When I was nineteen, way back in 1999, my best friend Elizabeth and I got involved in the National Organization for Women. At the time, the thing we cared about most was the Taliban’s treatment of women in Afghanistan. We got all fired up, grabbed our clipboards, and headed out to Georgetown to get signatures urging President Clinton to DO SOMETHING about the travesty. We got a few dozen signatures, but most people said no. “What’s the Taliban?” was a common question. Or, my personal favorite that even today makes my head hurt, “The Taliban is their culture. You can’t protest their culture.” We finished the night with slurpees (made more fun by a shot of tequila) on the Exorcist stairs.
To say the petition failed would be the understatement of the century.
I’m not saying petitions can’t work; I’m saying they don’t work. For a petition to work, there has to be a credible threat lobbied by every single one of those signatures, an “or else” clause, if you will. If a bank threatens a monthly fee, every signatory has to be willing to shut his/her account if the petition is ignored. What are you going to do if the federal government privatizes park lands? Refuse to pay taxes?
Needless to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, petitions are no longer my thing. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit on my ass while the fascist cheeto destroys everything I hold dear. This is an outdoors blog, so I’m focusing solely on environmental activism here, but feel free to add whatever you want in the comments.
- Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: There are several great organizations out there with worthy goals. Sierra Club, national and state parks, National Resource Defense Council, Audubon Society…the list goes on. I don’t like spreading the wealth too thin, so I suggest choosing just one and setting up a small monthly donation, like $20. You won’t even notice, plus non-profits love recurring donations–it’s something they can count on. Do your research and choose carefully.
- Put Your Muscle Where Your Mouth Is: Maybe you don’t have excess funds for donations, or you prefer to focus your money on humanitarian relief. That’s fine. Rebuild trails on Trail Days, write articles for newsletters, pick up trash in National Parks. Or pick up the phone, call your favorite organization, and ask how you can help without petitions or fundraising.
- Narrow Your Focus: Global warming. Endangered species. Polluted waterways. There are so many things wrong that it’s overwhelming. If you think it’s too big to tackle, you’re right. So break it down into smaller, manageable pieces. Pick something you care deeply about. Maybe that’s whales. Maybe it’s a pipeline going where no pipeline should go. My sister does a lot of work with bats. Bats are important, but they’re not my thing. It doesn’t matter what your thing is, just give it your all and let someone else pick up the other pieces. Eventually we’ll get there.
- Go local: Focusing your attention close to home makes it easier to give more and see actual results. Here in DC there are organizations to protect the Chesapeake, the Potomac, and the Anacostia. DC is also the headquarters for several environmental groups, the better to annoy Congress, I suppose. Again, if you don’t know how to get involved, pick up the damn phone.
And remember, folks, any time someone says “clean coal” an angel has an asthma attack.