16 Things Americans Can Do in October

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We’ve made it to October — but many Americans worry about November. I’m one of them. Which of the things that aren’t supposed to happen will happen on or after Election Day this year? Will the inevitable legal and political wrangling pass quickly or completely overwhelm the country for weeks? How much violence will there be?

But my point today is not what may happen. It’s the worry and fear with which we anticipate both the election results and the aftermath.

When we’re worried or afraid, it helps to have things to do. Actually doing them helps even more. So here are 16 things Americans can do in October 2020. I have more for you in a few days.

Some of my suggestions are directly political, but I’m trying to be mostly nonpartisan here. Most of the following can cut both ways; they’re things at least some people on all sides can do in their own way. See what you think.

I’ve divided this set into two categories, “The Overtly Political” and “Feed Your Soul More Than Politics.”

The Overtly Political

1. Vote in October — in person, if possible.

Vote early if you can. Vote in person if you can. If you’re suspicious of mail-in voting, carry your ballot to an official dropbox or polling place. You won’t have to worry about the post office, and you may help ballot processors get more of their work done sooner. You’ll also allow yourself time to get help if the instructions are unclear, and to do a bit more digging if a race or proposition on the ballot is new to you — so you’ll be a better voter.

Promiscuous mailing of unrequested ballots to everyone listed in badly-maintained voter registration records presents some huge risks — but you don’t have to be part of them.

If you must or strongly prefer to vote by mail, you can still vote early. If you can, mail your ballot at the post office rather than leaving it at your mailbox for pickup or giving it to some stranger who promises to mail it for you. Your ballot will be a little safer that way.

2. Think and act in three dimensions.

If you can’t stand the top of either ticket, or if you’re conscious that there’s very little you can do (besides voting) to affect the outcome of the presidential election, find a state or local candidate you like and volunteer to help the campaign.

State and local races matter. Presidential campaign rhetoric often implies that a president — or the entire federal government — has jurisdiction over everything and can grant all wishes and solve all problems, if he (or it) will. That’s a fiction. In some ways city, county, school district, and state governments matter as much or more, and one person — you — can make more of a difference on a smaller stage.

3. Give October surprises a few days before you consider believing them.

In some ways the October surprises for this election started four years ago, but they were clearly ramping up as September 2020 waned. We’re in for an onslaught.

We’ll have one overhyped, distorted, or fabricated story after another, not from just one side, and not just in the presidential race. All sorts of folks will hyperventilate about the new scandal and prophesy doom for the target’s campaign, until the next bomb drops and they overreact to that one.

I’m not saying we should ignore all news stories. I’m saying we should wait a least a few days to believe some of them.

Consider the sources. Are they anonymous? If they are, why should we trust them? If they aren’t, at least we can assess their motives.

Consider the charges. Are they plausible? Is it more likely that the accusers are taking their own scandals and skeletons and trying to shift them to the opponent?

Consider the timing. Is the latest bombshell something that would likely have been reported or leaked a year or two ago, or decades ago, if it were really true, rather than emerging conveniently in the last few weeks or days of a political campaign?

Consider the evidence. Is there any on either side? Can there be?

A week later, consider the evidence again. The appeal of October surprises used to be that they came out so late that their victims couldn’t challenge them effectively before the election. Early voting has disrupted the timing, and the strategy itself has changed: Unleash a steady stream of them, so the debunking of one is drowned out by the noise of the next.

I’d offer an example, but you don’t need one — and I’d have to offer one from each side to be fair.

Whatever side you’re on, if any, be a little skeptical. And patient.

4. Boycott the NBA, NFL, and MLB.

This one’s somewhat partisan.

I’m boycotting the NBA and the NFL. Have been for a while. I’d boycott Major League Baseball, if that would involve the slightest change in my behavior.

None of these leagues will miss me much, but I’m not watching them at all. They’re not even getting my clicks on news alerts or online articles. I ignore the scores of their games. When discussion on the local sports talk radio station turns to one of these leagues, I turn to something else. I’m not buying their merchandise or going to their games. (I only attend a couple of NBA games in a normal year anyway.) Their online and broadcast advertisers get no value from me whatsoever.

I turn to sports to enjoy athletic competition, not politics. On one hand, I’m accustomed to politics different from mine; The West Wing is one of my favorite TV series ever. On the other hand, I think I’d be pushed away even if I liked the politics the NBA and NFL are shoving down our throats. For now, at least, I’m done being lectured on history and government by rich boys who are largely ignorant of both, and by their handlers and exploiters.

I love sports — and I love books too. If I went to my favorite bookstore, and most of the books there had been replaced with my preferred brand of laundry detergent (yes, there’s some loyalty there), I’d be done with that bookstore. I go to bookstores for books, not laundry detergent. I turn to sports for sport, not politics.

Where do I draw the line? I still watch and enjoy Major League Soccer; I’m a Real Salt Lake fan. So far, they’ve mostly kept the politics off the field and out of the broadcast booth. I don’t mind them wearing t-shirts on the sidelines with political content in large print. If they go much further than that, my finger will start to twitch toward the off button on my remote.

5. Stand up for free speech at work, if you can.

If you’re in a position to do so, make sure your company’s social media policy protects free political speech.

This spring at my company (meaning where I work; I’m not an owner), as we began to see reports of people around the country losing their jobs for posting mainstream political views in their personal social media feeds, I was assigned — or volunteered — to draft our overdue social media policy. It went through several reviews and some discussion by the entire management team; then we adopted and announced it.

It warns employees not to engage in political activity online or in public while wearing the company logo, or when representing the company in any capacity. Of course, they’re not to represent their own views as those of the company as a whole or of anyone else at the company.

But here’s the point: We wanted to protect our employees from what has happened elsewhere. The first of six rules in our policy is first for a reason:

“1. Personal political, social, religious, and philosophical views, expressed in ways and settings unconnected with [the company], are not [the company’s] business and are not grounds for any sort of corporate discipline, including termination. Exceptions may be made for material which is beyond the traditional bounds of free speech, including gross obscenity and directly inciting violence.”

Our immediate concern was to assure employees that the company respects their free speech. We want them to know their jobs aren’t in jeopardy, if they happen to voice political views not shared by some of the management, or if they fail to voice views the management might endorse.

Even this may be partisan now, but if you’re in a position to influence such things at your company, consider striking a blow for free speech.

6. Fly a flag.

If your circumstances allow it, fly the American flag — any day or every day until the post-election smoke mostly clears.

Unless you hate that flag, or it embarrasses you. Then fly a different flag that represents something you love.

7. Blame China first for COVID-19.

I said blame China first, not entirely.

COVID-19 dwarfs most other issues in the current American election cycle. There are widely divergent accounts of who’s to blame — that is, the accounts diverge both from each other and from the facts we know. That’s not unusual for politics, but remembering some basic facts will help us process a lot of what we hear from the candidates and their surrogates.

However COVID-19 came to be, and whatever politics were behind its spread from China, we know at least this: The Chinese government suppressed and hid information about the new virus for weeks, if not months. Meanwhile, they hoarded medical and protective equipment, depleting the world’s supplies. They silenced their own scientists who tried to speak out. They systematically lied to the world about the characteristics of the virus. They suspended internal travel to and from Wuhan Province, where the virus reportedly originated, but allowed international travel to continue to and from that province. (This selective travel ban alone is awfully close to a smoking gun.)

They compelled the World Health Organization to parrot Chinese talking points rather than doing its job. They conducted large-scale disinformation campaigns in multiple countries, including the US — and they were successful at least in the sense that they had our Big Media Acronyms lapping up their talking points.

We’ll never know how many people they killed by delaying and confusing the world’s response to the virus in the early weeks and months. But it’s reasonable to conclude, based on what we already know, that the PRC committed an act of war against the rest of the world, using a weapon of mass destruction.

I’m not saying we or other nations should bomb Beijing. I think we shouldn’t.

I’m not saying there isn’t plenty of blame to go around, for failures in the US generally and some states’ and cities’ handling of the situation. I think there is.

I’m not saying there aren’t wonderfully good people in China. I know some.

What I’m saying here is, before we blame Republicans, Democrats, the administrative state, or the Big Media Acronyms for the deaths and economic destruction caused by the virus and our responses to it; before we blame the President or governors or mayors on either side of the partisan divide; before we blame the people who wear masks or the people who don’t …

Let’s remember that a great deal of the blame for the worldwide devastation COVID-19 has wrought belongs at the highest levels of the Chinese government, that is, of the Chinese Communist Party.

8. Avoid the shallow blame game.

Be prepared for both sides in this election to blame everything bad (real and imagined) on the other side and claim credit for all manner of good (real and imagined). Why should the next few weeks be any different?

Reality is rarely simple. Many problems which come to a head in any given administration have roots years or decades ago, or existed under a previous administration but for whatever reason went unreported.

Many things for which we blame or credit a president happened without or in spite of federal government activity, let alone presidential activity, due to local or state governments or other forces.

Unnumbered Bonus: Get a Freedom Habit bumper magnet.

As of this writing, I have about 50 bumper magnets to give away. While they last, message me and we’ll figure out how to get you one — or more, if you want to pass some around. If you can afford to help with postage, that’s welcome. If you can’t, I’ll send you one anyway, while they last (within the United States).

October - Freedom or Free Stuff Bumper Magnet
To request a bumper magnet, use a comment or a Facebook message. US only, please.

It’s a bumper magnet, not a sticker. You can take it off before you venture into places where it might get your car keyed or tires slashed, and when others drive your vehicle who don’t share the sentiment.

Feed Your Soul More than Politics

9. Find something to believe in other than government.

For our own mental health, we need to believe in something other than government — ideally, something higher. The hard Left may not approve; they brook no rivals, when in power, especially God. But other folks on both sides of the divide should be able to agree that our present and future don’t entirely depend on government — or who’s elected to the government.

So believe in God, if you choose, and if you can. Especially now.

Believe in the goodness you see in people. There’s a lot of it, especially in ordinary people — but even in prominent people, when they’re not mugging for the camera.

Believe that your heart and mind can chart a good course for your life, whatever happens in our government and politics.

Believe in your family. They’re not as weird as you think. (Mostly.)

For that matter, believe that you and others, united in a good cause, can over time affect the course not only of government but of civilization itself.

Such belief will help us keep hope and perspective. It will help us do good for the people we can touch. It even makes government better, but that’s a separate discussion.

10. Resist hatred, anger, fear, and despair.

Should we call this the #adultresistance?

Resist hatred. That’s easier said than done, especially if we’re caught up in issues, races, debates, and events. But unless you enjoy hatred, in which case there’s something wrong with you, resist it. Resist it mightily. It destroys souls, families, communities, nations — and it builds nothing worth having.

Andrew Sullivan had a good question the other day: Do we tolerate extremists on our side (whichever side that is) because we hate the other side so much?

Resist anger. Speaking or acting in anger rarely produces satisfactory results. Endlessly stewing in anger will eventually kill you, after it robs you and those around you of peace and joy.

Resist anger even if it’s completely justified. Good people don’t do every angry thing that might be justified. And you’ll never control a situation if you can’t control yourself.

While you’re resisting, resist fear and despair. They don’t serve us well either. Maybe doing some of the other things in this list will help. That’s part of my reason for making this list.

For me, especially in difficult moments, music helps me resist these evils. So …

11. Find music that lifts you and restores you, and listen to it whenever you need it.

I listen to a variety of music, but lately two kinds have been helpful in moments when anger or discouragement loom and I need an infusion of beauty, peace, truth, and hope.

You don’t have to make the same musical choices I do, and the same music may not affect you the same way. Something else might. But here are two playlists I assembled on YouTube as samples of what often works for me. One list is primarily patriotic. One is religious. (Sorry about the ads. Some of them won’t help your October at all, but you can skip most of them after a few seconds.)

The patriotic one includes these words, which I have loved practically all my life:

“Our fathers’ God to thee,
Author of liberty,
To thee we sing!
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light!
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King!”
(from “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”)

“O thus be it ever,
When free men shall stand
Between their loved homes
And the war’s desolation!
Blessed with vict’ry and peace,
May the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the power that hath made
And preserved us a nation!”
(from “The Star-Spangled Banner”)

12. Read a history book.

Read a book on whatever historical topic, period, or figure interests you, from the American founding to the building of a bridge, to an illustrated history of the bathing suit.

Then read another.

The better we all know history and can adopt a historical perspective, the better self-government works, and the better we’ll understand ourselves and others. As a bonus, we’ll be less prone to embrace the irresponsible overuse of words like unprecedented and best-worst-highest-lowest-biggest-smallest ever.

There’s a wealth of fascinating history out there.

13. Engage your mind regularly in other good things.

Be sure you have other things in your life to do and talk about (besides politics and government). What those things are depends on you. Here are some of mine.

I read all sorts of things, including all sorts of books.

I blog less than I used to, but still more than someone who doesn’t. (I also flatter myself that I have a wry wit.)

I write long and short fiction, and I’m active in a local critique group in which writers of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, etc., help each other and go out for good food.

I watch films with the family.

I also try to depoliticize most of my commutes, in the sense of preferring non-political listening. Podcasts are making a comeback, and you can’t really have too many audio books, can you?

What works for you? I suggest you find a way to do more of it, not less, when storm clouds darken the horizon.

14. Help people, regardless of their politics.

Find ways to help specific people — regardless of their politics — in ways involving some sort of live human contact, even if it’s just a phone call.

You’ll get to know them better — and by your fruits (not your politics) they’ll know you.

15. If you’re religious, pray.

(If you’re not, skip this one.)

If your understanding of prayer includes asking God for specific blessings, you might consider these. (Given that plenty of folks on both sides think the other side is an existential threat to all that is right and good, I think you could construe this list as nonpartisan.)

  • Pray that God will bless our nation — with peace, freedom, wisdom, prosperity, and anything else you think we need. We may as well pray for the whole world while we’re at it.
  • Pray that officials and voters alike will make the best available choices for their nations.
  • Pray that God will guide each of us in advancing the causes of peace, freedom, and justice — and give us courage, patience, wisdom, humility, words, opportunities, and whatever else we need to act effectively.
  • Pray that God will frustrate the designs of the enemies (foreign and domestic) of peace, freedom, and justice. Even if we can’t agree on who those are, exactly, I’m sure God knows.
  • Speaking of which, pray for the ability to discern who are the friends and enemies of freedom, peace, justice, truth.

If your mode of praying works that way, don’t forget to inventory your blessings, and make a point to thank God for at least the top tier on a regular basis.

16. Don’t give up. Exert your faith, hope, and good cheer.

We’ve survived elections and brutal politics before. We’ve seen the face of evil before, and we’ve despaired of finding truth among all the noise — but we’re still here.

Do what you reasonably can, in your convictions and circumstances. Be the best friend, neighbor, family member, and citizen you can. Then tell yourself that you’ve done enough today — because what you can do in your circumstances is enough, even if it’s only a little.

From my religious tradition come these words of Joseph Smith, Jr. (If you need to make a secular translation before you can embrace them, go for it.)

“Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17)

I believe — I’m not sure how you’d make a secular translation of this — that God maintains a deep and abiding interest in the welfare of all people, all his children around the world, and in the United States of America, even as he profoundly respects the moral freedom he gave us. When we have done what little we can do each day, we can commit ourselves, our loved ones, our nation, and the world to his care until tomorrow, fully expecting that he will work in the world around the clock for our ultimate good.

I do not know what course my country will choose and finally take. But God does, and he has already planned for it.

I’ll be back in a few days with another list. I left the toughest ones for next time, I think.


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2 thoughts on “16 Things Americans Can Do in October”

  1. Alison says:

    RE: History
    I never hear anyone talk about looking to history to help guide us today, to see what has and hasn’t worked, lessons learned, etc. but it is something I’ve thought about for years. My concerted effort in this direction, however, has something to be desired. Have you listened to Dan Carlin? I quite enjoy research and commentary, if nothing else it gives me ideas to chew over.

    1. David Rodeback says:

      Alison, thanks for reading. I’ve never heard Dan Carlin, no. I’ll look him up. I tried out another history podcast or two over the summer but wasn’t impressed enough to continue with them.

      I wouldn’t say my own efforts are “concerted” — but I’m currently enjoying Wilfred McClay’s new 500-page survey of US history, Land of Hope (on audio, mostly). I’m up to Andrew Jackson so far, and I’ve learned a few interesting things about periods of history I’ve studied a lot before. Plus it’s good to see everything knit together. And he plays fair with the founding and founders, rather than trashing them or deifying them.

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