Issues that Matter
In this world of information overload, it pays to be creative. Don’t rely on email petitions alone to make your case. Don’t think of desperate pleas or angry shouts as the only way to be heard.
Here’s one creative example of how to get people’s attention.
When Smitty was just starting out as an activist, he and a few friends were concerned with how polluted Lake Michigan was. Tests revealed it was incredibly acidic, so much so that it was killing the fish. “We started picking up the dead fish that were dying on the shores of the beaches, and began to take the test results and the dead fish to Congressmen’s office, advocating for the passage of a clean water act,” he says. “We literally made a stink. And as a result of that, people began to understand that there needed to be a change in water pollution laws and that we needed to do something.”
These are the kinds of opportunities that you should be looking for as you start down the path to becoming a community watchdog. According to Smitty, “Those kinds of pranks turned into more thoughtful advocacy, where you end up with studies and scientists going to carry the same message.” And once you’ve been through that process a couple times, decision makers start to take you seriously and think of you as an expert of sorts on your issue and where the community stands.
“Being able to tell a story with a picture is oftentimes the way that people learn messages. A representative image is an incredibly important way to explain the problem and the solution.”
Sure, environmental activism lends itself to this special sort of prop. (Smitty’s gone so far as to bring a dead goat to Congress to enter as evidence of pollution from coal.) But the principle of a visual cue and a compelling story can be applied to almost any issue.
The Workers’ Defense Project has staged actions where 150 construction workers wear t-shirts that say, “Every 2 ½ days, a construction worker dies in Texas.” Or, “I have a 1 in 5 chance of not being paid for my work.” They also lined up 142 work boots and displayed them at their press conference to represent the number of workers that had been killed on the job from unsafe working conditions. The sheer sight of those work boots got people to reflect more deeply on just how many lives were lost.
Here’s another way to think about it. When you’re thinking, what would sway my decision maker? Ponder what might land on the 6 o’clock news, look very compelling, and lead my decision maker to have to field 100 or 1,000 calls on this issue. Read more on this in our Media section.