By Joy Pullmann
While helming Fox’s “Primetime” last week, Federalist Publisher Ben Domenech developed in his nightly monologues the theme of Americans becoming, not woke, but “Wide Awake.”
The “Wide Awake” label comes from another fraught period in American history. It was the name of a highly effective grassroots political movement in the pre-Civil War era.
“There were hundreds of thousands of [Wide Awakes] in 1860, and their organizations stretched from Maine to California,” Domenech explained last Monday. “They were a militaristic fraternity dedicated to human liberty. They had banners and marches and baseball teams. They carried oil lamps, wore capes, and wielded bats, and they stumped for a rising Republican rail-splitter named Abraham Lincoln.”
Throughout the week, Domenech called on Americans to consider this historical example to inform our actions today, in another era of despair, mob rule, political corruption, and a brutal coalition of elites and lowlifes against the aspiring middle class. Amid lockdowns, rising inflation, state-sponsored racism, doubt about the security of elections, the fecklessness of politicians, and the leftist control of everything right down to whether we can show our faces, many Americans feel hopeless and in rout.
This, Domenech argued, is the time not to slide into the sleep of despair, but to stomp our feet on the sleep-inducing fumes and shake ourselves awake for action: “The American crisis can be the opportunity for American renewal. That’s why it’s worth doing. It’s only by doing hard things and overcoming them that we find genuine happiness.”
“What does it mean to be wide awake? What are you prepared to do if you are?” Domenech asked in his Friday conclusion to the week’s series.
I’m not quoting Ben because he’s my boss, but because he’s 100 percent right, and he has more heart than I do most days, and that’s right, too. To follow up on this theme, I and several Federalist staff have compiled the following idea list of ways to develop your capacity for self-governance. Many people are feeling despair right now, and the truth is that things are likely to get worse before they get better. But for them to ever have a chance of getting better, we have to be willing to suffer today.
But not suffer pointlessly. Suffer with a purpose. Suffer for the cause of making a better future possible for our children and grandchildren. Suffer to preserve and expand our right to freely worship our God and live in fidelity to his commands. Suffer for the nobility of living a life of the deep meaning that can only come from sacrifice rather than the pointless life of constant self-gratification.
Stop talking, and start doing. Create the culture you want to see. Vote not only at election time, but with every day of your life, and every action you take. Self-government starts at home, with you, and now. Here are some places to start, or to start brainstorming more.
1. Run for office.
2. Recruit someone excellent to run for office, and a group of friends to help that person win.
3. Primary a woke or sleeping incumbent.
4. “Start a neighborhood group — present yourself under an umbrella that welcomes all other responsible members of your community who are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and who are willing to stand up.” (quote from Ben’s monologue)
6. Grow some of your own food.
7. Shop at your local farmer’s market, or participate in community-supported agriculture.
8. Shop local for other stuff, too.
9. Cut cable and send the cable payment to something useful, like your local church or a fund to help kids escape public schools.
10. Work out. If you already work out, up your game. If working out is intimidating, just start going for walks. See where it leads, and feel good about doing more than you used to.
11. Play board games with your kids instead of letting them watch some screen.
12. Organize a mass protest against school masking.
13. Start a local online news blog that uses open-records requests to obtain curriculum from the local schools and post screenshots and basic summaries of what you find.
14. Don’t send your kids to schools that medically and socially abuse them. Have education standards that are far above “free babysitting.”
15. Volunteer to coach local kids’ sports.
16. Go to church. Every week.
17. Go to church midweek, too.
18. Go to your church’s Sunday School or education hour before or after the service.
19. Pick up and drive an elderly, handicapped, or otherwise needy person to church on your way.
21. Volunteer through your church.
22. Volunteer at your child’s school.
23. Notice that a neighbor struggles with something, like childcare or lawn care, or loneliness. Do something to help.
24. Invite people over to your house for dinner. If dinner is too intimidating, do drinks or dessert or popcorn.
25. Get to know your neighbors and your neighborhood.
26. Cultivate the art of hospitality, and use it as a tool to build community. Without thriving families and strong, close-knit communities, conservatives will never rescue or rebuild the republic.
27. Start or any kind of group that brings people together in other people’s living rooms regularly: a book club, a woodworking club, a volunteer group, a craft club, a playgroup for preschoolers and their parents — the possibilities are endless.
28. At Christmas, go caroling in your neighborhood (even if it shocks the neighbors).
29. Visit senior centers, and new neighbors, and anyone you think might be lonely; invite them to celebrate holidays with your family or church.
30. Try to buy less stuff made in China.
31. Watch local sports instead of pro sports. Better yet, participate.
32. Stop using social media. At the very least, use it as little as possible.
33. Move your savings and investments to pro-America institutions. If you can’t find any that are specifically pro-American, choose a small local bank or credit union. Or a pro-life one.
34. Pay down your debt. Try to go debt-free.
35. Move from a blue state or city to a red state or city.
36. Don’t pay for your kids’ school bundled into the mortgage; get a less-expensive house and use the savings to give your kids a private education.
37. Bring someone a loaf of bread you made. Or a loaf of bread you bought from a local bakery.
38. Rediscover an old hobby. Or try a new one. Acrylic paint is cheap.
40. Take a bike ride. Bring your kids.
41. If you don’t have a spouse, make specific plans for how you plan to try to find one.
42. If you don’t have kids, have some. If you’re not married, do that first.
43. Call a relative you haven’t talked to in a while.
44. Call a friend with a different political worldview, and make it a pleasant conversation.
45. Read a book.
46. Make a budget, and follow it.
47. Think seriously about apprenticeships and starting in an entry-level job for your teens instead of or before heading off to college. Colleges are COVID traps right now, and even pre-COVID the value they provided in exchange for the time and money invested in them was significantly diminishing. Businesses are starving for workers right now and entry-level positions for many eventually highly paying jobs are wide open, such as in the trades and in entrepreneurial positions in small businesses, such as mechanics, construction, bakeries, florist shops, lawn care, and more. Employers are very often paying people to acquire skills while they work in well-paid, good-benefit fields like health care and construction, and they will take any halfway competent warm body right now.
48. Write a book. Publishing and libraries are a wasteland right now. People need better options.
49. Create a documentary.
50. Make jokes. Share them.
51. Make beautiful art, and bring it to art shows. Spread beauty.
52. Paint a public mural on a building visible to others that doesn’t look like those hideous graffiti “art” cities are putting up everywhere. Make it utterly gorgeous. Put those anti-beauty nihilists to shame.
53. Get your friends who can play or sing beautiful, classic, and fun music together and serenade passers-by in a local park.
54. Become a foster family. Private foster agencies are an especially good option.
55. Adopt a child.
56. Bring your local police station some home-baked goods or offer to buy officers on duty a nice big round of hot coffee from a local shop.
57. Call your local police station and tell them you support them and thank them for protecting you.
58. When your neighbors are being rude, walk over and nicely talk to them about it instead of calling the cops on them.
59. Go to a city council meeting.
60. Smile at people while you’re not wearing a mask.
61. Whistle or sing while not wearing a mask.
62. Learn some cheerful songs. Sing them.
63. Support a Christian school. Or start one.
64. Homeschool or privately tutor the kids of someone who can’t.
65. Start a public charter school.
66. Ask your school board and school administration to use the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum for civics and American government.
67. Read the Constitution.
68. Read The Federalist Papers.
69. Subscribe to the Claremont Review, and read it. Leave your finished copies on the table in your local library.
70. Move your investments out of institutions and companies that hate America.
71. Ask your library to purchase conservative books they don’t have in stock.
72. Complain to your library about them buying child mutilation books.
73. When one of your favorite video people uses Rumble, watch your videos there instead of on YouTube.
75. Take a free online Hillsdale College course. Recruit friends to take the course with you and host discussions of it at your house, church, library, or another community center.
76. Donate your legal, financial, fundraising, maintenance, or other professional skills to a local church, Christian school, family, or another nonprofit charitable organization.
77. Start a men’s club of any manly variety — cigar smoking, shooting, running, drinking, self-improvement, business coaching, etc.
78. Mentor someone personally or professionally.
79. If you’re a woman, start dressing more femininely. Try a few dresses on, and buy one.
80. Prudently allocate any stimulus checks you’ve received.
81. Stop using Google.
82. Intentionally improve your homemaking and home management skills.
83. Keep at least a few weeks of basic home supplies, including food, in stock at your home.
85. Support a Wide Awake writer on Substack, Patreon, or some other subscription or membership option.
Our country was built on small communities formed in the church, the square, the schoolhouse, and the tavern. From those meeting houses, we resisted first the petty tyrants on our docks and in the royal governors’ mansions, then took on the greatest army in the world.
We did that with what John Adams estimated was only one-third of our countrymen in full support, one-third fully against, and as many preferring to stay on the sidelines. Of that one-third in support, less than 10 percent fought in the Continental Army. We don’t need a majority. Revolutions never have. We need a minority of Wide Awakes to coalesce, to see, judge, and act.
Be a part of that band of small-time heroes, in whatever way you can. Keep your faith up. None of us truly knows the future. We can only act as nobly as we can in the time we have.
In closing, I want to quote more fully from the C.S. Lewis fantasy novel I referenced at the beginning of this article. The protagonists are trapped in a deep, dark underground, under the spell of a wicked enchantress telling them their memories of a better life in the country of Narnia aboveground are all dreams and lies.
The little band is saved by an unlikely fellow, the dour Puddleglum. He gives the following speech to the witch before stomping his bare foot right onto the fire to put out the enchanted incense it’s burning, lulling his friends into a sleep that will mean their deaths.
“Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one,” Puddleglum tells the witch. “And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”
Suppose Joe Biden’s dark, glum America is the only future left. Well, I’m still going to live as much like an American as I can for as long as I can. Join me.
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