When I first started going zero waste, I thought I could tackle my environmental concerns simply by focusing on my own trash can. And although I was able to reduce my garbage and minimize my footprint, I didn’t necessarily tackle the larger system at play. I still recommend that everyone complete a trash audit to understand their personal waste production, but I also encourage you to take a step farther afterwards!
Our Broken System
The truth is that our consumer based system is broken. Our ”waste management” system is failing us and it is causing irreparable damage to our oceans, forests, and the people on this planet. We can’t simply manage our way out of this problem. We need to change the system itself.
So if you’re like me and ready to get involved in fighting the larger system that governs our products, plastic, and fossil fuel use, it’s time to become an activist. Don’t merely live the life you think is best. Let's make sure everyone has the ability to do so in a system that is equitable and sustainable at its core!
Tackle the Issues
So how do you become a more engaged environmental activist? It’s all about getting involved and becoming educated on a variety of topics! There is not a right way; the important part is starting. You've chosen to read this post so you're already moving in the right direction! Here are 10 ways that you can begin to get involved with your local community and start a discussion around the bigger picture issues.
If you are currently in a lock down because of coronavirus, there are still actions you can take without leaving your home!
10 Ways to Become a More Engaged Activist
1. Read books about the issue from diverse perspectives.
It's always a good idea to do some background research before jumping into an issue, head first. Reading books can be a great way to understand the pro's and con's of various policies, be introduced to new initiatives, or read counter opinions to help focus your arguments.
Reading can also be a good way to find inspiration about a certain topic and solidify those areas you are interested in. If direct action and volunteering seems intimidating at this point, start by reading about it! You might find that once you have a better understanding of the issue, you feel more prepared to get involved.
Check out my post on reading recommendations to find books on the climate crisis, zero waste living, the Green New Deal, food waste, carbon footprints, and more!
2. Attend local events to learn about the issue, hosted by diverse groups.
We can become engaged simply by attending events. It may not seem like you are doing much by being a participant in the audience, but you are a participant. I have attended documentary screenings, presentations, lectures, and workshops throughout the last several years. These types of events are wonderful because they often require little to no preparation in advance so are less intimidating than volunteering. Many may not even require that you register or purchase a ticket!
If you have anxiety like me, attending events open to the public that are informational can be a great way to learn about topics without the pressure of jumping right in to plan events and volunteer. Check out what events are offered by visiting Facebook pages and websites of groups like 350.org, Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, and the Sierra Club.
3. Volunteer with local organizations making changes.
After I started attending local events about the Tax Amazon 2020 campaign, I realized that I did have time and energy to support the group. We often avoid volunteering because we assume it will require a lot of energy and not be flexible around our schedule. That has not been my experience at all!
Volunteering for the Tax Amazon Campaign has simply been hanging up posters around my neighborhood - whenever it is sunny and I am free! I have volunteered for the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign by sitting on my couch and sending out text messages to potential voters. I have spent Saturday mornings attending work parties just five blocks from my house with Black Farmers Collective. Working with these organizations can be your whole life (and your job), and they can also be something small and equally meaningful.
4. Donate financially to support groups when you cannot volunteer your time.
Ideally we will show our support for movements by volunteering our time and energy. But when we find that our job, family, and other obligations are simply prohibiting that, financially contributing can also help. There are many grassroots programs and organizations that rely on funding from supporters like you.
You can check out my list of organizations to donate to that support environmental projects - but I also encourage you to donate to the small groups that are in your neighborhood!
5. SPEAK UP!
It's important that we begin to have discussions around climate change and the environment - and how those issues intersect with social justice issues like race, gender, class, etc. If we don't start talking about this with our family and friends, we avoid the situation on a personal level and lose the opportunity to learn more from those around us.
6. VOTE and encourage others to vote.
As much as I often feel like yelling at our politicians, I still believe in voting. The politicians we elect have immense amounts of power over our laws, policies, and the general trajectory of our world. Voting for or against someone (or a piece of legislation) can send a powerful message.
If you don't see a candidate that you believe supports your values or that reflects YOU, why not run yourself? Or find someone in your community who DOES and encourage them to run! You can get involved with local chapters of various political groups or get involved with an environmental group creating policy proposals. Zero Waste Washington, for example, is an organization that proposes many pieces of legislation throughout the year. Vote for their initiatives! Sign their petitions!
7. Listen to podcasts, audio books, and TedTalks on the subject.
Maybe reading a book is just not your thing! Commutes to work and back are great for listening to an audio book - and I've gone through quite a few on my list of recommended reads in just that way! You can listens to a variety of podcasts on zero waste options, watch TedTalks on climate change, and listen to audio books on mass extinction! The more information you have, the better equipped you will be for those conversations with friends who aren't quite on board. You can also incorporate some documentaries on sustainability into your weekly movie nights.
8. Attend non-violent protests to show your support.
Many campaigns and initiatives will host marches to gather public support. These marches tend to be great events for "beginners" as you don't have to do much more than show up. To learn about these types of protests, follow local groups in your area on social media to be updated. Groups like 350.org, Extinction Rebellion, and Sierra Club are likely to have a local chapter and host events open to the public.
9. Call your representatives - at all levels of the government!
Using your voice as a voting constituent is a powerful thing. And since many in this country cannot vote because of voter suppression, immigration status, and incarceration, we need to be their voice as well. So the next time you see an initiative on the ballot or one being proposed by the public, call your representatives! Call you governor, your state congress, and your district reps.
Call them to show your support for a Green New Deal. Tell them to stop receiving funding from fossil fuel companies. Ask them to support the local bill to build sustainable housing. The government is supposed to do what is in the best interest of the people, so let's make sure they listen.
10. Practice what you preach.
A little self-reflection is always a good thing. So while you are attending events, reading books, and starting conversations with family members, remember to take a look at how you are living your values. Are you reducing your waste in the ways accessible to you? Are you including diverse perspectives and people of color in your conversations? Are you voting and researching policies to get behind?
Remember that being a role model is very powerful. And the last thing you want to do is become that "woke" person who isn't actually practicing anything substantive, simply pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong. We want to model an inclusive, sustainable, and welcoming vision of how our communities can be!