Changing the future means learning from the past

by jim on May 19, 2015

outragezzOne of the most common of all sins among new activists is thinking they're inventing resistance for the first time. There's no faith like that of the newly converted and it's often easy to believe you are somewhere, doing something, no one has gone or done before. As you read more about past fights however, you realize there is truly nothing new under the sun. And if you're smart in your realization, you even begin to learn lessons from those past fights. That's the thesis of environmental reporter Peter Dykstra's May 6th piece in Enasia.

Although aimed at climate change activists, Dykstra's advice could apply to anyone doing social change work. He uses a number of different historical stepping stones to draw a map of the current situation, including:

The abolition movement, which despite its righteous motives, and, sometimes self-righteous leadership, wasn't able to accomplish its goal with a devastating civil war.

The marriage equality movement that owes its accelerated success to the personalization of the issue as well as to its libertarian nature.

The built-in motivating self interest of the anti-Vietnam War movement, driving millions of draft aged men into the streets.

The visceral impact of the images from the front lines of the Civil Rights movement.

The successful economic divestment strategies fueling much of the anti-Aparthied movement.

Finally, Dykstra concludes that the environmental movement can learn from itself. Maybe with the end of what will go down as the worst state Legislative Session in Texas history, we all need to remind ourselves that we HAVE overcome before and can, with any luck, learn to do so again from the example of our predecessors.

Environmental advocates don’t have an immaculate track record, but they have a strong one. A legacy of being right on DDT, clean air and water, species and habitat loss, ozone protection, and toxic waste disposal has earned some bragging rights. Enviros have battled indifference, inertia and financial self-interest to expose the threats from clear-cut logging, poaching, rapacious mining methods, overfishing and dozens more issues in a way that adds up to a powerful claim to both credibility and moral authority.

So go ahead and brag. History shows us that when governments listen to environmental advocates, the economy doesn’t collapse, our way of life isn’t ruined, and the terrorists don’t win. History shows that what does happen is that we grow healthier, safer and stronger.





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