By Sophie McAdam
Feb 1, 2014
How can I make a positive difference in the world? Where do I start? Which of the overwhelming number of urgent global issues should I focus my attention on first? These are questions most of us have asked ourselves at some point, but although being an active citizen can sometimes feel hopeless, remember: you can only be responsible for your own actions, and major changes start at the grassroots level- just look at the Occupy movement. Maybe you can’t save the world, but you can save your backyard. And imagine what would happen if we all did the same?
With that in mind, here are 10 things you can do to get those green shoots growing in your own communities, expanding outwards like ripples in a pond to inspire others and make changes on a big scale. As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small, committed group of citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The following list could be longer- things like recycling, buying fair trade and avoiding plastic wherever possible are taken as given, for example. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section, and whatever you choose to do, have fun with it!
1. Join or launch a gift economy
Gift economies enable people to exchange goods, services and favours without any need for cash payment. One of the best initiatives is freecycle, a global online gifting website based on the idea that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Why throw things into landfill sites when other people in your local area could make use of them? The chances are there is already a group in your town, but if not, creating a new group is quick and easy. Simply check the site’s homepage, join the mailing list for your area, and see how many people you can help by gifting your unwanted goods and receiving whatever you need in return. Books, toys, furniture, electrical appliances and even cars are up for grabs. Another idea is to launch a skill swapping or time bank initiative in your community. These models allow for people to find painters, carpenters, gardeners, babysitters, and any other services we all need occasionally, without worrying about payment in cash. After all, isn’t time the most precious thing we have? Get a group of like-minded people together and start keeping a record of the skills they can offer and what they would like to receive in exchange. Then simply match users, updating how many hours they have spent helping others and how many they are owed in return. In places like crisis-hit Greece, bartering systems have enabled people living in poverty to continue life as normal, as this inspiring video shows.
2. Start your own alternative currency
Want to do something a little more ambitious than the suggestions in #1? Here’s a challenge: why not boycott the monetary system altogether and launch a local currency for your own town or city? Alternative currencies like Bitcoin are growing in popularity, and other local tenders have been launched in cities around the world. They help to create a sense of community, encourage people to shop locally, and are an effective way of protesting the power of the banks. Here is one example from Brighton, England. Moving your account from a corporate bank to a credit union is one simple way of active protest too- if you can only do one thing, do this!
3. Politicians not listening? Be the change you want to see!
What urgent problems are there in your area? Sometimes, rather than waiting for the elected leaders to listen to your concerns, the quickest and most effective way of making a difference is to do it yourself. Maybe you live near a
beautiful coast or river that is polluted with plastic and industrial waste- why not organize a monthly clean-up operation with like-minded people? If the local schools are unfit for purpose, get talking to other concerned parents about starting a home schooling co-operative, like this one in Atlanta. If there is logging in your community, plant trees to counteract the damage. And whatever you do, tell the press- publicity for your cause could embarrass politicians into taking action!
4. Say no to GMO with your own community garden
The best way of protesting GMO foods, boycotting supermarkets and inspiring others to do the same is to get your hands dirty! Gardening is easier than you might think, not to mention rewarding and therapeutic. Supermarket fruit and vegetables will never taste the same after eating your own produce, and the best way to do it is to share the work. You don’t need much land if you use the space well, and some local municipalities may offer allotments to residents for free on long-term leases. If not, find other people in your area who want to do the same thing. For beginners, lunar gardening (planting and sowing based on moon cycles) is an easy way to get started (whether you believe it or not, the effects will astound you), and this great site offers lunar gardening calendars and all the information you need to start growing your own delicious food, while saving a fortune in the process. Once you have got started, launch an organic seed bank to share different varieties with other green-fingered folk, while protecting endangered organic strains for future generations.
5. Start your own Avaaz campaign
The success of people-powered campaigning site Avaaz can’t be understated. The site launched in 2007 and has more than 17 million members worldwide and counting. Avaaz´s successes cannot be understated; collectively its members have campaigned for 50 million actions, staged almost 10,000 marches and flashmobs, raised over $15m for good causes, and taken on politicians and corporations at the highest echelons to win incredible victories on urgent environmental and human rights issues. Now, you can create your own community petition here, and with the power of the internet to gather momentum for your cause, the possibilities are endless.
6. Make the most of your unique talents
We are all good at something, and our special skills can always be used for the good of all. What’s your special skill? Have you ever considered using it (free of charge!) to make a positive difference? Maybe you are good with technology and could design a website for a charity or initiative close to your heart. Maybe you are a people person who could fundraise and organize events with a big impact. Maybe you are creative and could run art workshops for vulnerable people or kids in your community. We all have talents that make us unique, and sharing these can be a gratifying way of making a positive difference. And even if you can’t think of anything specific to share, volunteer! Get in touch with a charity that does great work and ask how you can get involved. Even if it’s just one hour a week caring for an elderly person or spending time with people who need it, you’ll be making a huge difference and will feel great.
The chances are you are reading True Activist because various things you watched or read have made a huge impact on your life and attitude towards the world. Which of these would you want to share, and which would you like to borrow? A friend of mine opened up his garage as a community book-lending service focused primarily on activism, asking others to donate their favorites too. Within weeks it had sparked the interest of the local community, with DVDs added to the library and donations used to buy more stock. With so many libraries closing down due to public spending cuts, launching your own is fun, educational and a great way of protesting the closures. Book-crossing is another way of sharing your favorite reads- simply leave a note inside the cover and leave the book in a public place for someone to find, using the website to track the book’s journey.
8. Fund- or create- something awesome
Crowdfunding is one of the best things to have happened as a result of the internet. With a click of the mouse you can either create or fund a potentially world-changing project- check out Global Giving for some ideas of how you can help, or ask for funding to create a project close to your heart.
9. Make a statement with guerilla art
Guerilla art is street art which is exciting, subversive, anonymous and inspiring. Banksy is one of the most celebrated guerilla artists, making bold political statements through what was once considered graffiti vandalism (his murals are now collectables and sell for big money at auctions, which although sad is a sign of the movement’s respect). But you don’t necessarily need to be artistic to get involved- the most important thing is that you have something to say! Guerilla art
includes leaving love letters for random strangers, or positive messages tucked in walls to make someone’s day. It includes ‘seedbombing’ (literally, bombing inner city areas with flower seeds) which can turn an ugly urban jungle into a beautiful place in just a few weeks. Inspiration for quick, effective projects can be found on artist and activist Keri Smith’s excellent blog here.
10. Be kind
It may sound obvious, but in our stressful and fast-paced lives it’s easy to forget how important small acts of kindness really are. Being nice costs nothing and is probably the most important thing of all we can do, every single day. Treating other people as you would like to be treated will make you feel warm and fuzzy, even if it’s just smiling at a stranger on the train or offering your seat to someone who needs it. Pay it forward is a fantastic initiative (and inspirational book/film) which is based on the idea that for every good deed you receive from another, you pass it on to someone else. Making other people happy is scientifically proven to make you happy too, and what do happy people make? A happy world.
Sophie is a staff writer for True Activist and a freelance feature writer for various publications on society, activism and various other issues. You can read more of her stuff here.