Tuesday, March 3

A beginners guide to acting

Often it's hard to feel like you are truly doing something in the world. It's even harder, once you feel inspired, to start.

How is it that you can make a difference? How can you stop the council from removing trees from a park? Where the hell do you find a feminist book club? I don't have a clue. So I turned to books for the answers.

How to Save the World in Your Spare Time is written by environmental activist Elizabeth May. It is based on her Democracy 101 lessons given to Canadian activists. There is an unmistakable Canadian bent but a UK reader will still find it useful.

The tag line on the back 'Got five minutes? You can save the world!' reminds me of an old Guiders joke. An old advertising campaign asked people to volunteer one hour a week. Considering most Guide meetings last longer than that without mentioning planning and residentials most volunteers found that insane. Indeed the last chapter is about the joys of devoting your life (that is, all of it) to activism.

Still it inspires you with ideas, advice and tried and tested techniques. There is guidance on starting a group, writing press releases, creating petitions and even such topics as civil disobedience.

Although this book is written from the perspective of environmental campaigns it can be used by people pursuing other issue. Although I suppose loggers may be put off.

My second book came firmly from a feminist bent. Jennifer Baumgardener and Amy Richards' Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism.

It's definitely inspiring but isn't quite as full of practical advice. Some of the same ideas are covered such as how to start a group but the focus is more on how to find activism in your everyday life rather than making activism your life.

It has a narrower audience too. The narrative created by the chapters is very American (and, I'm told, middle class, New York focused). It takes us from activism in high school, college, the workplace. But a scatted, unfocused chapter is also included on activism and art.

Throughout the book pieces of advice are broken up by people who have actually tried them. Sometimes it went well other times groups fizzled out or the person burnt out. This is fantastic to hear for anyone who ever wondered if the activist was super human.

I'm left feeling inspired by both works. Grassroots offers me the advice I need for working on an individual level and How To Save The World... gives me advice for achieving the impossible.

I'm glad Grassroots said there was more to do than write letters, donate money and volunteer. It makes me stop feeling like a bad feminist for not being able to afford £5 a month for the Fawcett society. Although I do wish the more simple, elementary things like how to write to representatives were covered. But if you are looking for ways to get involved both books give plenty of ideas.

And following advice I'm planning something fun for International Women's Day.

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