Work from the inside out, AKA Everything is local. – Free Range Oyster
The first thing to note is that no one is without influence, and those who have very little have either never tried to extend it or have never been taught how. Consider this a crash course for the front line grunt in the culture war. Please note, you’ll never get any of these perfectly, and you shouldn’t try to polish all the edges before moving outward, just make sure you have a solid foothold. Metaphors may blend during shipment.
Start with yourself. Know what your principles are, and why. Be able to express them, in written or verbal form (preferably both). You don’t have to be a great rhetorician, but being able to explain yourself clearly and concisely is invaluable. As a side bonus, it’s handy for everything else. Get familiar with history, with basic political philosophy, with common issues and general facts. You don’t have to be a wonk, just be conversant with the basics. If you’re religiously inclined (or even if you’re not), be sure to spend some time with holy writ, both reading and pondering. Above all, work on living your principles. Don’t make a show of it, just do it.
Now reach out a little. This can be a challenge for introverts and the socially unskilled, but not as much as you might think. Strengthen the connections you have first. Do you have family you’re on good terms with? Close friends? When was the last time you talked to them or spent time with them? There’s a great deal that has been said and written on interpersonal relations, so I won’t reproduce it all here. Just build trust and camaraderie with people as you’re able. Discretely and politely share your values with those around you. Set an example, encourage them, help them in ways that will make them more independent. For fundamentals I’d recommend How to Win Friends and Influence People and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; they’re both excellent, and my efforts in life have been much more successful as I’ve followed them. They may come across as cliched, but it’s the same way Casablanca is cliched.
Then the trickier part: how about neighbors? How many do you know, and how well do you know them? Get to know the people in your area. Online communities are wonderful – this one in particular has gotten me through some brutally difficult times – but they have their limits. As much as I love Hoyt’s Huns, when I need to strip a roof or haul a truckload of rubbish or build a fence, it’s my neighbors I turn to. Not every person is worth building a relationship with, but you never know until you meet them. The good ones you can move into that first circle around you, and share with and influence them. The others do your best to be on polite terms with; you never know when or how simple politeness will pay off.
If you’re a creative type, make things that reflect your values. Our Beloved Hostess has written a great deal on this over the years, so I’ll just summarize: Put quality first. Don’t preach. Don’t give in to what someone else tells you to create. Keep making. Keep improving.
There are other opportunities in the creative sphere besides making things yourself. Patronize creators whose art you appreciate (this applies to craftsmen and other skilled workers too) and spread the word to others you know. Don’t be afraid to share things you’re excited about. Request good books at your local library, or donate them there if you can. If you are an attendee at conventions, consider getting involved or at least offering suggestions for material to cover or guests to invite. Do you go to museums or concerts? Find out if there’s a way to give input on what they’re showing. Heck, put together a concert or dinner or art show: it’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as you might imagine. One of my brothers planned, prepared, rehearsed, advertised, and directed a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue while still in high school. A church group I knew in California put together a show of local visual artists together with a concert of fabulous classical instrumentalists and vocalists on a shoestring budget.
Whatever your profession, trade, calling, or job, do it well. If you’re not employed and want to be, then finding a job is your full time job. Whatever you have to do, work hard at it. I cannot say enough of how important example is. People you work for will see it, people you work with will see it, people who work for you will see it, people you want to work for will see it, and you may plant a seed there. Again, this will serve you well regardless of culture wars.
Organizations are next. There are various opportunities online – open source projects, special interest forums – but most have a geographical component. At the local level is where everything starts. Professional and networking groups, religious organizations, conventions, HOAs, town councils, school boards, fraternal orders, band boosters, writers’ groups, sewing circles, guilds and trade groups, makerspaces, clubs of all kinds… get involved in what interests or affects you. Some of those get into politics, which I’ve largely tried to avoid here, but the same processes and principles apply there. Know who your local political and governmental people are, your mayor, city councilcritter, state legislator, party rep, precinct captain, etc. Get to know them; make sure they know you. Bring those people and those organizations into your circle of influence. Look for opportunities to advance those principles you identified at the beginning, even if just a little. Maybe especially if it’s just a little.
It took the progressives, communists, fascists, social justice whiners, and other authoritarians generations of this kind of effort to put us where we are today. It will take a long time – years at least – to put it right, but every step we move forward, every haven we build makes our lives a little easier. Don’t give up. Keep pushing.