"The Path to Productive Activism" (see blog post below) was about finding a group to belong to, where you can be with like-minded folks and incite some change. Once you join a group, you will hopefully find a place where you’re welcomed, where things are organized, the meetings run in a way that’s respectful of all members’ time, where you truly feel valued, and can begin to make some change in your community.
But let’s say that you’ve taken that step, and you’re ready to do more.
In order to be agents for change, we must recognize two things: That change needs to happen to break the current course, and that electoral politics are an arm for change that we have to use to get there. Change has to happen from the inside out if we want to see improvement, and like-minded individuals can combine forces in an effort to get someone elected to an office, no matter how small, non-partisan or partisan.
Think that you can’t run for an office? WRONG. You CAN run for office!
When you hold a position on a board, commission, or other governing body in your community, county, or at the state level, your voice can become instrumental in decisions that can directly affect a number of facets in your community or region, including the environment, jobs, financial direction, and more. It’s likely that you possess a strength that could be valuable to the constituents in your area. The first step in all of this would be to decide your area of interest, seek areas of interest on your city or county’s website. If you don’t see the info you need, then:
GO TO YOUR CITY HALL OR COUNTY ELECTIONS OFFICE AND START ASKING QUESTIONS. Ask things like, “What non-elected positions are open?” “Is there a board on which I can serve?” Or, “I’m interested in roads maintenance. Is there a position open on a commission where I can get involved?” Most of these committees and boards, though not widely advertised and sometimes found in inaccurate information on county and city websites, will generally welcome people who are interested in volunteering to come to meetings and give their time to whatever the cause. If you have a career speciality or experience within the community already, you are likely to be a shoe-in. Apply to the one or ones that interest you; have any necessary petition paperwork filled out by deadlines; and be sure to ask precisely what is needed to make you a candidate for the open seat and what will get you on the ballot.
If you already have experience serving in a capacity like this, then RUN FOR HIGHER OFFICE IN YOUR COMMUNITY when the positions become available. Even elected non-partisan leadership positions can make a difference when the people in place truly have the best interest of the people, planet, and overall peace involved. Greens that hold non-partisan offices can make a huge impact!
If you’ve already served in a community, district, or county-based elected office and have had some success, that’s excellent news! You’ve now got the background in how things are done, and people are starting to recognize who you are and how you work, so you’re ready to run.
If you want to run as a Green, check with your local or state Green organization to see about their candidate vetting process, forms, endorsement possibilities, ballot access situation, etc. You may also be able to get endorsements from other nonpartisan progressive groups, which can broaden your chances of being elected. If you need help with campaigning or resources, contact the local chapter of your state Green party. It’s almost guaranteed that there are people willing to help promote a candidate they can believe in.
Remember: Change starts with each of us taking action within our means, not just protesting and resisting. Make some change in your community! Help get some books into your city’s library or write a grant to get some supplies for a homeless shelter. Serve on a committee to have a community garden planted. Get the ball rolling with necessary infrastructure repairs or on a committee that addresses public transportation needs.
Use your strengths to be an asset to your community!
Next up in our series on how to make change:
“I’ve decided to run for office… now what do I do?”
The Path to Productive Activism
"Your politics are boring!"
I remember the first time I saw that message. It cut me to the core! Was he saying that what we are doing is boring? Or how we are doing it is boring? Were we focused on the wrong things?
He never explained further, but I suspect the reaction came because he was tired of meetings: meetings which seem to accomplish little.
But meetings are a part of organizing. Groups have to come together, discuss ideas, have a plan of approach and execution for whatever they hope to accomplish.
So, if he's right, and meetings are boring, how do we as activists deal with that reality?
Ask any activist, including those from the right wing, and they will all tell you that you must have food to attract folks, or at least a cup of coffee. Most importantly, though, people need to know their time is not wasted; and to whatever extent possible, to know that they will be with people they enjoy, or at least people who they want to work with.
How can we assure people that meetings are worth their time? The plan should be simple:
First, start your meetings on time, and with a prepared agenda. If you are trying to organize and are disorganized, this is a turnoff; people will feel that their time is not respected.
Second, stick to the agenda and conclude on time or early. Leave a slot on your agenda for questions or a discussion forum, but ask people to respect the agenda and each other during the meeting, allowing the meeting to flow as planned.
Third, have actionable plans for during or after the meeting. For example, if someone arrives with a new tool they are using to be a more effective activist, we all can learn about there and perhaps begin using it on the spot. Or maybe the plans will be for later, such as attending a government meeting as a group, or as individuals to report back to the group later. Maybe the group can hold a road cleaning event or community gardening event. No matter what, we as activists must be relevant between elections; and without tasks for the group, there is no point to the group.
Fourth, work towards victories -- even small ones. If a group decides to turn back the tide of militarism worldwide, that is a valid and honorable goal; but it's also honorable and valid to work together to identify storm drains in neighborhoods in need, or to improve the diets of folks living in food deserts through tabling and providing literature and samples. The list of potentially victorious options is long, and as wide as our imagination. But to make a real run at success, we will be well-served by winning some victories along the way.
Finally, and most importantly: we need to care about one another. At every meeting, we must connect as individuals and as a cohesive group. Making time at the beginning and end of every meeting to socialize helps create bonds which will carry us between face to face meetings, and folks who find they have things in common are more likely to work together to organize and build their way toward the victories that will keep them going.
Are you interested in activism in your community? Meetup.com, Facebook groups, and other social media outlets are fantastic ways to find like minds out there who want to work together for the best possible outcomes. If you think it might be fun and productive to volunteer with a cleanup, a movement, or a group who shares your political beliefs, take what Nike says to heart:
JUST DO IT. Find the group and go. You'll likely find that they will welcome you with open arms, maybe a bottle of water or some cookies, and hopefully, some tasks that will make you feel that your time is valued, and that your community is well-served.
And if you're leading or organizing, do it with respect for everyone's time, with goals in mind, and most of all: with kindness.