Listening to Rachel Maddow this morning talk about U.S. medical response teams getting pedicures in Puerto Rico when they could be saving lives, I sort of blew up with rage, a blinding, heart-pounding, sweat-inducing epithet-shouting fist-banging rage that had probably been smoldering in my solar plexus for months and just had to erupt …
… which reminded me: Finishing School can be a powerful tool for starting and sustaining your own personal program of political action.
Which is sorely needed as if you didn’t know. So here is the gist of it: In Finishing School we break our big goals down into little jobs that are doable in a limited time, and then we assign times to these tasks and agree with someone else to do these things and then we watch with pleasure as these little completed tasks turn into major accomplishments.
It began as a method for writers to get their manuscripts done, but has been used for all kinds of things and there’s no reason it can’t be used for political activism. In fact, it’s ideally suited for political activism because political activism is a large important project that depends for success on many small discrete actions, some of which are, frankly, not all that exciting to do. And that’s what Finishing School is all about.
Say you need to call your congressional representative but you haven’t done it yet. Even if you have not read the Finishing School book (better yet: Get One Here ) and even if there is no Finishing School group operating in your area, you can do this simple thing. You can connect with a friend and just say, at 1 o’clock on Thursday, for instance, I am going to take two hours during which I will make a phone call to my representative.
That’s the Finishing School method in a nutshell. Why two hours? Well, you might get done sooner. But you might not. We like to allow more time than is necessary. Maybe you are a little nervous about doing it and need a few minutes to get settled in. Maybe you want to make a note of exactly what you’re going to say. Maybe you want to get a cup of coffee. Maybe you do it right away and then get fired up after the first call and want to make more and so you have some extra time to keep going. Maybe you find that you don’t even know for sure who your representative is or what their number is and you have to find that, and in finding that you call someone with whom you then chat for 15 or 20 minutes and then something happens and your two hours is interrupted. But you still have time! Since you have set aside a full two hours, you’re still going to get this one thing done! And getting this one thing done is super important!
So you get it done and that is the whole thing right there.
Danelle Morton and I wrote a whole book about this method, and in the last few months I have written about 9,000 words about just this one idea of using the method for political activism and am trying to marshal them into a coherent thesis, but it seems silly and kind of perfectionistic to be doing all that in isolation when the basic idea is just so simple: Set a time, notify a buddy, and do the thing!
Oh—and when you’re done with the time period you have set, then you also contact your buddy and say you’re done. That’s it.