We Tried 6 Protest Websites to See If They Actually Help

by Susan Shain

February 10, 2017

As I watched the events of Trump’s first week unfold, it finally hit me: This is actually happening. And, I need to do something. But what?

Information abounds—in resources like the Resistance Manual, Indivisible, and 99 Ways to Fight Trump—and also in a spate of sites promising actionable advice. Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

So I decided to take a deep dive into six different resistance efforts. I tried them out; I talked to their founders—all with the goal of learning if and how they’re helping.

Here’s what you need to know.

1) Swing Left

Swing Left

What it is: Swing Left aims to help Democrats take back the House in 2018.

“There are 52 swing districts—places where the last election was won by 15 percent of the vote or less,” explained spokesperson Michelle Finocchi. “We need to win 80 percent of all swing districts to take back the House. If we win all 17 Democratic-held swing districts, we need to flip 24 of the remaining Republican ones.”

Why only the House? “The 2018 Senate map heavily favors Republicans,” according to Finocchi, and “House races receive less attention, so your dollars, hours and talents count more.”

When I visited the site and typed in my zip code, I immediately learned where my closest swing district was, and I registered to receive updates about local efforts.

Although action items aren’t yet available, Finocchi said Swing Left will soon provide volunteer opportunities like phone banking, canvassing, and fundraising. “The intention is to give people flexibility with how much time they want to devote to their team, and from where.”

Verdict: With 250,000 people already signed up, Swing Left certainly has the numbers to become an effective movement. But, because it might be a while before it’s organized, I’d also recommend taking immediate action with one of the sites below.

2) Sister District Project

The Sister District

What it is: Sister District’s mission is to “channel energy” from those who live deep in blue or red districts to “areas where it will make a difference.”

Here’s how it works: Members will be assigned a local group, and local groups will be assigned a “sister race” (in a swing district) to support. Tasks will include donating, spreading the word on social media, and phone banking. Depending on how far you live from your sister district, you also might help with canvassing or getting out the vote.

Unlike other organizations, Sister District is mostly focused on local and state races. “Taking back state legislatures is crucial to bringing fairness back to redistricting,” explained Bosworth. “Supporting local and state candidates is also a great way to build a pipeline of good candidates for national races.”

When I signed up for the site, I received an email stating: “We're hard at work getting things organized so that we can do great things together.” Since Sister District is so new, it’s hard to gauge how effective it will be.

But Bosworth sounded confident in her approach, which will include putting volunteers on the ground, coordinating with campaigns to tailor volunteer efforts, and targeting races that are both “winnable” and “strategic.”

“We want to avoid election fatigue and make sure that when we support a race, our volunteers know it has been fully vetted and that their money and time is going toward a race that will have meaning beyond just a win,” she explained.

Verdict: Sister District has a solid and unique strategy behind it—and once it’s set up, it seems as if it will be a good option for helping from within deep-blue or deep-red areas.

3) 5 Calls

What it is: 5 Calls is a site that lists issues, phone numbers, and scripts to make calling your representatives as painless as possible.

Complaining on social media is like an “echo chamber,” explained Nick O’Neill, who co-founded the site with his wife Rebecca Kaufman. Calling, on the other hand, is “one of the few ways you can actually do something from the comfort of your home that has an impact on your representative.” (Here’s The New York Times on why calling works.)

Though 5 Calls is easy to navigate, when I called, the lines were often busy or the voice mailboxes full. O’Neill says 5 Calls plans to add local access numbers soon, which should help.

To date, more than 360,000 calls have been made through the platform. And Senate staffers are noticing; some even reached out to O’Neill with advice on making the scripts more effective.

As for whether it’s had an effect, O’Neill says he’d like to think that Democrats “waffling” on some of Trump’s cabinet picks was “in some way tied to not just us, but the groundswell of support for our representatives, and people reaching out via lots of different means.”

Verdict: After only a few weeks, 5 Calls has already helped hundreds of thousands of people contact their representative—and, although busy signals can be frustrating, it’s an excellent way to kickstart your activism.

4) Countable

What it is: A platform breaking down the issues, facts on your reps who to call, and when. 

Taking the whole process a bit further is Countable. Unlike the other platforms that were created in a flurry after the election, Countable has been around for three years (but has grown 2,000 percent in the past few weeks), according to CEO and founder Bart Myers. It’s also nonpartisan.

“News should be actionable,” explained Myers. So after reading about an issue on Countable’s app or site, you can immediately contact your representative via phone, email or video message.

I downloaded the app, created a profile and got to studying. I loved the easy-to-understand breakdowns of each bill, and the fact my reps and all of their past votes were listed in plain sight. With one click, I could vote “yea” or “nay” on bills, which automatically sent messages to my reps. (After everything I’ve read about the superiority of making phone calls, though, I couldn’t help but feel as if those messages were being sent into the void.)

Myers thinks video messages are most effective because lawmakers—rather than merely staffers—might see them. “We’ve seen videos get viewed 50 or 60 times,” he said. “Virtually all of our messages are received, and virtually all of our videos will be viewed at least once.”

Millions of messages have been sent through Countable’s platform in the past few years. Although it’s difficult to measure results, Myers is confident Countable has given voters a better understanding of issues and an easy way to voice their concerns.

“We should all be getting in the habit of regularly communicating with our lawmakers what we think,” he explained. “It’s their job to figure out how to interpret that; it’s their job to figure out if they’re going to listen to us. And then it’s our job, in return, to decide if we want to vote for them again.”

Verdict: Countable is a proven, helpful resource for learning about issues and bills, but I wouldn’t rely solely on “voting” through its platform. To make sure your voice is heard, you should also call and, if you’d like, send a video message.

5) Wall-of-Us

Wall-of-Us

What it is: A site listing 4 actions per week. 

Next, I wanted to find an organization that would recommend acts of resistance each week. I checked out a few different sites; some had too much information, some too little. But soon I found a favorite: Wall-of-Us.

Amelia Miazad, who co-founded the site with Kara Ganter, said the site was “born out of a need to resist.” Miazad, an American lawyer who was born in Afghanistan, explained, “I don’t want to be complacent about losing what’s wonderful about this country to an authoritarian.”

Wall-of-Us shares four actions per week, each determined after in-depth research and consultation with a network of policy and legal experts. I appreciated that the instructions contained more meat than just “Contact your representative,” but didn’t overwhelm with tons of details.

The site is also more aesthetically pleasing than many of its counterparts, which is no accident. “We really want to make resistance beautiful,” said Miazad. “So that it becomes something you want to do … a habit.”

Again, it’s too soon to tell if the actions will yield results, but this organization seems well-positioned to make a difference. “If there’s a hateful policy, then all of us need to stand up,” explained Miazad. “So the only wall that’s gonna get built is a wall of us.”

Verdict: If you want a manageable way to stay on top of the action, sign up for the Wall-of-Us weekly newsletter—and then follow its advice.

6. Make America Kittens Again

Make America Kittens Again

What it is: Kittens

While researching this piece, many photos of our president popped up–and it quickly became exhausting. So I was delighted to stumble upon the Make America Kittens Again Chrome extension, which miraculously turns photos of Donald Trump into kittens.

Creator Tom Royal, who lives in London, previously created an extension to block U.K. politician Nigel Farage. After receiving a request via Twitter, he made a Trump version.

“I figured it'd help out until he lost the Republican primary and disappeared back to reality TV,” explained Royal. “Didn't quite work out that way.” Soon after the election, MAKA went viral—and now boasts 75,000 users.

“In order to resist, we need to keep up with what's happening,” said Royal. “And if MAKA helps people do that, even when they're sick of seeing Trump staring back from the page, I hope that's a worthwhile thing.”

Verdict: Even if you’re not a cat person (raises hand), MAKA is a fun way to focus on what matters, rather than getting filled with rage as soon as you click on a news story. (Wait until you read the story for the rage to ensue). Our current administration is counting on resistance fatigue. They want us to get tired of the work and the protests and the activism—and lose our fire. But we have to remember: We have four years of this.

So take care of yourself. Don’t feel the need to do everything. Just do something.

And when all else fails, give yourself a minute to look at kittens.

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We Tried 6 Protest Websites to See If They Actually Help