Change:What are the high value ways for laypeople to help in your field?
June 22, 2015 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Advocates, researchers, activists, and policymakers - after recent news stories about distressing topics such as species extinction, police brutality, voter suppression, and global warming, I'm often stuck between hopelessness and wanting to work for change, but feeling really lost about where to start. What are your suggestions for the field or fields you know most about.

Dealing with the twin pragmatic realities that:
1) the type of help that seems obvious, isn't always the best step (please don't send canned goods!)
2) I am inherently looking for a somewhat limited commitment - I'm willing to devote some volunteer time, give money, and make lifestyle changes, but I'm not changing careers or looking for a leadership roll.

In light of that frame, what are the best ways for a layperson to make a difference in your field? Instead of just feeling despair, where's a useful/evidence based place to invest time/money/attention.

Useful info could include but is not limited to:
1) High value charities
2) Key times/ways/people to target for political pressure, and how to get on a notice list for those things
3) Everyday changes to consumer culture that have an outsized effect on your field (don't use antibacterial soap; do only consume US caught shrimp; etc)

I'm open to a wide range of suggestions, but my first though is for things that you could realistically get 5-15% of the population to do.

[I acknowledge that there are some problems that aren't particularly susceptible to this type of action, but even there, I'd be interested in what you think the levers for change might be.]
posted by mercredi to Law & Government (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Drive less, bike more.
posted by aniola at 12:03 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Vote for politicians who will increase science spending. Lack of public funding is crushing the research careers of most (yes MOST) of the young scientists I know.
posted by Cygnet at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Cygnet (and other similarly situated) - I think there will be a lot of voting related answers, in those cases, are there organizations who have useful politician scorecards and/or who do public email/call in campaigns at key policy times.

[Also, because I live in quasi-disenfranchised DC, helping out those orgs might be the closest I get.]
posted by mercredi at 12:10 PM on June 22, 2015

Also, volunteer as a phone banker, and then get trained to run a phone bank and ask your friends to call during pivotal policy making decisions. (Nothing formal, but make sure to call up your friends during pivotal periods and talk about how it's important and worth only 15 seconds of their time.)

During the short stint that I was trained as a canvasser and a lobbyist, I learned that the politician offices actually do tally how many people call in to support a certain bill or initiative. That's why you see articles by pundits lamenting about an "unorganized left" while the right-wing seem to mobilize for everything. People power still is incredibly important.
posted by yueliang at 12:24 PM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you want to help a homeless person, cash is king.

More ideas
posted by Michele in California at 12:45 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Eat less meat.

Setting aside ethics, there is almost nothing , from an ecological sense, that would not be positively impacted by reducing the amount of meat that you eat. Even a few pounds less a month per person would have a major impact on everything from water quality to droughts to tropical deforestation to climate change.
posted by rockindata at 2:40 PM on June 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Seconding rockindata. I work in the regulation of substances that cover the spectrum from intentionally toxic herbicides to hopefully not too toxic pharmaceuticals. It has been a career-long exercise in jaw-dropping, recognizing that huge proportions of everything on that spectrum are being made for direct use in animal agriculture or to support industries affiliated with it. And those proportions are going up, not down. I also grew up on a (non-industrial) farm, and I feel confronted on a daily basis by the incongruity of what small-scale farming once meant and what commercially dominant agribusiness means today (and where its sights are set for the future). I'd even expand the proviso: eat less meat/fish, drink less milk, buy less wool, buy less leather, etc.

I'd also say that if you have expertise in an area that could benefit an organization working on any particular issue you'd like to support with direct involvement, you should contact them. 501(c)(3) orgs are often very happy to let members or interested experts lend their skills. For instance, I do contract writing and research projects for the non-profit I think does the best work out in the field. I know their part-time editor for scientific publications is also someone out in the publishing world who really wants to support the org's work. We both get paid for our services, but others (usually who work in smaller spans or more irregularly) offer their services pro bono.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:36 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Give money to the Southern Poverty Law Center; give money to your local food bank; eat less meat; drive less often with more people in the car; stop buying so many clothes.

Most importantly, recognize that the only good you will likely ever see come from your own personal effort is when you actually hand a sandwich to a starving person. Change--especially the sort of social change we need to eliminate gun violence from the US or to ensure humane treatment of prisoners in our jails or to create a just world--is so slow and so diffuse, you just can't often see how you are effecting it.

I think that mindful living--considering your choices and trying to align those choices with both your principles and your priorities for change--helps with the despair. I work at a tiny nonprofit doing court innovation and it's sometimes so depressing how slow and incremental and unappreciated change for the better can be. But I'm surrounded by friends who give generously of their time and money to a number of local organizations that help others directly and I, myself, try to do both. Those tiny direct contributions I make really sustain me when the systemic reform work I do for a living just can't move forward.

When I say "considering you choices" I mean ALL of your choices. Not just which businesses or politicians to support, not just which food to eat or whether to buy more crap, but also what you're doing with your spare time and what you're doing with your spare cash. Many of us have an excess--whether that excess is time, money or skill--and we owe it to humanity, our neighbors and our communities to share that excess with people who have less. Think about what you have and how you can share it. I'm not suggesting you never treat yourself or you never just sit and relax. Only that you consider what abundance you have that you can share. Maybe you have an hour and a half each week to volunteer with a literacy mentoring group or a Sunday every other month you can cook at a soup kitchen. Or $20 a month to give to EJI. Invite friends to join you-- this type of commitment really spreads through your social network.

As people begin to give their time and money--their excess--to people who have even less, they begin to see the value in policies that support the social safety net and they begin to advocate and vote for them. They begin to recognize how little it takes to help and how valuable it is. Spread empathy and charity and maybe that will become how we measure the value of mankind.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:17 PM on June 22, 2015

5 Tips on Recycling.

[I am now kicking myself for every time I tossed a bag of mixed recyclables into the blue bin.]
posted by invisible ink at 6:38 PM on June 22, 2015

I work in environmental/climate change advocacy. If you want to work on climate change, I can recommend getting involved with the Sierra Club in your community (or in MD/VA). I used to work for them and they have an amazing volunteer program (they'll train you to do anything from phonebanking for one evening to organizing local events to running a chapter). Even more relevently, their Beyond Coal campaign is doing some of the most effective work to fight climate change on the local level.

The recommendation for the Citizen's Climate Lobby is good too, though that may be less effective being in DC.
posted by lunasol at 6:47 PM on June 22, 2015

Fiddling about with little details won't help much. You want "high-value" things you could get 5-15% of the population to do?

1. Go to GiveWell and choose your poison. On your own, you suck at doing what needs to be done. Fund organizations of people who do not suck at doing what needs to be done.

2. Walk or cycle or ride public transportation as much as possible. Living where you need a car is not an excuse for always using a car, not in the long run. The average American (probably you) moves about a dozen times. Next time you move, move to where you don't need a car. Always plan car-free living into your home purchase or rental decisions. And don't fly.

3. Cut animal products out of your life as much as possible. Meat, fish, dairy, eggs, leather, wool. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. If you can't be vegetarian 100 percent of the time, you can be vegetarian 50 percent of the time. Maybe lunch = vegan for you from now on. You don't have to have animal parts and secretions in every meal.

4. Stop buying products to replace products that aren't broken. Use your knives and forks until they are no longer functional knives and forks, or until you somehow lose them (shit happens), not simply until you don't like them anymore. Wear clothes until they are unwearable, not simply until the clothes manufacturers tell you there are cooler clothes to buy. Use your phone until it is broken, not simply until the next model comes out.
posted by pracowity at 2:50 AM on June 23, 2015

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