It’s Our Turn to Eat: How Politics Works and Why Activism is So Important

It’s Our Turn to Eat: How Politics Works and Why Activism is So Important

Posted by Prof. Goose on June 30, 2009 – 10:15am
Topic: Policy/Politics
Tags: activism, interest groups, politics, rationality, social movements, sustainability [list all tags]

This is a guest post by Dave Pollard, an author and activist who blogs over at How to Save the World (Dave’s always been one of my favorites in the blogosphere). I found this piece interesting because it elucidates many of the problems and lessons that we talk about in my interest groups/social movements course–and in turn those problems and lessons inspired some of the foundational goals that we set up The Oil Drum to fulfill: to educate and inform, and then to inspire and organize those educated and informed people to be a positive and persuasive force in a difficult, seemingly path-dependent world. Yes, that’s right, you folks here at The Oil Drum are a small (and very informed) part of a larger sustainability/resource depletion social movement; and, even though we may all have different ideas about how to get to a better world, I hope that we can still agree that continuing an informed discourse about how to make it better is an important part of getting there.

After the Bioneers conference last year, I wrote about the 24 steps to make political activism more effective. And, as the chart above shows, activism has long been part of my "what you can do to help save the world" list.

Recently, however, I’ve become more skeptical in my writing about whether or not political activism really has any effect. Most of my attention has been focused on personal change, on adapting to the world rather than trying to make it better.

More recently still, I’ve begun to think that personal change is equally futile: that we cannot be other than who we are, and that the best personal coping strategy is to know and accept yourself. My friend Janene has tempered my thoughts on this somewhat; she says that while we may not be able to change who we are, we can change what we do.

To some extent this takes us full circle. If we have the opportunity and responsibility to change our behaviour, our activities, to make different choices about what we do, and don’t do, what is this if not political activism? And if those actions do make a difference, then skepticism about the effectiveness of political activism is at best unwarranted, and at worst defeatist. My political activist friends have called me on this, and I promised to recant any suggestion on these pages that political activism is a waste of time and energy.

So I’m doing so. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." She was right. Social and political movements have always pushed people and institutions to make important and meaningful change that they would not otherwise make, by appealing in part to their sense of what’s fair and just and reasonable (an intellectual appeal), but more importantly by appealing to human emotion, by moving them. Without such movements there would be no movement, and we would probably be living in a world with much more slavery, violence, destruction and tyranny than the one we live in now.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this is so. I have a fairly optimistic view of human intention and behaviour, as befits an incurable idealist. But I also confess to being misanthropic — I don’t much like most people. I find them stupid, unimaginative, indifferent to the suffering of others, and conveniently ignorant and agnostic. It is easy to give up hope on people, and to blame "the system" that grinds the sense and sensibility out of them, and just give up.

I believe, as John Gray has argued, that we humans, like most creatures, are preoccupied with the needs of the moment. We are myopic, both in time and space


~ by Cory Morningstar on July 2, 2009.

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