Effective activism's a long-haul process, not "save the Earth in 30 days, ask me how." But there are some principles that seem to reoccur for people addressing every kind of challenge from the Gulf Oil spill to inadequate funding for urban schools to how to deal with Afghanistan and Iraq. They give us clues on how to reach out to engage our fellow citizens and help us get past our own barriers, not to mention burnout and disappointment. When I was updating my Soul of a Citizen book on citizen activism, an activist rabbi who was teaching the book at a Florida university suggested I gather together a Ten Commandments for effective citizen engagement. Calling them Commandments seemed presumptuous, but I did draw together ten suggestions that can make engagement more fruitful. Some I've already explored in various Soul of a Citizen excerpts. I'll flesh out others in coming weeks. But pulling them together in one place seemed useful.
Suggestion #1: Start where you are. You don't need to know everything, and you certainly don't need to be perfect.
Suggestion #2: Take things step by step. You set the pace of your engagement. Don't worry about being swallowed up, because you'll determine how much you get involved.
Suggestion #3: Build a supportive community. You can accomplish far more with even a small group of good people than you can alone.
Suggestion #4: Be strategic. Ask what you're trying to accomplish, where you can find allies, and how to best communicate the urgencies you feel.
Suggestion #5: Enlist the uninvolved. They have their own fears and doubts, so they won't participate automatically; you have to work actively to engage them. If you do, there's no telling what they'll go on to achieve.
Suggestion #6: Seek out unlikely allies. The more you widen the circle, the more you'll have a chance of breaking through the entrenched barriers to change.
Suggestion #7: Persevere. Change most often takes time. The longer you continue working, the more you'll accomplish.
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