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Community activism: How small changes can help make a difference

©iStockphoto.com/oonal Author: Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/oonal

Gardening

Community activism: How small changes can help make a difference

I recently came across a Chinese proverb, "it's better to light a fire than curse the darkness." This got me thinking about the accountability of my actions and how they can negatively affect the balance of the natural world and my own personal well-being. I feel guilty if I use the excuse of convenience, when I know that I could be "making a difference" or "being the change."

Can small changes really make a difference?
I know others have lamented on this, wondering, puzzled if their minor efforts are futile against government policies, multinational corporations or even a stubborn friend or relative who seems stuck in their ways. So the pressure to do more, become informed and make small changes becomes a daunting task and begs the question, ‘How do I know if I'm making a difference and does it really matter?'

This issue hit home for me cycling with a group of unabashed young women on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast who were part of a theatre performance about environmental and social justice issues, with The Otesha Project. I felt like we were on fire but couldn't see the trail blazing behind us. How did we know our performance was making an impact?

When I came back to Ontario and started my job at Earth Day Canada, I had put a call out to past winners and finalists of the Hometown Heroes Award Program, asking for an update on what amazing things they'd been up to. These stories are chronicled in Good News Stories of the Day.

I got a phone call back from Wayne, a past finalist, who seemed skeptical about his story being positive. I was taken aback with his statement. How could he not see the positivity in his work? He explained that after 30 years of involvement liberating cyclists in his city, all he could feel was defeat due to current threats from policymakers squashing plans for the sustainable goals that he had lobbied so long for. I could only imagine his frustration. I mean, I had been volunteering for two months, whereas he'd been working tirelessly for 30 years. So where was the positivity? Was any difference being made?

Page 1 of 2 -- Stephanee reflects back on the people who have inspired her to be a concerned citizen on page 2
Looking for progress
I believe that Wayne's efforts to raise awareness and my bike tour's passion for education inspired individuals along the way. I began to realize that grassroots efforts, like promoting cycling in a city, are not going unnoticed. Just because we can't confirm impact, doesn't mean it's not happening.

Thinking back to who inspired me to first get involved and learn about environmental issues, I can place the moment to a high school class where I was assigned a project on air pollution. My mind was boggled with the statistics, difficulties and complexity of this pollution problem. I wanted to do something about it, learn more and create change, and I enrolled in an Environmental Studies program at university to do just that.

Encourage others through activism
The impact activism has on others is difficult to measure and often goes unnoticed (such as my high school teacher who assigned that project to me). The lesson here is to remember that no matter what change you decide to make, how big or how small it may be, chances are your individual choices will rub off on others, leading to a collection of responsible and informed decisions that will make a difference. I would not feel this way if it weren't for those who have crossed my path and inspired me to take action and I believe this rings true for others who are taking strides toward positive change

Maybe you can't see how your choices are influencing others or receive confirmation that your efforts are making a difference. Does it really matter? If I'm taking part in something that's good for me, for future generations and the surrounding environment, I believe in continuing these habits because it is quite simply the right thing to do. At the very least we can let others know how they have influenced a tipping point of inspiration and thank those responsible.

Saying thanks
I want to send out a thank you to my high school teacher, my Otesha friends and people like Wayne, who have inspired me to be the change because quite simply, it has made a difference and has encouraged me (and, hopefully others) to be a concerned citizen, ready to come out of the shadows to light a candle or two.

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Community activism: How small changes can help make a difference

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