Just one small fight, but make it your own. 5 simple steps.
“We used to think we’d change the world, and thought we could, now we realise that we’re just here to help the neighbourhood.” — Rick Danko
A few months ago, I wrote that ‘Our why’ is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than ‘my why’. It seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people and so these are just five small but powerful things that you can do to share someone else’s mission, and to make it your own.
1. Pick your favourite fight.
Choose a small charity or voluntary organisation whose aims truly resonate with you and your life. Big charities deserve your support too, but you’ll feel and see the power of your impact on a niche or local cause far more emphatically. Choose something that matches your passions and pleasures, because if you want to enjoy helping to fix a mess, it’s best that you really do give a shit. And don’t worry. It’s OK to feel good about your altruism.
I love the beach and the sea and spend as much time as I can by the water, on the water or in the water. Ten years ago my dog cut his paw on some glass on the beach near where I live, and for the first time I realised that it was covered in marine litter. A little light Googling later and I came across Surfers Against Sewage (Not just surfers and not just sewage) and their beach clean campaigns.
SAS are my perfect cause because, even though I’m lucky if I get in surfable waves more than twice a year, they’re set up for their supporters to ‘think globally and act locally’, even if your local beach is on a tidal estuary over-looked by a power station and an oil refinery. They gave me the encouragement, tools and resources to take care of my own backyard, even though I’m a hundred miles from a decent surf break.
Think about what you love doing most, and what you care about most, and go find a charity that matches. Love cross-stitch and care about social justice? Joint the Craftivists Collective. Love riding your motorbike and want to help the NHS? Become a Blood Biker.
2. Meet your MP.
They work for you, even if you voted for their opponents, so get in touch and go and meet them but go with something specific that they can do. Do your research about ‘your’ issue in their constituency, and tell them how they can help. Your charity will have very specific ways MPs can get involved, so be clear about those actions in advance.
My local MP Mims Davies is polar opposite to my politics, but when I asked her to meet me on our local beach, so she could see the marine litter problem for herself first, she came willingly. Beats meeting a grumbling constituent in a drab office. She brought her daughter, listened carefully as we walked, and as we picked up a bag load of plastic from a depressingly small area, the evidence mounted in front of her eyes. “What’s this mummy?” asked her child picking up a plastic tampon applicator…
She emailed me a day later saying that she would raise the issue in the House, and agreed to meet with SAS’s all party parliamentary group - as I had requested. She tweeted about our meeting and on several occasions subsequently she has been in touch, proactively, via email and Twitter to let me know that she’s spoken up on issues including microbeads in cosmetics and a deposit return system for plastic bottles.
NB. Be nice to them. Even if they are a dyed-in-the-wool Tory and you’re a raving Marxist, you’ll probably share a lot of common ground — literally and metaphorically. Screaming abuse won’t work, online or in real life. Go to them with a smile and politesse, and practical steps they can take on your behalf, and they probably will.
It’s well worth watching Sarah Corbett’s Do Lecture, on the art of gentle protest, particularly for how she won-round her MP despite their differences.
3. Weaponise your spending money.
Donate to the cause and rattle a tin of course, but also buy their merch. Buy things you’ll need and use from them. From T-shirts, hats and hoodies to mugs, tea towels and reusable water bottles, there’s nearly always a way to buy things you need, that will help fund your fight.
Choosing how and where you spend your cash - and just as importantly where you don’t - has a profound impact. If you tell a company that you’re no longer going to buy their products because (insert logical, definable reason), there’s a good chance that they’ll look at the issue. If a company is told the reason why sales are falling, and what they could do to win back your custom, they’d be idiots not to take notice. But again, polite and sensible reasoning will be listened to, illogical bile, not so much.
“I use my own money for petrol and the hospitals don’t get charged.” — Blood Bikes
It’s an ad for Honda, but Blood Bikers weaponise their time and their money.
4. Talk to the local media.
Local news, particularly radio and press, are desperate for local angles to national or international issues and if you a have a simple and well-crafted story, they’ll jump on it.
‘Local woman hang-glides off Kilimanjaro for local hospice’ is great, but something as prosaic as a small local beach clean is a great story. ‘Local people do something demonstrably helpful for a national issue’ is the meat and potatoes of regional news stories.
Again, most charities will be able to guide you on this, but contact details for local journalists are very easy to find and, if you are clear about the basic local angle to a big story, the journalists will help you craft it.
Help them by doing your research, maybe finding local experts on the issue, and if your MP is behind you, get them involved too. It’s a given that they’ll be happy to add their voice to a media story.
Yes, it’s true that the demographics for local news consumption tends not to be terribly youthful, but older people tend to vote more (your MP won’t need reminding), and they often have the time and inclination to help charitable causes too. Who cares how old your tribe is if it helps win your fight?
5. Don’t just be a clicktivist.
Social media campaigns are powerful tools and have revolutionised campaigning, but they’ve also allowed us to think that signing a petition, liking a Facebook story or tweeting support is enough. Unfortunately, they’re not yet enough to change the world on their own.
I recently interviewed SAS’s CEO Hugo Tagholm for an article on this subject, and as he put it “everything online has an offline mirror.” One won’t work without the other. He explained that there’s a holy trinity that are the same for all charities: awareness, fundraising and action.
He and his team plan every campaign with the circle of those three objectives at their heart. How does awareness lead to fundraising and how does that lead to action, and vice versa? How do you structure a campaign that simultaneously gets noticed, raises money and leads to effective change?
It sounds like a big concept, but it’s just a way of thinking holistically. For a beach clean it means getting lots of local people to turn up, to see the issue for themselves (awareness), encourage them to become paid-up members of SAS (fundraising), and to clean a beach and get the MP to pester the relevant Ministers in Parliament (action).
This is all just riffing on the well-worn idea of ‘think globally act locally’, and it’s great to get involved with numerous causes and support several charities, but if you want to make a serious impact, just pick one fight that matters to you (do one thing well?), and make that your ‘why.’
Maybe we can twist Rick Danko’s words a little bit; ‘to change the world just help the neighbourhood.’
[This post was originally written for the Do Contribute blog on Medium]