A continuing debate amongst those striving to better our world is the effectiveness of individual change vs. activism. Is it really THAT necessary to be the change we wish to see in the world, or does the attempt to live so distract from the significant work we could be doing to change government and the economic system?
Effective is the key term here, as very few if any would argue that lifestyle change AND political/activist involvement are not both acceptable and commendable. But how should we as individuals wanting to effect change become involved? What tactics provide the best exchange for effort expended? Are we wasting our time and becoming complacent through our beliefs that new light bulbs and time on the bicycle are helping to change the world?
This blog post will address this issue, but not in an either/or approach. In fact, the tactics employed via the Envision Cascadia project, and therefore of concern to this blog, assume that self-change and activism are indeed two sides of the same coin. As discussed in previous blog posts, EC is meant to assist activists (anyone striving to create a better world) in living a life more akin to that which their activism seeks to create. It is through involvement in this process of lifestyle change that we can collectively practice activism as well, and that is precisely the point.
“Being the change” reminds us of the Gandhian philosophy founded in the spiritual insight of change from within. But a deeper understanding of Gandhi’s life and teachings reveals a deeper meaning to such personal change. The outer manifestation of this inner restraint is in fact a preparation for non-cooperation. To stop cooperation with entities is to remove support necessary for their function. But to do so in situations of limited options is to possibly imperil one’s personal comforts - hence the need for inner strength and dedication.
Let us single out Walmart for a moment to use as an example. Many believe that Walmart is responsible for the breakdown of a multitude of local community economies throughout North America and beyond. Let us assume for this example that they are correct. What to do about it? For sure we might consider not shopping there. But is this really effective? How many people must stop shopping at Walmart for their “bottom line” to be truly affected? And then there is the problem of consumer options. Typically when Walmart enters a community, many local shops close their doors. How then are we supposed to find needed goods?
To begin, we must first accept that our individual actions in such circumstances will have limited consequences. We must also accept that undertaking such a boycott will invariably involve personal hardships. These two assumptions will require of us personal strength and dedication – to be found in personal growth, inseparable from spiritual growth, no matter what your personal religious and spiritual beliefs.
Next, we must understand that life is series of choices. We either shop at Walmart or we do not. Shopping at Walmart supports the entity we wish to reign in or put a stop to, but what the hay, it’s only a bottle of shampoo and a pair of socks. Right? Well, in such a case the choice has been made to cooperate and hence a vote cast in favor of that which we reject and otherwise decry.
Non-cooperation on the other hand is not only a vote for alternatives, it is a practice of activism. We do not cooperate and therefore we remove ourselves from the pool of supporters and participants of an entity, such as Walmart. Now in the best of circumstances, we inspire others to do the same via our leadership and soon have generated a movement of individuals not cooperating. But as happens many times, we go it alone and feel isolated or defeated in the smallness of our individual actions. We may be following the leadership of others who have gone before us, but as we do not see immediate results, we dismiss the boycott as ineffective, resume our cooperation, and turn towards other means of attempting to stop the undesirable entity. This has the effect of not only supporting that which we do not philosophically support, but more importantly it allows us to comfortably go on about our lives without investing time, energy, and our personal resources in supporting preferred alternatives.
Gandhi saw the rejection of British goods as not only a removal of support for them, but a grand opportunity to kickstart (re-start) community based enterprises. Gandhi turned to the spinning wheel not because of his love for handmade cloth, but because he saw the need for alternatives in the wake of the rejection of the dominant market options and as well the need for those who might follow in his example a source of income and alternative local economies.
Our challenge then is to combat the Walmarts (as representative of all undesirable options) of the world with non-cooperation via self-restraint and an adherence to the support of desirable alternatives. This necessarily means hardships, at least in the beginning. But as it has been said before, nothing worth doing is easy. And nothing in the way of a better world will be arrived at with continued cooperation in those entities we seek to change or eliminate.
As this is being written, the world economy sits on the brink of a downward slide. National economies are struggling throughout most of the world, and leaders of these economies (bankers and CEO’s and their minions) call for more “austerity measures” and more loans to support ever richer and more powerful multi-national institutions (banks and corporations). Now, it doesn’t take an economist or a professor or a genius to see a whole multitude of problems wrapped up in this situation. Most obvious perhaps are the bedfellows of corporations, banks, and empirical governments co-conspiring to “fix” these problems with solutions that strangely resemble the actions that led to these problems in the first place.
But alas, what are we to do? Cry out and protest? Run through the streets with molotov cocktails and clubs? Maybe a nasty letter to our senator or congressman will do the trick. It is ultimately up to each and every individual to decide for themselves what action most inspires them, but along the way we have another choice to make. Will we cooperate?