in that area talking about candidates. It’s ok to talk to them if you want to; it’s also ok not to. They usually won’t be aggressive about bothering people; if they break the rules, they can be kicked out of the area.

When you leave the polling place (especially if you vote late in the day), there might be reporters (or high school civics students) hanging around nearby. They might ask you who you voted for. Reporters ask this because they want to predict who will win the election before the official results are announced.

The Voting Information Project can tell you where your polling place is and other information specific to your area.

Treating people well is a skill

Sometimes, people go into various fields thinking that they are inherently safe people because they know certain things from experience. For instance, people with disabilities go into the field of service provision thinking that they will know how to avoid abuse of power. Or people who have had bad experiences in school and think that they would never use their power in ways that hurt kids.

Sometimes people think that they are safe people because of their political values, or other values. For instance, people sometimes think that reading a lot of disability rights theory makes them ideal staff. Men sometimes think that reading a lot of feminist theory means that they’re immune to gendered power dynamics. White people often think that reading things about diversity and tolerance makes them immune to white supremacist attitudes and hurting people of color with their privilege. But it doesn’t actually work that way.

Your politics do not make you a safe person. Treating people well is a skill, and it goes far beyond knowing what’s at stake. It also goes far beyond knowing the right words and being able to deploy them. It also goes beyond being angry at the world or objecting when other people do blatantly awful things. There is a component of action, too. You also have to know how to act right towards others, and this is something you have to work on continually. No amount of radical conceptual knowledge will replace the need to work on the actual skills involved in treating people well.

And to state it somewhat more simply - knowing that there are power dynamics doesn’t make you immune from abusing power. Neither does identifying them when you see them. Having spent a lot of time thinking about it doesn’t make you immune, either. No one is immune. You have to constantly watch yourself, listen to feedback from people you have power over, and work continuously to improve your ability to treat people right and use your power the right way.

No one is ever, ever beyond the need to keep working on the practical skills involved in treating people well.

It’s not about what kind of person you are; it is never possible to make yourself into a kind of person who is too good to abuse power. It is possible to continually work to improve your actual actions.

Make sure you’re doing that work. It’s important.