A lazy, middle-class citizen’s form of protest—that actually works.
Someone I know told me recently that he’s picked up a new habit since the election of Donald Trump: Every time he gets angry watching the news or reading his Facebook feed, he makes a donation to a nonprofit whose cause he believes in. He likes to choose donation recipients that help “offset” whatever’s pissing him off. These days, he says, sometimes he finds himself donating to Planned Parenthood; other times, the American Civil Liberties Union.
He’s made at least five donations this month.
It’s not the first story I’ve heard that combines hopelessness or blind fury (or wine-drunk despair) with contributions to charity. Someone I know in New York told me she donated to the Council on American-Islamic Relations when she was feeling frustrated that she couldn’t attend the protests at JFK International Airport this past weekend. (“Made me feel like I was at least doing something,” she said.) An engaged couple in D.C., feeling guilty about being so certain of a Hillary victory that they’d skimped on donating during campaign season, told me they’d decided to replace wedding favors on their big day with donations on their guests’ behalf to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU. Another person I know told me she donates a small amount of money to a broad variety of nonprofits whenever she feels overwhelmed or helpless watching the news. Every time she does, she says, it’s like poking a pin into a balloon full of tension, making her feel—at least temporarily—a little more in control.
Welcome to the age of the rage-donation, the act of feverishly throwing money at a cause you believe in because you just don’t know what the hell else to do. (Perhaps you’ve also met its cousins, the guilt-donation and the despair-donation.) Guardian reporter Sabrina Siddiqui noted on Pod Save America this week that “protest is the new brunch”—that is, for young, progressive people in many parts of the U.S., protesting is starting to feel as normal and routine as gathering for that time-honored middle-class ritual of Sunday mimosas and eggs Benedict. And for what I suspect is largely the same crowd, donating to charitable organizations is becoming a reactive reflex, a release valve for pent-up political frustrations. In the weeks after the election last November, charities aimed at advancing a whole buffet of progressive causes saw record numbers of contributions. This past weekend, donations to the American Civil Liberties Union topped $24 million, nearly seven times the annual total for donations in 2015—no doubt fueled by impassioned support for the ACLU’s efforts to protect immigrants and refugees affected by President Trump’s travel ban.
It’s probably not a coincidence that this is happening at a time when donating requires startlingly low levels of effort. In 2017, it takes all of about three minutes to make a one-time contribution online. Automated services make it easy to set up recurring, direct deposit-like donations from private citizens to 501(c)3 organizations, and browser extensions like Amazon Smile (with which Amazon’s Smile Foundation donates a small percentage of your purchase price to a charity of your choosing) make it possible for people to help raise funds every time they order something on Amazon. It’s probably also not a coincidence that a variety of newsletters and social-media movements have cropped up in the wake of Trump’s election to spotlight organizations aiming to counteract human rights abuses or government misconduct under his administration—like Outrage to Action and the Coven Super PAC, to name just a scattered few. It’s never been easier, in other words, to know where to send a donation when you’re feeling moral outrage, or how to send it there with similarly furious efficiency.
Yes, rage-donation lacks the noisy urgency and visible commitment of protest marches; yes, it lacks the satisfying confrontation of calling your representatives directly. But for those who don’t have the time (or motivation) to go to protests in person, or perhaps don’t have the bravery (or privacy) to just give a Hill staffer an earful at will, an emphatically-typed donation is a perfectly fine form of armchair resistance. (And, of course, it’s also a perfectly fine additional form of resistance for people who go to marches and call their Senators, too.) A person can do it from her laptop while she’s watching CNN, or from his iPhone while he’s listening to a podcast on the bus. Which makes it an excellent form of protest for the lazy person with disposable income, but it’s also an excellent form of protest, period. It’s easy, it’s fast, it feels good, and, most importantly, it works: The National Immigration Law Center, for example—a partner of the ACLU’s in its travel-ban efforts—saw its annual budget increase by $2 million thanks to an avalanche of individual donations after the election. The executive director of the ACLU, for another example, told GQ that the ACLU is already using its burst of funding to hire more staff, “so that we can handle the onslaught that’s in front of us.“
For as long as people stay enraged, they’re likely to keep rage-donating. So, free tip for some enterprising, progressive Silicon Valley prodigy looking to make a statement: There’s a whole generation of rage-donators just waiting for a Venmo-style app for donations, because protest will only truly be the new brunch when you can protest while you brunch. Or, what the hell—maybe even an app that automatically donates to a charity of your choosing every time President Trump tweets.