With everything going on right now, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, sad, defeated, and so much more, even if you aren’t directly affected by the tragedies and atrocities currently happening. But everyone can still do something to make this world a better place.

Be Media Literate and Critical of the Media You Are Consuming

With the rise of AI and easy access to creating AI-generated images and videos, there is a new meaning to “fake news”. At the moment, there are plenty of images that are clearly AI-generated but as the technology gets better, it’s getting harder and harder to tell what’s real and what’s fake. But these days, it’s more important than ever to be media literate and question both the sources of news and the motivations that might be behind them.

One method to tell if an image is real or fake is from research scientist Mike Caufield and called S-I-F-T method (Stop. Investigate the Source. Find better coverage. Trace the original context.). This method aims to slow down and consider what you are looking at. Are there other photos and videos from the same event? Are there other news sources reporting the event with videos and photos from different angles? Does the image/video seem too good to be true? Or does it further confirm your existing biases? Additionally, does the content of an article back up the headline? Or is the headline misleading and possible clickbait? Read the full article and find the story in two other sources to fully answer these last two questions.

Additionally, being critical of how you get your news is important too, as even some of the more journalistic companies have biases and agendas. First Draft, which was a coalition/nonprofit dedicated to fighting misinformation, identified seven types of mis- and disinformation, which is relevant to even the most reputable sources. It’s particularly important to notice false context, misleading content, and false connections, which can all take real news, facts, photos, and videos and distort them to fit a narrative. There have been, for example, some who have used photos of Palestinian children seeking refuge from Israeli airstrikes to support the Israeli occupation and recent bombings of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Having well-rounded and diverse sources of news can make a world of difference. Traditional sources, like newspapers and talk shows, can be limiting and won’t always present all the information. Headlines can be misleading, making it vital to read the entire article to flesh out more of the story. Finding the same story from different sources can also offer a more complete picture, as different journalists, writers, and hosts will have different insights into the story that could add to a better understanding of what’s happening.

Note: I am personally a big fan of both NPR (radio shows and podcasts alike) and Democracy Now as news sources.

Get Involved With Your Local Community/Volunteer

In the Pacific Northwest, there are so many ways to get involved with your community and many organizations that work on various issues. Some examples (most are related to animal welfare and environmental issues) include:

Do Mutual Aid

Mutual aid has gotten a bad rap in the media over the last few years but the truth is, mutual aid is about community and building relationships with your neighbors. As Amanda Arnold wrote for The Cut:

In mutual aid systems, people work cooperatively to meet the needs of everyone in the community. It’s different from charity, which features a one-way relationship between an organization and recipients, and often responds to the effects of inequality but not its causes. Mutual aid is an act of solidarity that builds sustained networks between neighbors.

Mutual aid can include donating to or running a free little pantry/community fridge, helping your neighbors who can’t drive get to important appointments, supporting housing or bail funds, organizing regular neighborhood picnics/meals, walking dogs if someone had surgery or illness, and offering free or bartered services based on any skills you might have (like haircutting or clothes mending!). If you do have more resources readily available, you could also help cover costs for mutual aid that others are doing, like helping purchase supplies for meal trains/distro runs.

Contact Your Representatives on the Local, State, and Federal Levels

There are many, many reasons to contact your elected officials, even if you didn’t vote for them. Regardless of your political affiliation and voting record, your elected officials on all levels still represent and work for you. Everyone has elected officials on the local level (like municipal mayors, county executives, sheriffs, state representatives, and federal representatives). 

Finding Your Members of Congress

As you may already know, there are two chambers of Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) that have a total of 535 representatives for all 50 states. The House of Representatives is the largest of the two, with 435 members and each state gets a certain number of representatives that’s related to the state’s population. Washington has ten representatives, for example; while Oregon has six, Idaho has two, and Alaska has one. Each state, on the other hand, has two senators for each state.

You can find who your representative is through the House’s online “Find Your Representative” and you can find out how to contact your senators through the Senate’s “Contacting US Senators”. Those sites will tell you who your members of Congress are and how to write or call them.

There are many reasons to contact your elected officials, from keeping or adding animals to the Endangered Species Act, protecting old-growth forests from logging, asking for a ceasefire in Gaza and an immediate divestment from Israel, passing comprehensive gun control, and so much more. You can call, email, write letters/postcards, or even visit in person if possible (without committing treason or other crimes of course). If you are unsure what to say in a letter or on the phone, there are scripts that people have shared or you can speak from the heart. The ACLU also has tips on writing to your elected officials and the site/app 5 Calls also has an easy way to call your officials to discuss a range of topics.

If you are feeling an overwhelming sense of futility and sorrow that stops you in your tracks, know that you are not alone and there are still ways to make a difference.