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6 New Year's Resolutions We Should Take to Enact Social Change

by Juliana Bilowich Jan 2, 2015

We are all global citizens: each of us belongs to multiple communities that overlap with a common center. Our goal? Social justice. Here are some steps we can all take to enact social justice in the New Year.

1. Assume responsibility for your participation

As global citizens, we participate in our immediate and broader communities — whether we mean to or not. Do you know who is making decisions on your behalf at the global and national levels? Do you know if you like those decisions? As peace activist Paul Chappell says, “A democracy is as wise as its citizens.”

Start by educating yourself about — and introducing yourself to — your local representatives. We may be used to being removed from the process, but our elected officials are human beings with websites, phone numbers, and email addresses: hearing from constituents matters! In the United States, visit websites like Open States and Gov Track for updates on current bills and decisions impacting social justice or injustice.

2. Live responsibly

Global citizens know that our lives affect others and how others’ lives affect ours. The local environment is made by and makes us. Do you know where your water comes from? What happens to your waste? Are you nourished by what you eat, and does the way in which it was grown nourish the environment?

If you don’t already shop for produce at local farmers markets, check out Local Harvest for community supported agriculture (CSA) opportunities in the US that empower small farmers. Signing up to support them with year-round funding — or a light volunteer commitment — in exchange for a weekly box of produce. Follow Barbara Kingsolver’s advice and eat seasonally, easier done with cookbooks that match seasonal markets. Finally, ask author Joel Salatin what he thinks about the food industry.

3. Become what you consume

If actions speak louder than words, how loud is money? Being an informed consumer can take many shapes. Visit Behind the Brands to find out who actually owns the brands you consume and how they rank on social justice issues — from women’s and workers’ rights to the protection of the environment and transparency.

Let’s look at the other end of consumption: trashing compostable material should be — and in some countries is — a crime. Many areas in Europe, as well as in the United States, are banning plastic bags in grocery stores. What about using clean, drinkable water to flush our toilets? There is a better way. Check out green living blogs to learn about global citizens’ cutting edge ideas, and to demand that our interaction with the planet is a healthy one.

And if you think recycling can’t be beautiful, check out Wasteland, a 2010 documentary about artist Vic Muniz’s work with the world’s largest garbage landfill in Rio de Janeiro.

4. Question what you think you know

…and then question it again.

Who is the authoring your news? Consider checking into alternative sources like Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! and Human Rights Watch. Even reading news coverage of the same event from different parts of the globe can be illuminating!

Equally important: who is writing your history account? Hindsight isn’t always 20/20. Ask yourself: “Whose voice isn’t being heard?” It can be difficult but necessary to hear the other perspective of a scenario. Start with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and continue by following the work of activists like Dorothea Lange, Eva Golinger, Nicholas Kristof, and countless more. Get inspired and dig in!

5. Take smart action

Not every shovel-wielding foreign “do-gooder” actually helps to enact justice in the newest disaster zone. The misconception that Western nonprofits can “save” the Third World implies that the recipients of “First World” aid have both little skill and little say in how they are helped. As Jessica Alexander describes in her poignant 2013 memoir Chasing Chaos: My decade in and out of Humanitarian Aid, the Band-Aid approaches of the aid world are regulated mostly by the private and governmental money donors — not by the recipients — making the non-profit field uniquely not consumer-driven.

Certainly everyone is equipped to contribute differently — whether through time, money presence, expertise, or ideas. Most importantly, ask how is my contribution best utilized? Then find the network that resonates with you, like the countless international organizations such as Amnesty International or Oxfam. Alternately, scour your neighborhood for local, grassroots organizations working on issues you care about, like an action network or the local chapter of an organization you care about. See what your local radio station has to stay about your community and then get involved — in a smart way.

6. Accept complexity

These problems didn’t appear overnight, and the solutions require faith. Here. As German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote in a correspondence with a young, doubtful poet: “Try to love the questions themselves…perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

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