Changing the World (part n…)

A couple of weeks ago, Francesca’s post on “how do we change the world?” prompted me to write about something I thought we needed to change – our approach to climate change.

This in turn prompted others to respond (and challenge…) [I particularly liked a blog someone linked to about changing the world by dancing – I can’t find the link now!].

Then we saw the Trafigura/Carter-Ruck gagging order farce, and the way the twitterverse and blogosphere reacted. (Joanne Jacobs has pulled together lots of different reports and responses to Trafigura here.)

Days later, Jan Moir’s careless comments following Stephen Gately’s untimely death prompted another flood of tweets and postings, resulting in the largest ever number of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission.

These may be small events in the greater scheme of things: the planet hasn’t been saved; no war has been stopped; no lives have been saved1. But people and organisations have been shown that they have to be accountable.

People of all political flavours have new tools available to make their voices heard, and we are finding out how to use them most effectively.

This is important. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. It was hard to have an impact, but people tried – including me. For me, politics is always personal. In the 60s and 70s, people went on marches – I went on many to make my voice felt (Rock Against Racism I remember best). The food we bought sent messages – neither South African wine nor apples, citrus from neither Franco’s Spain nor Israel. There were lots of boycotts (Barclays Bank sticks in my mind, which was easy – I didn’t have a Barclays account!).

These are all small things, but buying food became a political act. I think it still is – I believe that buying organic food sends a message (though it worries me that the message might be that I am middle class and can afford to buy organic food…). Buying Fairtrade products is saying that “this is important” – and many supermarkets have reacted by increasing the range of Fairtrade products they stock.

Lots of small things add up. These things do matter. Hundreds of thousands – perhaps evens millions – of people marching in protest of the Iraqi war may not have been able to change Government policy, but they certainly influenced a lot of other people, and made MPs accountable for their votes in Parliament.

Francesca’s point was that

I’m not doing a lot, and a big part of that is because… it’s not clear how to go about it. I sign petitions, but I don’t go out looking for them – I sign the ones that are tweeted or posted on my friends’ lists. I write Amnesty letters, because Amnesty makes it very easy for me to do it, but nowhere near as many as I ought to. And I also have work and family and friends and I never have a clue when to stop with anything, so quite often I don’t start.

But there is a lot we can do. We can make our voices heard – whatever our views or politics. We can bear witness. We can write, we can hold people and companies to account, we can influence our MPs. Indeed, I can’t think of a time when it was easier to do this.

We have the technology.

In a couple weeks, Amplified’s £1.40 “unconference” aims to

consider the ways social technologies have completely changed the environment for news makers and consumers, and also the changing landscape for politics, democracy and governance

That seems pretty much like what I – and others – have been whining about, so I’ve signed up for it.

Because these things are important – and we can make a difference.

1I can’t help but hope that some people’s lives might be improved by making others aware of homophobia through the scandal created in the wake of Moir’s lazy, nasty comments.

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