–Ami Voeltz, The Twin Cities Green Guide
We say, “They’re building a new highway” or “They’re cutting down the rainforests.” Our language reveals that we think of ourselves as spectators in our own societies. “They” are not the mysterious other people who have made the world this way. It is we, humanity ourselves. We, along with the city planners, scientists and bureaucrats, have and are transforming this planet. We are responsible for cutting down the trees, slaughtering the animals and building the corporations.
Most of us seem to feel that we can have more control over football games than we can over our cities, our jobs and even our own lives. We might have more success in our pursuit of happiness if we start trying to participate in the changes going on in our world, country and cities. Sure, it is difficult to do something entirely new when we find ourselves up against a thousand years of “history” and tradition. Yet, the past is an opponent to action in the present, an ever-increasing force of inertia that we must overcome.
When it comes to activism, there are four types of people:
1. The person who doesn’t see any problems in our society, and lives out their lives not questioning anything, but simply doing what “they” say.
2. The person that realizes the problems in society, but does nothing. This person ambles lifeless and lost through our society.
3.The person who realizes the problems our society faces, yet feels superior or too frustrated to live with society. They seclude themselves to a social circle of like-minded people.
4. The person who realizes the problems in society and works to help improve conditions. They educate and motivate others to do the same.
I’m sure we all agree number 4 is the best option, but probably the most difficult as well. Many of us do not know how to make changes in our lives. It is important to remember that we are not alone in our desire to make change. Millions of other people have similar ideas or thoughts as you do: they see something going on in their society, in their town or in their workplace. They want to make change.
Whether it is human or animal rights violations, war, civil and ethnic strife, the oppression of women, widespread poverty, pollution, global warming, deforestation, ozone depletion, discrimination and exploitation, hunger, overpopulation, crime, urban violence, illiteracy, the corruption of politicians and power-wielders, cultural malaise, spiritual emptiness and anxiety, ethical unconcern or mechanized schooling, there are already organizations here in Minnesota working against these issues. Find your passion and get active.
Eight Things You Can Do To Get Active
From How 2 Zine
1. Spend Less Money.
Pay attention to where and how you spend your money. Is your money going to support companies that don’t care about you? Are they destroying the environment, killing animals and treating your friends and family unfairly? Are they trying as hard as they can to sell you a product that gives you cancer? Are their advertisements designed to manipulate you, to make you feel insecure or make their product seem like more than it really is? For that matter, do you buy many items that you don’t need (soft drinks and junk food at convenience stores, for example)? Do you end up spending a great deal of money whenever you want to relax and have a good time? There are a thousand things you and your friends and family can do that are fun, creative and don’t cost anything (having intense discussions, exploring hidden parts of your town, making music-instead of drinking at bars or going to movies and restaurants) just as there are a thousand ways you can eat and live more cheaply (See: DO-IT-YOURSELF). Once you experiment a bit, you’ll probably find that you enjoy life much more when you’re not always shelling out cash for it.
2. Work Less.
Now that you spend less, you can work less, too! Think about how much more time that gives you to do other things. Not only will it be easier to do things that help you spend less, like volunteering (the less you work, the more time you have to make sure you don’t need to), but you’ll also be able to do all the things you never had time for before: you can travel, exercise, spend more time with your friends and lovers. When it’s sunny and beautiful outside, you can go out and enjoy it!
You’ll have time to do other things you need to do to take back control of your life and your world. First, start reading. It doesn’t really matter what, so long as it makes you think about things and gives you new ideas of your own. Read novels about human beings struggling against their society, like J.D. Salingers’s Catcher in the Rye or George Orwell’s 1984 or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22; read the beautiful, dreamers’ prose of Jeanette Winterson or Henry Miller. Read history: learn about the Spanish revolution in the 1930s, where whole cities were run by the people who lived in them, rather than by governments; learn about labor union struggles in the U.S., or the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley during the 1960s. Read philosophy, read about environmental issues, read vegan cookbooks and underground ‘zines and comics and everything you can get your hands on. Here’s a hint: if there’s a university in your town, you can probably get a membership for about $10 a year and most libraries include videos, too!
4. Engage in Discussions.
Reading isn’t the only way you can expand your horizons and clarify your ideas. Talk to people about what interests you, speaking up when you don’t agree, so you’ll get to know your own beliefs better. Start a discussion group at your house or the library. Write to the people who are writing magazine articles or zines you like, discuss and debate things with them and ask them for directions to find out more about your interests. Write about your own ideas (letters to the editor, letters to friends and magazine articles) and share them with people, until you feel confident doing this. Travel to different places, try to learn about other cultures and communities, so you’ll have more than one perspective on the world and you can start to imagine what the world is like through other people’s eyes.
5. Become Active in Activism.
Now you’ll know what you want and you can go about getting it. Seek out other people and groups with similar goals and determine how to support them. Participate in what they’re doing. Maybe you can copy fliers and give them out; maybe you can organize benefit shows for organizations you want to support (women’s shelters, radical bookstores, local groups protesting against the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal or lobbying for protection of the environment). Perhaps there are public protests and demonstrations of which you want to be part. Try to help find ways to make these more challenging and fun than just holding signs.
6. Start Your Own Projects.
You can start your own projects, as well, you know. If there’s no Food Not Bombs in your area, get a group of people together and find some local businesses that will donate their leftover food. If there’s a problem plaguing your high school or college or workplace, try organizing a walkout to force the “authorities” to do something about it. If the main street of your town lacks life and excitement, try organizing an unexpected festival to take place in the middle of it one weekend. Shake up everyone’s lives and expectations. Shake them out of their apathy and boredom so they’ll start thinking about big issues. Establish networks with other people who are also interested in having an effect on the world around them, so you can help each other to do the same.
7. Challenge Yourself.
Through all of this, don’t stop questioning yourself and your assumptions. Try to see through all the social programming you’ve received throughout your life. Consider how gender roles constrain the way you act, how your own relationships with people reproduce the same hierarchical order that you’re fighting in mainstream society. We’re not going to change anything unless we can create new ways of living and interacting, and new values that show themselves in the way we treat each other. Show your friends how much you care about them. Consider doing things you never thought you should or could do: dancing, singing, and admitting things about which you’ve been taught to be ashamed.
8. Look to the Future.
How can you stay involved, as you get older? How can you construct your life so you will always be free to do what you want to? Talk to people older than you who haven’t given up and gone back to the daily grind of eat-work-sleep-watch television. With a little input from them and much resolve on your part, you can maintain your activities and your lifestyle as long as you want to. Idealism, adventure and resistance are not reserved for youth alone. History is filled with men and women who refused to compromise or calm down, who went all out from the cradles to the grave. They are the artists, the leaders, the heroes and heroines – even people from the mainstream. We can all have lives like theirs, if we’re brave and idealistic.
Public Participation Principles
From The Jefferson Center
- Know your goals.
- Know who should be involved in the process and how they can best proactively and constructively affect an outcome.
- Know the technical aspects of how to use public participation strategies or tools.
2. Public participation is two-way communication.
3. The public can best effectively participate if they are well informed about alternatives and their consequences.
4. Public participation initiatives will not always produce a consensus decision.
5. Even if people are not entirely satisfied with the outcome, they will consider it fairly derived, if they have had an honest opportunity to influence:
- How the questions were posed.
- Which alternatives were considered.
- How alternatives were evaluated.
- What adjustments were made along the way.
6. Feedback to citizens is vital. People need to know how their input affected the decision that is eventually made.
7. Public participation and public relations are two entirely different things.
8. Doing public participation without full integrity is worse than not doing it at all.
9. A public participation program must provide opportunities to involve all those affected.
10. It is more important that a public participation event be widely promoted than widely attended.
11. Although consensus is an unlikely outcome, it is important that you strive for it in a very transparent way.
12. Public participation is done best when it is done throughout the decision-making and policy-making process-especially before a policy or decision has been drafted internally.
Sidebar: To All ActivistsAmi Voeltz
I often feel alone, out of place and deserted. People think I am crazy, too hardcore into my causes. I “have no life,” “no education,” and “no job.” Why do I not eat this, not shop here or not buy this or that? These questions and comments may seem exhausting, but each time you explain why you don’t do this or that, you are educating one more person. That person will invariably educate someone else and so on. As an activist, YOU are a teacher, and as your schoolteachers influenced and affected you and your decisions, you can affect others too. Like Eric Boehme said, “Institutions are inherently trained, power driven and hierarchal… yet institutions are populated by people. People, who can learn, who can listen, who can change, and people who can teach [you] a thing or two.”