Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

June 16, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie,

I wonder if you can help me. I listen to liberal talk radio and I go online to liberal websites, and I've decided that I want to do more than listen and read. I want to be involved; I want to be exposed to the information that these people are, not second-hand through the radio or Internet (though it is very nice to have access to you and those others through such media).

I want to discuss things, I want my opinion to be heard and to matter, I want to know the correct people to ask my questions of, and be "someone" enough to get them answered. I have written the radio stations, some newspapers, and various websites, and no one can tell me what I need to do to get where I want to be.

How does one get into a position to know, and to do, what I want? Are there classes I can take? Is there a "discussion board" somewhere that I don't know about? What do I have to do to be involved - really involved - to know, to learn, to discuss, to work for change?

Is it going to take six years in college before I, myself, little ol' me in Santa Ana, can do something too? Where do I go? Who do I talk to? What do I have to do? I want to join the fight, I want to help. I want a lot, I know, but I don't know how to get it. I wonder if you can help me.

Wanting, Helpless, and Frustrated in OC

Dear Wanting,

First, congratulations, you have just done something. Just writing to Auntie Pinko won't change the world, certainly. But any time you take an action, you're adding to the sum total of actions that can change the world. The more actions you take, the more you contribute to change.

Being an effective change agent is hard work. It requires three things: passion, self-knowledge, and willingness to be uncomfortable. It doesn't require six years of college, but sometimes the educational process can help you focus on your passion, acquire self-knowledge, and understand your own discomfort threshold.

If you want to get involved right now! there are some things you can do. One is focus. You can't change everything; decide on one thing that really matters to you. The smaller and closer that thing is to you, the more effective you can be in changing it. Then go looking for the other people who share your desire to change that thing. Find out what they are doing about it, and offer your help. Show them your passion, by your willingness to make real sacrifices of time and energy and money (if you have it). If you have great ideas, share them - but don't be hurt or offended if others don't immediately adopt them. There may be good reasons; ask and watch and learn.

You can find other people who share your concern in many ways. The Internet is an effective tool. So is investigating, by putting shoe leather to the pavement, to see who is affected by the problem. Talk to them, and find out what they want. Once people know you're interested, others who share your interest will find you.

Study the problem. Remember that there are always people who benefit from any condition, even those conditions that harm people. Learn who benefits, why, and how. You must understand their interests to propose effective change strategies. And resist the temptation to demonize them! As Saul Alinsky said, "The Radical may resort to the sword but when he does he is not filled with hatred against those individuals whom he attacks. He hates these individuals not as persons but as symbols representing ideas or interests which he believes to be inimical to the welfare of the people."

Where to study? Where to get firsthand information? The Internet is one source. You can easily find lots of important information: politicians' voting records, original press releases, annual reports, and so on. You can also find where to look for records and transcripts of public meetings, for registrations of property, deeds, licenses, and so forth. Research is an art and a science, school can help you learn effective research techniques. But so can any sympathetic public librarian. Librarians make fabulous friends and allies! Tell one that you want to learn how to research a subject.

Self-knowledge is essential because you need to know what you're best at. Are you a good writer? Can you speak effectively to groups? Do you have a natural bent for administration or organization? Are you artistic? Can you motivate people? Understanding your own talents and limitations will help you determine the best ways to be involved and the most effective strategies to apply.

To understand the kinds of discomfort that change agents encounter, you would do well to study the lives of other change agents. Americans like Dorothy Day, Saul Alinsky, John L. Lewis, Sojourner Truth, Margaret Sanger, Martin Luther King, Henry George, Peace Pilgrim, Eugene Debs and others provide great examples. Worldwide, individuals like Sun Yat-Sen, Adela Pankhurst, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahatma Ghandi, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Muhammad Yunus, and many others have fascinating stories connected with their efforts at change. Many of these change agents have written very useful books, like Mr. Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, which remains one of the most effective and comprehensive books on change-agentry ever written.

Auntie hopes these bits and pieces of advice can help you put your passion to work in bringing about change, Wanting. Thanks for asking!

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