I was just reading some pages from the activist guidebook that accompanies the Living Downstream film (www.livingdownstream.com).
I had to copy down Sandra Steingraber's observations about people, activism, science and hope.
"The first observation is that science and citizen activism can work hand in hand. ...
"... second ... most people
are intensely curious about the ecology of their own community -
especially if they perceive that its integrity is threatened. ...
"... third ...what too often dampens
all this cooperation and natural curiosity is a paralyzing blanket of
fatalism. Fearful of despair, many people decide to not investigate
environmental contaminants. They have convinced themselves that these
problems are intractable and unsolvable, so why learn about them? That
attitude runs counter to the fighting spirit that cancer patients bring
to their medical lives. Instead of defeatism, why not bring that same
bravery and hopeful determination to the circumstances of our
"When caring for the critically injured, emergency responders are trained to say, 'I'm not giving up on you'. That's the same message
an Ethiopian farmer encouraged me to carry back to the place where I
grew up. Surely it's a phrase that applies to all the communities where we live. Our fish. Our rivers. Our homes."
Steingraber's work focuses on environmental contaminants and links to cancer and other health problems.
Her three observations seem to me to apply to a wide range of citizen activism.
1. Science and citizen activism can work hand in hand.
The science of interactions between plants and soil organisms shows
that having a planted area with many types of plants that decompose in
place, retains moisture in the soil, increases nutrients in the soil
which feeds and strengthens plants, and develops soil that is able to
take in moisture. Citizen activists wanting to maintain green space in a
new housing development can look to this science.
2. Most people are intensely interested in the ecology of their own community.
Community walks are invariably popular, whether they are tours of
heritage buildings or nature walks through environmentally significant
areas. If the groups that lead such tours plan into their presentation
direct ways for walkers to communicate with city planners afterward, how
many more citizen activists might there be? This action could be as
simple as having people fill out a postcard size comment that will go to
a city committee.
3. We need to find ways to face, handle and move beyond despair and fatalism.
e.g. Not having the morning clock radio come on to news would go a long way towards this! Serious stuff before we even get out of bed in the morning is paralyzing! I'll think more on this one. But it involves one step at a time, joining with other people, and having some fun along the way.
We're all waiting for wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy. Let's keep our fingers crossed for places like low-lying New York state coastal areas.