My good friend Jon has been on a bit of a 'Righteous Rant' of late in his blog, and I have to say I pretty much agree with most of what he says.
You can read his stuff here:
It has prompted me, as a Christian, to consider what I can do to respond. I too have been angered by the current government's attitude towards the poor, needy and underprivileged, and am compelled by my faith to do something.
The trouble is, I feel somewhat helpless: It seems politics is no use anymore as it has been reduced to two sides slugging it out against each other over every single issue, without any significant difference in ideology. I am not hugely wealthy so can only give so much to a limited number of causes. My week is taken up with trying to earn a living running a business and spending important time with my family so I feel like I have little time for campaigning or protesting outside City Hall like some people.
Where, indeed, do I start?
Well, just because I have family commitments doesn't mean I should wash my hands of everything. A lot of the worst cases of evil in human history only ever happened because a large amount of people didn't speak up and do something about it. Jesus was a powerful voice for the oppressed and risked his own life and reputation for the less fortunate and marginalised of his time, so his example needs to be followed.
In spite of the prevailing apathy within western society, I believe it is possible to do something and make a difference (even without protesting in the freezing cold with placards and risking pepper spray in the face). So, I've had a think about what I can do about social injustice in my own little way.
Here's my top ten tips for being an armchair activist:
1. Write to your MP
If something is making you angry, write to the person who was elected to represent you. In spite of what I said above I do believe that if people make enough of a noise, politicians will take notice. Too many people don't get that this democracy lark is about more than just voting for the least slimy/obnoxious/irritating candidate every four years. The only way for it to work properly is if people hold their representatives to account on a regular basis. If politicians don't know there's a problem, how can we expect them to do anything about it? It's now easier than ever to lobby lobby MPs, local councillors, AMs, SMPs, MEPs or any other official representative. Websites and organisations like Avaaz, Greenpeace and theyworkforyou.com are great at making it easy to campaign.
2. Talk about it
Social networking has become an integral part of how (most of us) communicate these days. We can reach a wider circle of contacts quicker and easier than ever before. Use Facebook, Twitter, Blogger or YouTube for good by sharing links or posting information and make your views known. Chances are, likeminded people will pass your message down the line. Also why not use old-fashioned face-to-face contact to get things off your chest? It beats wingeing about the latest X-Factor scandal.
3. Give money
This is an easy one, assuming you have some spare money available. Charities are feeling the recession squeeze (source: Guardian) and yet they are the organisations keeping the worst-off in our society clothed, fed and supported. Usually giving is the first thing to go when people start tightening their belts. Of course, one has to feed their family and keep the roof over their heads, but it shouldn't mean giving up on giving altogether. In our family, we believe the Bible is quite clear that God commands us to give, but we don't believe it should be restricted to the often-quoted tithe of 10%. We believe God expects us to give 10% as a minimum. We therefore give 10% of our income to church (our tithe) and in addition give to other charities or individuals we wish to support. This is usually a fixed monthly gift but it doesn't mean we stop there – we try and give ad hoc gifts when and where we can. This is a principle we follow which helps us to ensure we don't neglect our giving duties, but gives us flexibility to respond to need if we can.
4. Research your subject
Don't just trust one website. Check the facts. On more than one occasion, I've researched a claim that's been doing the rounds on the internet and discovered it's either a hoax or complete misinformation. That's the problem with the Internet – it's easy for anyone to write about a subject as if they're some kind of expert. Also, if you get into any kind of heated debate, it's worth knowing your subject in case someone tries to argue you into a corner. Unfortunately, with most issues you can argue and counter-argue until the cows come home but at least with a bit of backing you can give your opponent a run for his money.
5. Support charities in other ways
Okay, maybe a bit too similar to number 3, but there are ways of helping charities other than by donating money. Just buy an extra tin or beans or carton of juice when you're out shopping and donate it to Foodbank which will then distribute the food to people who can't afford to eat. They're also on the lookout for volunteers on an ad hoc basis to help with food collections or sorting in the warehouse, just for a few hours. Helping charities out doesn't necessarily mean an onerous commitment. Also, you could lend your skills – being a videographer I've done some filming for my church, which admittedly isn't directly related to saving the world but I can see how beneficial it would be to a good cause by offering the use of my time and equipment if the opportunity arose.
6. Share the satire
When UC Davis Police officer Lieutenant John Pike decided to pepper spray a group of peaceful protesters in full view a large crowd, his badly-judged delivery of riot-cop justice was quickly picked up by social networking sites and broadcast across the world. Amid the public outcry, he was subsequently disciplined and suspended (although he probably should have been sacked). What soon followed was an internet meme poking fun at the psycho-cop. I think satire can help a message spread as well as take away some of the negative power of the situation, so it's good to share it round. Amidst all the crap, it helps to keep laughing at the world.
7. Buy locally / Fairtrade
I'm not very good at this, I admit, but I think it's obvious that we should do all we can to source purchases locally. This means buying food from local grocers, farmer's markets and small independent shops. The likes of Tesco and Asda have a stranglehold on local suppliers, but by avoiding these mega-retailers hopefully we can loosen their grip slightly. I'm not against big business per se, just as long as their operations don't smother smaller ones (which, unfortunately, they generally do).
8. Change your bank account
A few years ago, we moved all our accounts to the Co-operative Bank. The main difference between the Co-op and most other banks is that the customers are the shareholders. The bank is also committed to being an ethically-run, environmentally-friendly company. Oh yes, and their interest rates are higher than the big banks. It's ironic that Barclays, the bank that screwed us over the most, coasted through the recession without blinking and has the most customers. This is because most people are like sheep. They choose the biggest and most well-known because it's 'safe'. Well, the Co-op is just as safe and transferring accounts is a doddle. Yes, it's a bit of a hassle and something minor may go wrong along the way, but that isn't a good enough reason to not invest in an ethically-motivated business.
9. Write to companies
The one thing that impresses me about most companies is their commitment to customer service. They have vast teams dedicated to resolving complaints and sorting out problems. Of course, we all have stories of incompetent customer service but I think, on the whole, company management teams are not stupid and want a satisfied rather than a disgruntled customer. So, it's worth writing to a company to ask them about their environmental policy or campaign for them to put people before profits.
10. Have a clear out
Easy peasy, this one. Just give your old junk to to charity. They make a bit of money and you have a de-cluttered house - everyone wins!
So, that was my ten top tips. Okay, it's more than just 'how to be an activist'. I guess it's the kind of things we as Christians should be automatically doing – even though many aren't.
I know I'm far from perfect and can't honestly say I'm doing all of these things completely, but it's good to at least have something to work with.
What do you think? What else should we be doing to save the world from total meltdown??
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