“The power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power.” ~ Wael Ghonim
Yesterday, I woke up at seven to take my habitual morning walk.
As I walked along the lane with rich foliage and growth, I took note of one of my neighbours, an elderly man in his eighties bent over his driveway, picking up wayward twigs that had fallen from a majestic plane tree. On my way back, half an hour later, he was still there, rendering his driveway spotless, while the lane remained scattered with natural debris and wayward rubbish.
This scene made me to wonder: could this represent the ultimate metaphor for what is not working well in wider society? We take care of our own little patch, evading the opportunity to contribute to the bigger picture.
In the midst of the furore that has been unleashed post-Trump victory, I have witnessed the politicization of people who had previously proudly declared themselves apathetic. People clamouring for competent leaders with relevant credentials who can skilfully manage and legislate over labour, immigration and environmental issues so that most of us can sit back and slip into general indifference, while the big matters are neatly delivered into the hands of someone up above to take care of.
We know that the Earth is teetering precipice of climate change. Once we tip, we pass the point of no return. We know that workers’ rights are being eroded thanks to zero hour contracts, that much of the food we eat is un-nourishing and unethical. We know that the diaspora of displaced peoples moving in waves across the world because of war and violence is not a temporary issue. So for those of us who genuinely care, and react in horror to increasing world governments that are preoccupied with greed, xenophobia and irreverence toward diverse peoples and planetary wellbeing, now is the time to respond, personally.
Placing faith and expectation in institutions to fix things is reactionary. Now is the time to realise that true transformation must be grassroots, happening at the level of those standing with two feet on the Earth, who care about the future of others, of the planet, and its diverse expressions of life.
What we need now, and what can empower us, is individual responsibility. It runs somewhat counter-intuitive to the idea that governments and social institutions need to be held accountable for creating living conditions amenable for us not only to survive, but to thrive. Usually, they do, but in the instances they don’t, we need to hold ourselves accountable.
I want to propose something shocking.
We should recognize that we vote in every choice we make, every act we undertake, every word we speak. The way we live our lives is, in truth, a far more powerful exercise in democracy than checking a box on Election Day to decide who will be making decisions on our behalf for the next few years.
More than anything, true and enduring change takes shape in the small, seemingly inconsequential things we do, and the momentary interactions we share with others. These small things are what matter, and lay the sediment for a renewed world.
Here are some suggestions of everyday acts we can carry out to show our personal vote for humanity, for the environment, for social change, for justice and for diversity:
Grow food. Even if it is a bucket of tomatoes on our apartment balconies, or herb pots adorning a windowsill, growing our own food reconnects us with the planet in a critical way. Moreover, it restores some of our autonomy, lost from over-dependence on industrialised food products grown and raised with hormones, pesticides and other chemicals. If growing food is out of the question, support local growers where possible, particularly those who honour spray-free and organic farming practices.
Share what you no longer need or use rarely. Lawnmowers, bicycles, tools: if there are things you can spare so others can use them, sharing enhances feelings of collectivity with others and reduces the need for the over-consumption of goods.
Forge connections. Make time to speak with neighbours, with people in your class or workplace, with homeless people, with new immigrants living in your area. More than anything, emphasis on real social interaction reduces alienation, omnipresent in our atomized world, and makes us feel potent and connected to the people living around us who share our interests or concerns. Set up groups to collaborate on projects or discuss initiatives. A room full of passionate people is a powerful thing.
Live lightly. Buy only what you need, use only what you need. Work less, if you can, and live more. A sustainable approach to living doesn’t mean going without, it means liberating yourself from excessive materialism so that you can live more mindfully and with greater contentment.
In War Talk, the writer and environmentalist Arundhati Roy writes,
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Now is the time to cast our gaze beyond our own driveways, toward matters both meaningful and imperative that require our collective action, to usher that new world in.
Author: Emma Stone
Image: @gypsieraleigh on Instagram
Editor: Sara Kärpänen