“There are no passengers on spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” —Marshall McLuhan
McLuhan’s quote about the responsibility we all have as “crewmembers” of spaceship Earth could just as easily apply to our need to stay politically engaged in a democracy. When the health of our planet and communities is at stake, we can’t stay on the sidelines.
There are lots of ways to be an active citizen: voting, volunteering, starting or joining an advocacy organization, raising money for a cause you care about, protesting, writing letters to the newspaper, calling or visiting your representatives, attending a community or government meeting, running for office… the list goes on.
“But where do I start?” you might ask.
I care about...
...Stopping Plastic Pollution
The Rise Above Plastics Activist Toolkit is a step by step guide to creating positive change in your community through reducing single-use plastics. It will help you establish a plastic bag ban or similar ordinance and it also offers insight on increasing awareness of plastic pollution issues through education and outreach. (Surfrider Foundation)
Citizens’ Climate Education gives ordinary citizens the power to educate political leaders, the media, and the general public about climate change solutions. Find all their videos here. You could get trained to deliver community presentations by the Climate Reality Project, or join or start a local chapter of the Sierra Club, Citizens Climate Lobby, or 350.org. Ella Baker Center for Human Rights also has a guide to developing a climate action plan in your town.
...Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture
Whether it’s food waste, community gardens, or fighting hunger that floats your boat, there are no shortage of ways to get involved in building a better food and farming system where you live.
...Making My Community More Liveable and Safe for Pedestrians
This “Transportation Toolkit,” is “a plain-language citizen’s guide to the government’s process for major infrastructure undertakings, and how to get involved. Along with approachable graphics and flowcharts, the kit goes over the basic timelines that road, rail, bridge, and aviation projects usually follow, crucial concepts, entities, and laws that inform those processes, and the best strategies to make citizen voices heard. Think of this as everything you wanted to know about transportation planning, but were afraid to ask.” (USDOT / CityLab)
... Wait, Do I Really Have to Pick Just One Issue?
Have you considered running for office? Lots of organizations want to support people like you who care about their communities and the environment. Here’s a general guide to becoming a political leader, or you can check out these guides that specifically address women candidates (She Should Run), immigrants (New American Leaders Project), veterans (New Politics), millennials (Run for Something), LGBTQ candidates (Victory Institute), and scientists and STEM leaders (314 Action), among others.
If running for office isn’t your thing, check out these tips for general engagement from Oregon Environmental Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, Everyday Democracy, and the NAACP. They offer clear steps for getting involved in the political process, no matter the issue you care about.