Over recent months there has been a massive increase in the number of on-line petitions that I’ve been asked to sign. They are generally targeted at various levels of government and often seem to me like worthy causes: don’t sell off the Land Registry; don’t sell off public land, including forests; don’t allow the use of neonicotinoids… the list goes on and I am quite happy to support such causes. But, it’s not enough. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that simply clicking a button on our computer is going to change the world if we are not prepared to take action ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong – I think on-line petitions are a great way to tell our politicians what we think. It has been too easy in the past for those in government to be separate from ‘the people’ and technology is a brilliant way of facilitating communication. Always remember that the government should be working for you, not the other way round, so telling them what you want them to do (or not to do) is exactly the right approach. But, let’s not fool ourselves – governments are increasingly serving the needs of entities such as big corporations and other governments, even if they fool themselves into thinking that, in the long run, this is for the good of ‘the people’. And so, as individuals, it’s easy to feel impotent, to feel that you have no influence, to feel that the only way you can be heard is if you join with 10,000 other people in signing a petition, to feel that you cannot do anything. But I am here to tell you that
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Your choices are powerful. The money you spend is powerful. All your actions are important. Choosing not to do something can have as big an impact as doing something.
I am not a natural protester… I don’t like conflict and want to avoid confrontation if I can. As a result, you are unlikely to find me at a street protest or participating in a march, carrying a banner. But I do protest, and I do take actions that will drive changes.
Perhaps the most powerful tool you have at your disposal is your money. Choosing what to do with it and where to spend it sends a clear message, but it can also provide real support to a ‘cause’. For example, if you are concerned about pesticides in your food, then planting a window box with lettuce will ensure that you can have fresh, chemical-free salad and will certainly save you money compared to buying bagged salad leaves from the supermarket. Currently a 90g bag of mixed salad leaves costs £1 from Tescos, whilst Thompson and Morgan are selling a packet of Salad Leaves ‘Speedy Mix’ for £2.29 – in it you get 1000 seeds which should last you a couple of years! Growing your own will also cut down on food miles and reduce packaging, so you win on multiple levels. You can support other small scale producers too – buying eggs from a local person (there’s lots of backyard chicken keepers around now) will ensure non-intensive production and low food miles and (in this area at least) is always cheaper than buying supermarket eggs.
Not spending your money can be a way to send a powerful message too. Not being seduced by the latest gadget, this years hot fashion or simply newer versions of things that you’ve already got can break the link between your life and big business, to say nothing of saving you loads of money. If you disapprove of the ethics of a company – don’t give them your money. If you allow yourself to be guided by advertising then you are following someone else’s agenda… frequently one which is about THEM having more money and YOU having less… honestly the main motivation of Apple, Starbucks and Amazon is not to make you happy or save you money, it’s to make you spend as much as possible with them. But, it is your choice.
Importantly, money spent in the local economy cycles round local businesses for ages before it disappears. So, if you want to support local jobs and have happy neighbours, then spend local. This principle is now widely accepted (see this article in Time magazine for example), but our government in the UK continues to tell us that the way to make our country successful is to support big businesses.
And, of course, it all depends on your definition of ‘success’. To governments ‘success’ is continuing economic growth, but to me it’s having a resilient system that won’t collapse as a result of external factors (banks going bust, oil prices rising etc) and that can provide all citizens with their needs without exploiting anybody. I work hard for my money and I would like to spend it in ways that make the world the sort of place I want to live in; even if I don’t always manage this I do send a strong message via my buying choices.
But, it isn’t just money – doing something can be about how you use your time and resources. It can be about not simply throwing things away, but finding new uses for old possessions, or passing them on to someone who can make use of them. It’s about making the best use of what we have – whether that’s composting our used teabags, eating up leftovers or making a pallet into a gate. And, although your politicians do not know these things are happening (unless you choose to tell them), their impacts are felt in the economy and by the environment, and so you do make a difference. Not only that, by taking positive action to make the world a better place, you make yourself feel better and you can go on to do even more positive things.
So… whilst adding your name to that on-line petition is not a bad thing, why not do something more? As I’ve pointed out before, from my perspective Civil disobedience is homemade pants!