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How can average citizens take action against the machines of corruption? A look at some things YOU can do to get involved.

“I’m writing to my congressman!”  This phrase, once a serious voice for concern, has long since become a comedic line overused in movies, television, radio, and even cartoons.  From war to poverty to the destruction of the environment to genocide, there certainly is plenty of cause for concern.  But the vast majority of the public remain complacent and docile in the face of these events.  Or so it seems.  Yet despite the mass numbness which is so present amongst millions of the world’s citizens, there remains a growing number of the relatively conscious who genuinely want to take action.  But what to do?  Join a protest and make a bunch of noise that will go relatively un-noticed?  Give some hard-earned money to charities, not really knowing where the money goes?  Sign a petition?  That and a buck will get you a cup of coffee – in some places.  Many of the world’s citizens are legitimately trying, or think they are, by wearing the revolutionary t-shirt or bracelet or by donning an “Impeach Bush for Blowing the Job” bumper sticker.  But what do these statements accomplish?  What difference do they make?  In today’s political arena, where policies are determined and delivered by the elite few, what can the private citizen really do to get involved?

Naturally, the first instinct that comes to mind for many citizens is to find a way to give.  And although viewed by many radical revolutionaries as a pacified, middle class, knee-jerk response, for many people, giving is the only helpful method conceivable to them.  Yet with the multitude of “non-profit” scandals which have come into the public limelight over the past several decades, many potential donors have grown skeptical about opening their wallets to a would-be scam.  Yet there remain a plethora of reputable charities working toward philanthropic and humanitarian causes all around the world.  The Philanthropy Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides training to charities “for the ethical and efficient use of the internet for philanthropic purposes through education and advocacy,” provides tips via its web site for donors to find reputable charities.  The organization states that one should always research a charity by verifying it with a state or government office, or by cross-checking the name with the Better Business Bureau or a local community center.  Other tips include checking the percentage of donations which go directly toward providing the goods or services in need (which should generally be above 60%), keeping records of one’s donations, and obtaining contact information for the charity in question.  So there are methods for ensuring conscientious giving; however, so many people around the world can not afford to make a substantial gift to humanitarian causes, and still, many others want to do more than just writing a check; they want to take action!

There are many fantastic volunteer organizations which have been serving the course of humanity for years.  Naturally, not everyone can quit their jobs and run off to join the Peace Corps, but there are a multitude of volunteer opportunities available much closer than one may think, and not just by passing out sandwiches at the nearest soup kitchen.  Habitat for Humanity International, for example, has been working with volunteers of all races and religions since 1976 to provide decent, safe, and affordable housing to people all around the world.  The non-profit organization invites volunteers of all backgrounds to volunteer their time on a global, national, or local scale to provide housing for homeless, poor, or disaster-stricken families on every corner of the planet.  Habitat for Humanity is just one example of the many opportunities for the average citizen to go out and make a difference.

Yet beyond the philanthropic voices of giving and volunteering, there remains a great deal of injustices to be combated throughout the world.  But how can the average citizen really make a difference?  We’ve all heard of “hitting them where it hurts”… what would happen if everyone in the West boycotted the products of unethical companies until they took real and visible steps toward ending their tyranny on the lands where they manufacture and providing decent wages, safe and healthy working conditions, and medical benefits to all of their workers?  Although this may seem like an overly-utopian ideal, refraining from purchasing those products certainly couldn’t hurt.

Naturally, a worldwide boycott would be difficult to attain, and the demands of such a boycott nearly impossible to enforce.  We have all read labels that boast, “This finished product not tested on animals”; this label, of course, does not guarantee that no animal testing was implemented during the manufacture of the product in question.  Likewise, we have all heard of “clean diamond campaigns,” where organizations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations are backing efforts to end the trade of so-called “conflict diamonds.”  Yet there is no real way for the average citizen to tell where a diamond was really mined, even with a certificate of authenticity.  What if the world simply launched a boycott on diamonds altogether?  What if we, as a collective human psyche, could make the decision to stop placing such infantile fancy around these worthless pieces of compressed carbon?  What then?  But perhaps these are all just pipe dreams; revolution doesn’t stand much of a chance in the face of a Hollywood-backed phenomenon.

No, it seems that no protest or petition or boycott or even signed check can really combat the harsh realities of global injustice.  Is it possible then that capitalism and corporate greed have reached such a high level of domination that the common citizens are over their heads?  Gone are the days of the people storming the Bastille.  The revolution called for today is not one to be fought with torches and pitchforks.  It is a revolution that calls for education, articulate precision, and careful planning.

Perhaps the most important thing the average citizen can do is to keep him or herself informed about global events and encourage others to do the same.  The internet provides vast resources for independent media; journalists such as Amy Goodman, John Pilger, and Patrick Cockburn are just a few of the living, working examples.  Publications such as Democracy Now! and The Independent publish some very interesting pieces which are available to the masses at little to no cost.  Private citizens can help by subscribing to online journals of conscientious media sources, and by forwarding those links to other interested parties.  Most importantly, the average citizen must stop looking at him or herself as “average”; we must take responsibility for the information we digest by sourcing alternative means aside from what is spoon-fed to the public by the mainstream media.  This is the most crucial point in making ourselves more globally aware.  Approximately 80% of US citizens do not own a passport.  This is ludicrous.  In order for global justice to become a reality, more people have to see injustice with their own eyes.  It is easy to hear about 300,000 Sudanese dead or to watch the bodies of Katrina victims floating in the street and to write a check to a so-called “relief effort.”  But how often do we stop to question the underlying causes of such events?  Does our seemingly benevolent philanthropy treat the causes, or just the symptoms?  And, in either case, how would most of us know the difference?  This is now the time to carry the banner, not just through the typical means we see in the mainstream media or on a heart-wrenching tear-jerker of a billboard.  It is time to be creative in our solutions, to find new methods of problem solving, and to start sourcing the real causes for global injustice: by consulting and working in partnership with those in need, instead of just seeing them as numbers on the hand-out line, by consorting with the leaders of destitute communities which we hear about only through the eyes of television pundits, and by constantly, consistently, tirelessly questioning the systems currently in place.  Now is the time when we must all become world travelers, if not in physical presence, then through education by the best means available to us, to see the reality of that which needs to be done, and to take immediate steps toward making it happen.

1st December 2007
What Can You Do?
By Jill Bolstridge