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Written by Patricia Dines

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This Month's Column:
Love Your Local Activist/Change Agent

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Love Your Local Activist/Change Agent

By Patricia Dines
Published in the Sonoma County Gazette
May 2011
(c) Patricia Dines, 2011. All rights reserved.

In today's column, I want to change up my format a bit and talk about who activists are and the important role we play in the survival of a culture.

I bring this up because, in talking with people over the years, I often feel that mainstream folks, while vaguely valuing activists' contributions, also see us as social oddities who stubbornly refuse to conform to mainstream career paths and insist on annoying people by bringing up dark issues that most folks would rather not see.

Certainly, when I was younger and imagining my life, I never expected that I'd fall into the activist category -- although I should say that I don't usually use that term for myself, preferring instead something more like "change agent" or "community educator" or "on the team of people seeking to prevent worldwide disaster and the collapse of all life on earth." Yeah, but that last one is hard to fit on a business card....

And, absolutely, at times I've questioned my own sanity for taking on such enormous and frustrating challenges for little or no pay. Who would make such a crazy choice in this individualistic, materialistic, self-centered culture?

But then I remember how horrified and hopeless I can feel when I see the looming collective crises, knowing the pain and desecration that will occur. I compare that to how joyful and satisfied I feel when I help us steer in a saner, less painful direction. Yes, indeed, action is the antidote for despair!

So that's why today I want to speak up for my team, my fellow activists by whatever label, to help folks better understand and value what we do.

First, I want to describe the reason that most of us act. Contrary to the fiery opinionated image that people can associate with the term activist, I find that the core motivation of most of my peers is usually a deep sense of caring and responsibility, a desire to stop enormous suffering, now and in the future, as soon as possible. We are truly first responders, willing to sacrifice our own time and material comfort so that others and the larger community will benefit.

Which leads to my second point: no matter how bad you think the state of the world is now, it would be so much worse without the change agents who've invented better ways and stepped up to make them happen.

However, I rarely see our collective contribution noted in our current identity (or pay scale!). Instead, those of us who act for the community's interests are usually marginalized, seen as just another special interest group, another voice in a cacophony of competing consumer offerings, and not the sexiest one at that.

Which gets me to my key point: I think that a smart culture warmly welcomes its change agents, treating them with respect and appreciation for the vital service they offer of balancing, protecting, and helping evolve the shared community organism.

Because if a culture doesn't have some people who take the time to step back and look at the big picture, question the status quo conventional wisdom, consider different ways of being and behaving, and encourage folks to learn and grow in new directions -- well, then a whole culture of people can confidently and collectively like lemmings march straight off the proverbial cliff. Which, frankly, I think happens quite often nowadays, as my people yell from the sidelines, "Wait, stop! There's a better way!"

Of course, it's vital for activists to be responsible in how we stir up trouble, to not just complain with fatalistic cynical assumptions nor avoid conflict by propping up convenient, simplistic, but insufficient remedies. We're more effective when we instead speak for constructive change in ways that are both accurate and heartfelt, logical while also connecting with people as human beings, and respectful of other viewpoints while revealing our heart just a little bit.

But I also know that, even when we're behaving respectfully, simply bringing up these issues will tend to annoy those who follow the dominant culture's desire for only current pleasure with little concern for future pain or the suffering of others. Sometimes speaking up is inherently disruptive, and needs to be.

And so, dear readers, I encourage you to understand this dynamic and be a loyal ally for those activists who are nurturing wise change in the world. Because, when you make sure that we pioneering, innovating, risk-takers are supported as we take on society's collective challenges, you are joining with us in helping to create a happier tomorrow.

• • •

Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter. Email your questions about going green to <EcoGirl [at] AskEcoGirl.info> for possible inclusion in future columns. View past columns at <www.AskEcoGirl.info>.

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© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2011. All rights reserved.


Patricia - When I read the article a few days ago, I wrote myself a note to email you that I thought it was an awesome article that I agree with wholeheartedly!  There are so many "change agents" to thank, I just give thanks every day for the all good that exists in our world!  Keep up the work! 
Love, Ellen S.


Debra Birkinshaw posts
Whoo hoo! Love your writing. Kudos!

My favorite line: "But then I remember how horrified and hopeless I can feel when I see the looming collective crises, knowing the pain and desecration that will occur. I compare that to how joyful and satisfied I feel when I help us steer in a saner, less painful direction. Yes, indeed, action is the antidote for despair."

It is my thought that when an activist faces despair, s/he is really mirroring the despair of the underprivileged and unprotected beings on the earth. It is really bigger-beyond-the self. So it requires bigger, more sustained action. "Hope in the Dark", by Rebecca Solnit, really helped me through this.

Patricia Dines
Debra, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Yes, I do feel that we're letting ourselves feel the larger despair of the people in pain, a courageous act in itself. To me, people either ignore these painful realities, see them but are cynical that they can get better -- or use them as a motivation to change things. I find the last choice to be beautiful and want to speak for that.

I also feel that by having gone through the process of facing the dark, and learning how to hold it in constructive ways that don't disempower me, I'm more able to help others with that process. I know that some people just peer in the doorway and say, "Ouch, pain" and want to walk away. That's why I look for ways to say, "Yes, but joy too, when we feel it getting better." To me it's really the denial and cynicism that are the most painful paths, because things never get any better and hearts just turn cold...

THIS ARTICLE WAS POSTED ON "The Canary Report" blog

I'm delighted that The Canary Report asked to post this piece as a post on their blog. Already their readers are posting their appreciation for the piece. That makes me happy! This is their title and lead...

The importance of activists
By guest blogger Patricia Dines

MAY. 11, 2011
No matter how bad you think the state of the world is now, it would be so much worse without the change agents who've invented better ways and stepped up to make them happen.

(Continued as above)

These comments were posted so far

scentsitive1ReplyMay. 11, 2011 at 4:09 am
really enjoyed your article, patricia. well written. effectively hit home, for me. thank you, kerrie

Melva SmithReplyMay. 11, 2011 at 7:46 am
Written well. We need more people to step up and take a stand. I also never saw myself as someone who would one day take a stand, but I have taken many since I developed MCS. Here is my formula for being an activist. When you knocked on the front door and it isn't opened, try back door, if you do not get a response there, try the window, if you can't get anyone to answer there, then seep up through the cracks in the basement. In other words…. Never give up.

Catherine HollingsworthReplyMay. 11, 2011 at 8:45 am
Well done!
If only those who shun us would just see us as the agents of change rather than just plain weird.

RosieReplyMay. 11, 2011 at 12:24 pm
Great. Thanks. 'Change agent' -- we had a much cruder term for it in working class New Zealand -- but it all means the same thing -- for some of us it just boils up from deep inside and there's no stopping it!!

Patricia DinesReplyMay. 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm
Hi all -- Thanks so much for your comments and thoughts. I'm so glad to know these ideas are valuable to others -- I was hoping that would be true! This article has been in my heart for a while so it's really fun to finally have shaped into and sent it into the world. May all change agents be wise as we can be and feel supported on our path! Blessings -- Patricia


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