“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.
First, ask yourself what skills and resources you have to offer. Are you a social butterfly? Perhaps you’d like to canvas or staff a phonebank for a cause. Are you good with computers? Maybe you could train others or help set up a database for an organization that needs one.
Secondly, ask yourself what you care about. Below we’ve assembled some handy guides from EarthShare Partner organizations and others in the space on environmental issues that could use an active citizen like you. Just click on the guides that match your interests to get started!
I Care About...
Stopping Plastic Pollution
The Rise Above Plastics Activist Toolkit from Surfrider Foundation 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 offers insights about increasing awareness of plastic pollution issues through education and outreach.
Citizens’ Climate Education gives citizens the power to educate political leaders, the media, and the general public about climate change solutions. You can get trained to deliver community presentations by the Climate Reality Project, or join or start a local chapter of the Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, Citizens Climate Lobby, or 350.org.
Wildlife and Protecting Land
The threats of development, natural resource exploitation, pollution, and climate change all have serious and lasting impacts on our public lands. Americans must be prepared to stand up for our wildlands if we want to save some for future generations. Action toolkits from The Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife will help you get involved, whether it’s contacting your elected officials, attending a town hall meeting, or sharing your story on social media.
Beyond Pesticides Action of the Week provides one concrete action that you can take each week to have your voice heard on policies that are harmful to the environment and public health, increase overall pesticide use, or undermine the advancement of organic, sustainable, and regenerative practices and policies.
Making My Community More Livable and Safe for Citizens
The Transportation Toolkit is a 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 your voice heard. “Think of this as everything you wanted to know about transportation planning, but were too afraid to ask.”
Wait, Do I Really Have to Pick Just One Issue?
No, absolutely not. Pick one issue or pick multiple, then share your voice!
Have you considered running for office? Lots of organizations want to support people like you who care about their communities and the environment. Check out these guides that specifically address women candidates (She Should Run), immigrants (New American Leaders Project), veterans (New Politics), 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 Union of Concerned Scientists, Everyday Democracy, and the NAACP. They offer clear steps for getting involved in community projects and the political process, no matter the issue(s) you care about.