December 4, 2009 – Activism

December 4th, 2009

As we were putting together the Business Matters program on consumerism, I was reminded of the long history of activism here in the US. I think of activism as doing something intentionally to bring about social, political, economic or environmental change.

Over 200 years ago, people just like you and I felt that the system of government that was in place in the British colonies was one they could not support. Coming together in small towns and cities, they acted with courage and a level of determination that was uncommon. At the heart of this birth of the American system was vigorous public debate, an orientation for building consensus, and a commitment to strong action to bring about needed change.

Activism has many forms including civil disobedience, boycotts, culture jamming, peace marches, propaganda and strikes. Activism knows no boundaries of age or ethnicity or cultural orientation or economic condition. Activism often brings to its participants a sense of aliveness that they don’t feel at other times in their lives. It feels good to be committed to a cause that I believe in and have a sense that MY actions will make a difference.”

Kalle Lasn, one of our guests today and the founder of AdBusters, has been an activist for over 20 years. He challenges the impact that consumerism has on the economic, political and environmental sustainability of our plant. I asked him if the actions that are underway would alter the course of climate change and economic decline. He said he didn’t know. Maybe we will experience our worst fears and yet, there will be a future of some sort. What he was certain of is that the actions of activists today shape that future. This lesson is good to remember particularly for those of us who were involved in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Hope for a future with a new form of governance called forth activism in so many. As this promise seems elusive, a sense of despair is being felt. Yet, maybe these actions are what Kalle Lasn was referring to, maybe they are the seeds of our future..

I have considered for the whole tenure of this program what our role is. As I speak to you today, I am certain for perhaps the first time. Business Matters is about activism. Activism is a personal choice. It means that I am willing to speak out and act when I feel the need for change, without concern for the short-term impact these actions have on my income or comfort. Our activism is telling the stories of people, who through a passion for change, commitment to a purpose and deep courage, are doing something they believe will change systems that are not working.

One important aspect of activism is often overlooked. Best spoken by one of history’s great activists, Mohatmas Ghandi, ‘ Be the change you wish to see in the world.” For instance, if I feel that its important to reform the financial system and a great way to do this is to support community banks, do I put my money in these smaller institutions? If I feel that its vital to reversing climate-change by reducing greenhouse gases, do I consider the distance that my food travels when I purchase it? The examples are plentiful, you get the idea. I sometimes find myself in the category of well intentioned folks who either contribute money to a worthy cause or lend support to an organization involved in change, yet I don’t take time to make sure that all my actions are supportive of the change I am advocating.

In closing, I invite you to consider what you can do to improve your local community. It is often said that all politics is local. That is also true for activism. Find a place to start being involved. It doesn’t have to be huge or “earth changing”. Just have it be something that really matters to you. The experience may both surprise you and change your life along with the lives of others.

We will make a difference.

Thomas

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