Australia burns. Indonesia is flooding. The president of the United States is seemingly trying to kickstart another chapter in the Forever War. It’s so easy to feel powerless in this ever-changing world of ours. So here are five ways you can exercise that power to make a difference in the world around you.
1 - Speak Up
How often do you talk to your neighbours? When was the last time you invited them over? Do you know their phone numbers?
Now obviously this can’t be applied to everyone’s situation, but talking to the people in your local community is important. When people are more connected and communal, we can actually support and protect each-other when times get tough. There’s also an educational element to this too. You need to talk to people to understand the ways in which you could help make their lives better and vice versa. There is so much we can learn from each-other, we just have to reach out and try. On that same note, those of us who are more knowledgeable about politics need to talk to people and educate them about the power that they have, and the effect of party policies on them.
But talking isn’t just about learning, it’s also about challenging people’s views. Challenge that uncle who always has something disparaging to say about Muslims, question that cousin who still uses ‘gay’ as an insult. Your family are the people (normally) most likely to listen to you, so start there.
2 - Volunteer
Whilst words are great, actions are powerful as well. By giving your time and energy to the various causes out there, you can make a tangible difference in people’s lives, and that is going to be crucial going forwards.
The great thing about volunteering is that whatever skills or interests you have, there’s something you can do. For example, if you wanted to volunteer with Samaritans to help support people who are struggling with their mental health (and often have limited access to NHS mental health services), then there are multiple options. A more talkative person could answer calls on their helpline, if your talent is writing then you could help with their marketing, or maybe you could volunteer in one of their shops if you have retail experience.
Alternatively, you could look to volunteer in a soup kitchen, or help reduce loneliness in the elderly by spending a few hours a week with them.
There are so many volunteering opportunities available, so if you want to make a difference visit Government website which can direct you opportunities in your area.
Ultimately volunteering is a great way to apply your time and energy to causes that matter.
3 - Take direct action
The past few years have seen a resurgence in big public protests. Whether it’s the Women’s March, the People’s Vote march, or the many protests of Extinction Rebellion, it feels like there’s always someone taking an issue to the streets. So why not be a part of that?
Protesting is a great way to force a particular issue onto the agenda and show the people in power how you feel about their actions. An important thing to remember here is that there is no single way to protest. Whilst taking to the streets is good for some, you might be more inclined to start a petition, or write letters to your local MP. You could also participate in unions (if you have one available to you) to ensure that you and your fellow students/workers can unleash the potential of your collective bargaining power.
4 - Donate
One of the most direct ways you can make a difference is via donations. Invariably, the people working hard on the causes you believe in are struggling for resources and need your help. This is doubly true for the causes and organisations which are far more niche and/or local.
Donations don’t just have to be financial. Food bank usage has been rising sharply over the last few years, so they need food such as cereal, pasta and tinned fruit. You can also give clothes/DVDs/CDs etc. to charity shops if you don’t want them anymore. The list of things you can donate is near endless. And don’t forget one of the most precious things you can donate is your time.
5 - Create
This final action is a bit more abstract, but just as important as the rest. Art has always been a force for change, especially in times of turmoil. European fascism was challenged by the plays of Dario Fo and Franca Rame. The civil rights movement was bolstered by the powerful voice of Nina Simone and the raw words of Audre Lorde. Russian feminism has had Pussy Riot as its soundtrack.
But it’s not necessary for the art to be a sharp and brazen attack on the political establishment. Expressing joy or love in the face of people and systems that hate you is just as audacious and radical. Furthermore, this art can have a unifying effect in your community.
Your art is meaningful and powerful, whatever form it takes.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you look after yourself and the people around you. The world is a tough place, but we have the power to make it better.