Dara Friedman-Wheeler is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Goucher College.
Many of us are following the polls and reading experts’ predictions about the presidential election in November. Waiting for election results is hard. Perhaps this is why it has become so popular to follow the polls and to speculate about what might happen.
However, as political scientist Eitan Hersh says, political speculation is essentially a hobby. I’m going to suggest that we do something more proactive, instead of, or in addition to, speculating (and worrying): Take action.
Action is helpful. Action effects change. Research suggests that canvassing and direct mail increase voter turnout. As an added benefit, being proactive can help us cope with stressful situations, including stressful political situations. Studies have long shown that “active coping” is associated both with decreased stress and better immune function. Doing something active therefore has two potential benefits: it may help the cause and may help you stay afloat emotionally. And if you are feeling as though you personally can’t do much, because your state’s electoral votes are not really in question, or because of the pandemic, or for any other reason, rest assured — there is still much you can do.
First, ask yourself what you would do if you did live in a battleground state, or if there weren’t a pandemic. Then figure out how to do a version of that. Would you be talking to folks about the things that are important to them, in hopes of finding some common ground and perhaps encouraging them to see things from a different point of view? Awesome. We can’t knock on doors right now, but we can make calls and send letters and postcards to voters.
Perhaps you feel uncomfortable making phone calls or find them intrusive. So do I. But you know what makes me more uncomfortable and intrudes even more on people’s lives and freedoms? The current situation in our country.
Being passive right now is not an option. It is not OK to do nothing while horrible things are happening, and many horrible things are happening. White supremacy is on the rise. Immigrant children are dying in federal detention centers, separated from their parents. We are not taking appropriate steps in the face of a pandemic.
Now is the time to do everything we can to affect the next election. And here again, knowing that we’re doing what we can may help us to cope with these situations that feel unacceptable to us.
Still not ready to make calls? Check out Postcards to Voters, where volunteers write letters to remind people to vote, to see how you might reach voters by mail. Perhaps you’re skeptical that recipients will care about postcards sent from out of state; research suggests they might. When people see that someone did something for them personally, they feel a sense of obligation to do something in return.
Another option, of course, is to donate to campaigns or groups you support.
I know not everyone will make calls or donate. But many of us can find a way to do something. We have a moral obligation to take action, and doing so may well help us cope. Worrying, speculating and complaining about what might happen may keep us busy or even entertained. But we can also be active players in this game, and we must.
Dara Friedman-Wheeler is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Goucher College. This column was originally published in The Baltimore Sun.