How to Make a Difference

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If this past election has motivated you to get out and make a difference in the world, Jeanne Faulkner wants to help you get started. The Registered Nurse and Citizen Advocate for CARE stopped by with insight and helpful tips:

Lots of Portlanders and Americans feel like this election has brought out the worst in us. People are frustrated, angry and discouraged. And now that the protests are starting to flame out they’re worried that nothing’s going to change. They’re right – protests are important for raising awareness and gathering people together but once they’re over, real change only happens through advocacy, activism, volunteerism and direct service. It takes commitment, focus and continuous political pressure and it’s a helluva lot easier and more effective than most people think. The problem is that most people don’t know what to do. They have a vague desire to make a difference, save the world or somehow make change happen but no idea where to start?

I was in that same position 8 or 9 years ago, before I joined up with CARE, the global humanitarian organization that’s working to eradicate global poverty by working through the lives of girls and women. I worked as a labor and delivery nurse and a writer. I went to protests, signed petitions and wrote a lot about feminism, women’s health and healthcare in the U.S., but didn’t really know what else to do. Then I happened to look up at the right moment and realized what I wanted to do to really make a difference. I looked up from my computer when the Today show featured a segment about CARE’s work to reduce maternal mortality in Peru and it really captivated me. I immediately looked up online and sent an email that said, “I’m a nurse and a journalist. How can I help?” That was it and since then, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with my community and my members of congress about CARE’s work, the issues that contribute to extreme poverty and human rights violations and the solutions the U.S. can help find, fund and support and I started right where most Americans are right now – with a vague idea.

Here’s how to turn that idea into activism:

1) Identify your issue – the most effective way to make change happen is to figure out what you want to change.

a. What are you worried about, afraid of, or intrigued by?

b. When you’re reading news or headlines, what do you naturally gravitate to? Stories about Black Lives Matter? Reproductive rights? Gender equity?

c. Pick one or two issues to focus and take action on.

2) Do your homework – Go online and look up organizations that are working in your issue area. Change happens when groups of people raise awareness about an issue, create solutions to make that issue better and then apply pressure and influence those who have the power to put those solutions into action.

3) Join up - If there’s a well-organized, reputable organization that’s already working on the issue you identified, email them and ask how you can help? If there isn’t, start one. Gather your friends, start conversations, create events and get organized.

4) Commit your time and/or your money. Most non-profit and humanitarian organizations need money more than they need untrained volunteers. Some, however, like the Oregon Food Bank and the Humane Society or need actual boots on the ground volunteers. If you’re like many of us right now, we don’t have a lot of cash to donate, but we do have a few minutes or hours we can contribute along with our skills. Maybe you can swing a hammer and you’re worried about homelessness – hook up with Habitat with Humanity or an organization that’s building tiny houses or permanent housing for people currently living on the streets. Maybe you’re a political junkie like me, sign up to become a citizen advocate for an organization that’s making a difference. For me, that’s CARE.

5) Look up at the right moments – Once you make a commitment to provide service, be a volunteer or to advocate for a cause you care about, pay attention to the opportunities that come your way. Don’t be surprised if, once you commit to say for instance, help women in your community to become job-ready, that someone asks you to help with their Dress for Success fundraiser. Don’t be surprised if you notice articles about education and employment opportunities for under-served women. The solutions are out there and if you’re truly ready to make a difference, they opportunities will present themselves.

6) Create your own solutions – Effective advocacy is built on raising awareness and funds and gathering people to apply political pressure that can make change happen. If there isn’t already someone creating the kind of solution you want to engage in, then DIY – create a fundraising and/or awareness raising event and give the money to an organization, project or person you care about. Start a petition on and do whatever it takes to get signatures – write letters, emails, editorials, blogs, posts and tweets. Spread the word, get it signed and then, get our Senators and Congressmen to sponsor it, co-sponsor it and move it through the legislative process to become a law. It takes a lot of work and obviously, the political process isn’t a straight road, but in the end, it’s how we create sustainable change.

7) Be patient – Those of us who’ve been around a while know that progress always moves forward, eventually. It moves slower than we want and it doesn’t always go in the direction we want, but as Martin Luther King said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. Be patient, stay committed and watch history unfold.