I’ve always wished I was more into politics. In fact, it may or may not have been a new years’ resolution for the past… oh, 4 or 5 years to know enough to aptly carry myself in a political conversation without looking like an idiot. While I know I may be judged by stating my unintentional ignorance, I do think that political awareness is a skill really; a personality type.
But, it’s also a civic duty…which is what gets me every time.
So, since I consider myself fairly involved and am interested in something where knowing current events is particularly important, I’ve reinstated my new years’ resolution (since as of September 18th it is now the year 5770 according to the Jewish calendar) and recently decreed that I will dedicate more time to make myself “in the know.”
Boxer-Kerry Bill, bring it on.
Before making this decision, I often thought about the idea of individual versus collective action. How effective can a person really be if calling their representatives, protesting, and running for office isn’t their cup of tea? While it is easy to lose faith in the political system, I certainly would not advocate for us to try to combat climate change (or other social issues) without the help of government as well. So, while I intend to become more politically active, I also highly value an individual’s capability to make positive, meaningful, and important changes in their own lives and the lives of those around them.
I know No Impact Man, Colin Beavan, wasn’t saying he was uninterested in politics when he spoke, but last week, the environmental news blog, Grist, interviewed him partly on this topic and I really valued what he said. In case you didn’t click on the link, Beavan and his family recently completed a year of living “off the grid” in New York, making as small of an impact as possible and, throughout the year, blogged and wrote a book about the experience. (They even made a movie about it. Which looks sweet.) Anyway, here were a few excerpts that I thought were enlightening:
(Or you can read his whole interview here)
1. There are real reasons to make lifestyle changes outside of the policy realm:
“I think there are two main arguments on individual lifestyle change. One is that we have to change our way of life no matter how much technology we get, no matter what regulation we get, because we have to get to 350 [parts per million of carbon dioxide] and because Americans generate five times the carbon emissions per capita as the Chinese. Our consumption-based economy, I would argue, doesn’t work for the planet. It doesn’t work for the people either.“
2. The changes we make individually affect culture more than do political changes:
“If we’re going to get the legislation we need and then keep it next time there’s a Republican administration, then we have to go beyond just using our political power to leverage the rest of the country into doing what we want. We have to change the culture. And you can’t change the values of the culture through legislation.”
3. But… we should still participate in politics:
“I don’t believe in individual action over collective action. I believe in both. It’s what I call engaged citizenship, a combination of both living your values in your own life and also living those values in your community life, volunteering for nonprofits and putting pressure on your political representatives.”
4. Here’s how to get your foot in the door:
“The problem is when people stop at using canvas bags or changing their light bulbs. I believe in robust lifestyle change instead. For people who aren’t yet involved, who aren’t already in the choir, I find that the two big ways to start are with local food and bicycling. Once you get people to make those changes, then you can start getting them involved in politics.”
5. Those who already care are responsible to motivate those who don’t know or don’t care:
“We need to all of us put our shoulders at the doors of change and push and not worry about criticizing each other as much as supporting each other in all the various methods. Somebody will have a breakthrough, and we all need to be cheering each other on.
We have to find an on-ramp into environmental politics, because it’s just not growing fast enough. The more attempts at on-ramps that we can think of the better.”
6. Forget partisanship and political ideology. Just do what’s right:
“Collective action is at the root of liberal ideology and individual action is at the root of conservative ideology. To straddle individual and collective action feels like, whichever side you’re on, you’re betraying your political heritage. To suggest that we should do both is strangely radical. It’s almost like you need a whole new political party.”
I think he’s right on though. There will always be some who are more politically involved than others (hopefully I’ll be moving toward the ‘more’ end of the spectrum by 5771!), but it is truly important to make real, passionate, and steadfast efforts in our own lives, and I think these changes can add up in a really vital way. And it seems that Colin agrees.
In fact, in my research, it seems that Thoreau agreed as well.
“For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever.”
So, throughout the rest of this year while I acclimate myself to current events and the feel of political participation (no matter how small), I will also maintain a strong focus on my personal choices and my ability to positively influence others.
And I hope you’ll join me. Or, you know, write a letter to the editor.