There’s a lot going on today. From racial and gender injustice to economic inequality and environmental degradation, it seems that so much is so wrong with our society. Grappling with this, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do.
But don’t despair!
Many of us would like to contribute to a more just, equitable and sustainable society—we’re just not sure how. So, I’ve compiled a list of simple ways in which we can all take action to effect positive change.
We tend to roll our eyes at the prospect of voting, but it can really make a difference. Our nearly 70 million Millennials make up a full third of the voting age population. Imagine how different our government would look if 100 percent of us voted.
Now, when I say, “vote!” I don’t just mean, “force yourself to choose between two lackluster presidential candidates.” Every two years, our ballots contain multiple, sometimes dozens of different people and things to be decided upon: local races for city councils and school boards, elections for state and federal legislatures, initiatives and referendums, and so forth.
Ideally, we’d cast an informed vote for each and every one of these. I personally like voting via mail-in ballot, so I have time to do research beforehand. For the states that don’t offer mail-ins, you can look up a sample ballot for your district and prepare that way.
Volunteering presents a world of opportunity for civic engagement.
Taking it a step further politically, you can actually work on campaigns, doing impactful activities like registering voters, planning events, phone-banking and door-knocking.
In the off years, you can join advocacy groups that put pressure on our government to do the right thing. For instance, Citizens Climate Lobby is an environmental organization that gathers public and political support for a federal carbon tax. These types of groups exist for every issue imaginable, and more often than not, they have a local chapter near you.
For those desiring a more personalized impact, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities independent of politics. In fact, there are organizations right here on campus that engage in various forms of community service. Whether teaching youth through programs like CHAMPS, or growing sustainable produce on the SURF garden, volunteering helps better our communities in concrete ways.
You can also join a club or organization on campus, and take a leadership role in it! Doing so gives you a starting point for your activism, and provides good training for future efforts.
Getting involved, in whatever capacity, is a great way to have an impact, meet like-minded people, and, believe it or not, have fun.
Contact your Representatives
Politicians often justify inaction on important issues by saying, “my constituents haven’t expressed concern about that.”
Let’s take this excuse away from them.
There are multiple ways to hold our elected officials accountable. One is to call their office. Tell them what matters to you, and urge them to do something about it. The more specific and frequent the calls are, the better.
Another, more involved strategy is letter-writing. You can delve deeply into an issue this way, and make a personalized appeal. Politicians take special note of letters due to the time and effort involved in writing them.
Finally, you can go to their places of work and voice your convictions in person. For instance, Redlands has bi-monthly city council meetings Tuesday evenings that are open to the public. Or, if you’re feeling brave, you can walk directly into their offices and request a meeting.
If our elected officials receive enough prodding, they’ll be forced to act. After all, our representatives are supposed to represent us. So, it is crucial that we all reach out to them however we can, and demand action be taken.
We don’t often think of our purchases as political, but they absolutely are.
For better or worse, we live in a capitalistic society; one in which the dollar holds tremendous power. For this reason, where we spend our money matters.
We should all take a look at the places in which our wallets are involved, and make sure they are deserving of our support. Some major areas include:
- Grocery stores: buy local, ethical, and organic (if possible). Clark’s in Loma Linda is all of these, plus delicious.
- Clothing: reward companies whose product lifecycles demonstrate social and environmental responsibility. Patagonia is a great example.
- Cosmetics & cleaning supplies: often times, our everyday products (laundry detergent, soap, shampoo and conditioner, makeup, deodorant, lotion, etc.) contain ingredients that harm us and the environment, get tested on animals, and are owned by corporations whose politics are contrary to ours. It benefits ourselves and our planet to find alternatives.
- Cell phone providers: you don’t have to feed the pockets of big telecommunications companies. Instead, you can sign up with a company like CREDO Mobile, which uses revenue from your bills to fund progressive activism projects.
- Investment: historically, banks have not been the paragon of morality. There is, however, an “ethical banking” sector emerging in the U.S. and around the world. Putting your money elsewhere, and making it safe not just financially but morally, too, is a great thing.
Companies, more than anything else, pay attention to their bottom line. If we start hitting them where it hurts—their pockets—they will be forced to change their ways. Consumer boycotting has been a potent form of activism in the past. We have every reason to believe it can be just as effective in the present.
Beyond the realm of consumption, there is lifestyle. It is vitally important to reflect regularly on whether our personal behavior aligns with our worldview. If we seek change in others, we must lead by example.
Now, this doesn’t mean obsessing over every minute detail of our lives (and in the process driving ourselves toward a Luther-esque insanity). But it does require self-awareness and effort. So many of our habits have become ingrained on a subconscious level, which means changing them requires regular reminders. Some ways I like to hold myself accountable include:
- Driving less. If time and energy permit, opting to leave the car in the parking lot in favor of a walk or bike ride reaps multiple benefits, including getting exercise, spending time outside, and reducing your carbon footprint.
- Minimizing meat intake. Eating meat is problematic for the environment, for one’s health, and for one’s conscience. Thankfully, there are substitutes that are both delicious and nutritious.
- Choosing experiences over things. Although they take more effort, experiences are better at making us happy than material consumption. Incorporating more activities into our lives, such as going on hikes, or spending time with loved ones, fulfills us, and helps break the environmentally-taxing and ultimately ineffective cycle of buying stuff in attempt to feel good.
- Prioritizing quality over quantity. More does not always equal better. For the things we do need, we should invest in high-quality items, even if it means having less of them. Eating smaller but more nutritious meals, buying pricier but longer-lasting clothing and furniture, etc. can improve our health, reduce overconsumption of resources, and even save us money in the long-term.
- Respecting others. This cliché phrase actually offers sage advice. Being conscious of people that may differ from you, and honoring their wishes can improve society in ways policy alone cannot. Respecting others includes everything from not wearing culturally offensive costumes, to asking a person their preferred pronouns, to refraining from racist and sexist language. These simple acts help foster a culture shift toward greater sensitivity for, and tolerance of difference.
Lifestyle change is positive on all fronts, enhancing your health and well-being and strengthening your social relationships, all while contributing to a better world.
Perhaps most important of all, we have to make some noise. The institutions we wish to uproot are quite entrenched, which means that showing up in full force against them is the only way to win.
History tells us that this tactic is effective: the American Labor movement achieved hard-fought victories in improved working conditions and collective bargaining. The Civil Rights movement ended segregation and brought us closer to racial equality in our laws and social practices. And the Hippie movement resulted in some of the strongest environmental legislation ever passed, not just in the U.S. but in the world.
What did each of these have in common? They were loud, they were brave, and they were persistent. They were well-organized, and had a clear set of demands. They were empowering, and they were fun.
In our contemporary political climate, we are ripe for another such movement. Bernie Sanders generated some sparks this summer with his widespread mobilization of millennials and his call for a “political revolution.”
It’s up to all of us to have those sparks catch flame.
To make this happen, we need to take to the streets. So when we see an event happening in our area, let’s attend it. Or better yet, let’s host our own. Let’s raise awareness about the issues by tabling, flyering, and protesting. We can stand in solidarity outside of places of power, such as government buildings and corporate headquarters. We can talk to our friends, our family and our neighbors about our convictions, and encourage them to join us in the fight. We can sing, dance, and shout, or sit in determined silence.
We can, and we must do all of this in order to disrupt the system.
Earth day, 1970
Changing the world may not be as difficult as we think. Combine a heightened sense of civic engagement with personal responsibility in consumption and lifestyle, and it all starts to appear eminently doable. In fact, do these six things on a large enough scale, and we become unstoppable.
Let’s all get to work.