During his farewell address in Chicago last month, then-president Barack Obama asked his fellow Americans to do one last thing before he left the White House: to believe in their own ability, not just in his, to bring about change in this country.
He warned us that it wouldn't be easy, that it would take hard work to move democracy forward — something he no doubt learned firsthand after eight years of fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers attempting to blockade his every move. Now, he seemed to be suggesting without ever saying, it was our turn to do the same for President Donald Trump.
But just two weeks into Trump’s presidency, he’s already hastily autographed so many executive orders, proposed so many dangerous policies and stumbled through so many profoundly embarrassing speeches that it can be difficult to decide just which actions of his to oppose and how. Should we be focusing our efforts on questioning the legality of his immigration ban or by urging our senators to vote no on the cabinet nominees we believe are not qualified for the job? Why protest the proposed wall along the Mexican border when we could be spending more time paying attention to Trump’s foreign policy fights with Iran, Mexico and Australia?
There’s no one answer to any of these questions, and spending too long thinking about it might just be the quickest route to existential dread and self-loathing. But luckily there are efforts like The Big Hundred, a new social media campaign spearheaded by celebrities including Paul Scheer and Sarah Silverman that's designed to make people feel a little less overwhelmed by big-picture politics — or the impending apocalypse, depending on how dark your outlook is — by mobilizing them to take one action, one day at a time, during the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, and beyond. Often, these are things like planting a tree, buying locally, helping a stranger on the street, bringing a kid or grandparent to a national park or volunteering at a public school — in other words, actions that won’t get you arrested or alienate you from your friends or family, but will probably make your community a better place at least in some small way.
“I think we have a tendency to look at the macro, like ‘Oh my god it’s LGBT rights, it’s the environment, everything is bad!’ It’s overwhelming,” says Scheer, the actor and comedian best known for his role on the FX show The League. “I think we’re all looking for those moments of [saying] ‘I can do that, too’ instead of [asking] ‘What can we do?’ Because there’s no way to defeat Steve Bannon, but we can do this or we can do that, you know? It at least poses opposition.”
Scheer is urging his followers to do something seemingly simple but that he admits he only did fairly recently: figure out who their local representatives are, and then start pestering them like crazy. He recommends the independent site govtrack.us, which was funded through Kickstarter in 2015 and remains entirely subsidized through ad revenue and crowd funding. It allows users to type in their addresses and track their members of Congress including their voting records, follow the status of bills and resolutions and stay up to date on upcoming committee meetings on everything from armed services to veterans’ affairs.
Like many of Obama’s supporters, Scheer first got fired up about politics during the 2008 presidential campaign. He remembers canvassing door to door to campaign for Obama, and when the then U.S. Senator from Illinois was elected president, he sat down and sort of forgot about politics for the next eight years. That is, until he heard Obama’s farewell speech last month and was moved to action by his words, by the idea that the future of democracy was in our hands — we just had to work for it. “I don’t want [political engagement] to just end with the election cycle anymore,” says Scheer. “I think I realized I’m being a bad citizen of this democracy to just only be involved in the big matches.”
If there’s ever a silver lining to the current political climate — and we’re not sure there really is — it’s that people have been mobilized en masse to call and write their elected officials and engage in political action, sometimes for the first time. So many calls were made last week to oppose DeVos, for example, that some Senators’ voicemails were jammed to capacity. “So many calls are coming in, it’s breaking down the phone system. I think they’re not equipped for this type of movement and I think it’s interesting to see,” says Scheer. On the other hand, he says, “I just think it would be great to be this civic-minded when the world isn’t falling apart.”