A lesson in applied psychology that can defeat MAGA fascism in 2024

That’s Dr. Gordon, if you please! I don’t use that title often, but there’s a story I’d like to share with you about how I finally earned my doctoral degree that I believe can be useful for defeating MAGA in 2024.

I’d taken all my courses, passed my oral exams, and done all my dissertation research. And I didn’t want to go through life as an ABD (All But Dissertation), meaning—to my eternal chagrin—I’d never been capable of summoning up the willpower and discipline for that final push to get the monster written. Political work, social activism, and the beginnings of a journalistic career had sidelined me, maybe for good.

But I had a friend, a psychologist named Michael Jospe, who advised me how to do it—if I really wanted to.

“Make a contract with yourself,” he told me. “Tell yourself you’ll work on the dissertation X number of hours X days a week. It could be an hour a day five days a week, or four hours a day six days a week. Whatever. After a while, if you realize you’re steadily working more than your committed hours and days—or fewer—you can renegotiate your contract and adjust your time accordingly. And bit by bit, as you tackle the work, it will get done, and soon it will no longer look like a gigantic insurmountable mountain staring down on you.”

That sounded manageable. I thanked him and said I’d consider it.

“Here’s the trick, though,” he went on. “Sometimes when you’re writing away, really getting into it and maybe losing track of time, you wind up putting in five hours instead of two. But don’t give yourself extra credit and compensate by doing less the next day. Just go back to your contract. And by the same token, if something comes up and you miss a day, or if you are taking a few days off for any reason, don’t try to make up for lost time by working extra when you’re back at your desk. Again, just go back to your contract. No punishment, no reward. Just stick with the contract.”

And sure enough, long after my professors had believed I’d given up on finishing my degree, I had the dissertation and a diploma in hand.

What’s the lesson for 2024?

Over the years I’ve found lots of different applications for this technique of getting a big project done—books I’ve written, moving to another city, devising a work plan, cleaning out closets and garages, and more.

I know we can use this system to keep Donald Trump out of the White House, ensure that a Democrat remains in the Oval Office, that the Senate increases its Democratic numbers, and the House flips. Not that the Democrats are perfect. Far from it, as we all know. But much larger issues—and the very survival of democratic institutions, however flawed—are at stake this year. The most critical question is what kind of governance do we want to wake up to the morning after Election Day.

Now in all the publications I read, including People’s World, writers and organizers are calling for unity: We’ve got to stand together, must agree on the most immediate, essential things and leave the rest for later, United Front Against Fascism, all-people’s coalition for democracy, etc.

But what, concretely speaking, can we as ordinary citizens do? What should we be doing? The time is short—less than a year. We cannot wait until Labor Day. So what we do starting now will make the difference in November.

We can even apply our psychology lesson in a less individual way. Suppose you’re in a family, your union or other group, team or club, maybe just a bunch of concerned friends and neighbors. Progressive folks are always talking about collective work, and what better time to develop an effective process for getting the job done than this crucial moment?

Conditions on the ground are going to vary from state to state, city to city, even down to House races and school board districts. Our efforts will necessarily have to be tailored to local, state and national needs.

I don’t have a name for it yet. Maybe somebody can come up with one. The Dissertation Project?

But all around the country, individuals and groups by the millions and millions of us, have to make a New Year Resolution (and this time it really has to count!) to get organized. Everything we hold sacred is literally on the block.

What is to be done?

Some of the actions people can take include:

  • Voter registration and get out the vote. We know how just a few votes in this or that Assembly race can flip the balance in the state capitol.
  • Precinct walking either for specific candidates or around certain referendums or local measures.
  • Telephone banking and postcard writing. Lots of campaigns depend on a small army of volunteers to reach out to voters.
  • Helping out in campaign offices with your time and expertise. And your donations of granola bars, donuts, coffee, fresh fruit, transportation.
  • Use lawn signs to promote progressive candidates. People walking, biking or driving by notice them, and it gives undecided voters a reminder that others are leaning their way too.
  • Lobbying City Council members, state legislatures and visiting Congressional offices. Your elected representatives need to know you care, both about great issues of war and peace and domestic issues like Social Security, the right to organize a union, and universal health care.
  • Educating yourself and others about the issues, then acting on your values. Set up and attend webinars and Zoom conferences to spread the word. Invite friends and neighbors to house and yard parties.
  • Letters to the editor. Not every one will be published, but news outlets need to hear from you so they can gauge the sentiment out there.
  • Read trusted newspapers and visit informative websites every day to stay abreast of events and trends.
  • Encourage businesses and corporations to support progressive values such as inclusion, equity, environmental impact, fair labor practices, and challenge people and organizations that are known MAGA supporters. Patronize stores, restaurants and businesses that act in socially responsible ways—and let them know it! Don’t cross a picket line!
  • Participate in demonstrations—against police brutality, against war, for housing, rent control, public schools and libraries that serve all communities, etc.
  • Show solidarity with Black Lives, labor actions, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ and Indigenous movements, immigrants, etc.
  • Run for office! MAGA figured out that school boards can be a good place to disseminate right-wing lies and change the way our kids are taught and what they can read and discuss in the library or classroom. You can counter those anti-democratic, fascist-minded elements with acceptance, tolerance, love.
  • Revise your will to include progressive organizations that you support. Hey, we never know, right?
  • And yes, donations. Sadly, our political system is dominated by $$$$$, lots of it. Let’s talk a little more about this. Could you forgo your daily latte as your New Year Resolution for the duration? A lot of great campaigns could use that 5 or 6 bucks every day! Could you consider “tithing” yourself? A day’s paycheck once a month? Maybe an hour’s salary once a week? Shelling out for a weekly tank of gas for your favorite candidate’s campaign? Becoming a monthly sustainer of your favorite news site? Five percent of your monthly Social Security benefit? No one’s asking you go broke, but honestly, couldn’t you spare just a little more? It’s your own—our own, our kids’—future we’re talking about, and this could be our last chance to save it.

In the end, it’s about commitment, will, discipline and patience. Are you serious about defeating MAGA fascism? (Because you know that’s what the Republican Party has become now, right?) If you are, then you can’t just mouth the right words. Concrete action is needed.

We can do this. Each one of us. Together.

And maybe once you get a project going you can write in and let us know how it’s going—the challenges, the process, the wins, the lessons.

On to victory in November!

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Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.