Getting to work: 10 Suggestions for Effective Activism

Last weekend's successful Hands Across the Sand rallies still has our team here at 350.org fired up about activism and the year ahead. We've got momentum: there are now over 1,000 rallies registered for the 10/10/10 Global Work Party, almost 300 campuses ready to compete in the Great Power Race, we just completed an awesome youth training in the Pacific, and we're getting daily emails from citizens across the globe who are finding new ways to Get to Work in their communities.

Let's face it: activism can be hard work sometimes. As we start shifting into high gear to prepare for a busy Fall (there's just over 100 days until 10/10/10), I wanted to share a guest post from one of our 350.org Messengers and dear friends, Paul Rogat Loeb.

I just read Paul's book, Soul of a Citizen, and recommend it to anyone in need of a good dose of inspiration. It's filled with practical advice, moving stories, and motivation to, as Paul puts it, "live with conviction in challenging times." Don't just take my word for it, as Bill McKibben writes, "Soul has been a powerful inspiration to citizens acting for environmental sanity, showing how they can take committed stands, even if they don’t know every last answer. The new edition is even more inspirational."

Here's the post from Paul:

Ten Suggestions for Effective Activism

Effective activism’s a long-haul process, not “save the earth in 30 days, ask me how.” But there are some principles that seem to reoccur for people addressing every kind of challenge from the Gulf Oil spill to inadequate funding for urban schools to how to deal with the Afghanistan war. When I was updating my Soul of a Citizen book on citizen activism, an activist rabbi who was teaching the book at a Florida university suggested I gather together the Ten Commandments for effective citizen engagement. Calling them Commandments seemed a bit presumptuous, but I did draw together ten suggestions that can make engagement more fruitful. Some I’ve already explored in various Soul of a Citizen excerpts, many of which I’ve linked to below, woven into my suggestions. I’ll explore others in coming weeks, but pulling them together in one place seemed useful.

Suggestion #1: You don't need to know everything, and you certainly don't need to be perfect. You want to make sure you're acting on accurate information, but you don't need to know the answer to every conceivable question, and you don't need to be as eloquent as Martin Luther King or saintly as Gandhi, particularly since even our greatest historical figures had their hesitations, failures, and doubts.

Suggestion #2: Take things step by step. You set the pace of your engagement. Don't worry about being swallowed up, because you'll determine how much you get involved, and in what ways.

Suggestion #3: Build supportive community. You can accomplish far more with even a small group of good people than you can alone. Isolation breeds cynicism and despair. Engaged community helps sow the seeds of hope.

Suggestion #4: Be strategic. Ask what you're trying to accomplish, where you can find allies, and how to best communicate the urgencies you feel. You don't need to have every answer, but you want to think through your actions as best you can.

Suggestion #5: Enlist the uninvolved. They have their own fears and doubts, so they won't participate automatically; you have to work actively to engage them. And sometimes they come from very unlikely places. But if you do, there's no telling what they'll go on to achieve.

Suggestion #6: Seek out unlikely allies. The more you widen the circle, the more you'll have a chance of breaking through the entrenched barriers to change. Internet Neutrality, for instance, was mostly saved by an unlikely alliance between the liberal group MoveOn and the highly conservative Christian Coalition.

Suggestion #7: Persevere. Change most often takes time. The longer you continue working, the more you'll accomplish. If Rosa Parks had given up in year ten of her 12-year journey from her first NAACP meeting to her famed stand on the bus we'd never have heard of her.

Suggestion #8: Savor the journey. Changing the world shouldn't be grim work. Take time to enjoy nature, good music, good conversation, and whatever else lifts your soul. Savor the company of good people working for change

Suggestion #9: Think large. Don't be afraid to tackle the deepest-rooted injustices, and to tackle them on a national or global scale. Remember that many small actions can shift the course of history. It's tempting just to focus on areas where we can make a personal one-on-one difference, but it's even more powerful if we can tackle the roots of the issues we take on.

Suggestion #10: Listen to your heart. It's why you're involved to begin with. It's what will keep you going. And never forget to tell and retell the stories that go to the heart of why you act and will help you keep on.

 

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