Taking the first step toward the possible (like Transit City, for example)

Instead of just dealing with democratic theory today, let’s return to The Art of the Possible, a book I discussed in an earlier post or two. The first chapter, entitled “Where Do You Start? Taking the First Step,” seems like as good a place to begin as any.

“How do you get over that initial feeling of inertia and start to take action?” author Amanda Sussman asks. Local issues, the kind we live with every day, are the best place to start – and one of the best ways to get started is to reframe that issue from a new perspective. “To ‘frame’ an issue,” Sussman says, “means choosing the language to define a political debate and fitting individual issues into a publicly understandable story… How you pose a question largely determines its answer.”

But activism is about ideas, not just the language used to convey them. Before you go to work on an issue, you need to be armed with “substantial ideas based on sound research and thorough analysis” – and if they challenge established ideas or frames of reference, then so much the better, because it will widen the range of options from which decision makers can choose.

Of course, in the real world, there’s also the question of time and energy. Plenty of people out there care about a wide range of local issues, but because of their jobs, commitments and personal lives, they feel like they don’t have the time to make a difference. Meanwhile, I think we’ve all heard protesters angrily written off as spoiled trust-fund kids or lazy welfare cases at one point or another, based solely on the assumption that if you’ve got a job and you’re making a positive contribution to society, then you don’t have time to protest.

Thankfully, life isn’t quite so black and white – and protest is hardly the only option that people have available to them, let alone the best. The fact is that even an hour here and there can make a big difference, especially if a community full of people combines all that individual time and energy toward a specific issue. And if your definition of success is realistic, based on your time and resources, then you can get a great sense of personal fulfillment out of the work you do.

Sussman goes on to note that in this country, “organizing even on a small scale can have a big impact. If you follow one particular issue, you will soon find that after a short while, you will be familiar with the key organizations and individuals that have been active on the topic for years… Although this will certainly not cover everyone in the country who has an opinion on the topic, you can get a good grasp of the landscape and be well informed on the various points of view.”

The rest of the chapter deals with “six practical steps on how to start.” And you know what? Rather than looking at them all now, in one huge post that very few people are likely to read on a Saturday afternoon, I think I might take a look at one step per day, starting tomorrow. That’ll take us up to the end of the week, and then on Saturday I’ll do another weekly democracy post on a related subject.

In fact, just to make it all the more relevant, let’s see if we can’t work through the chapter with the issue of Transit City in mind. Feel free to follow along throughout the week, and share your thoughts in the comments. Hell, we might get a thing or two done along the way.

Posted in Democracy