Taking your message to the world – English for Activists

This week, I am breaking from my normal Business English blog to talk about something really close to my heart: grassroots activism.

Most people don’t know about my passion for this. But for most of my life, I have volunteered to effect change at a grassroots level. Professionally, almost all of my work has been for non-profits and universities. Maybe I’m just an old hippie, but I genuinely believe that if you aren’t part of the solution, you might be part of the problem. And, as we have seen from the protests this week, something that started as a local issue spread not only through the US but around the world in a matter of days.

Of course, the ongoing saga of coronavirus also has people talking about what the world should look like when everything goes back to “normal” (whatever that is).  New technologies, environmental protections, educational reform, social justice – changes we need to start thinking and talking about now.

But what people are also talking about is how they feel powerless to make these changes. And this is what I want to address here.

In a recent virtual happy hour, several people complained about the general state of the world and how everything remains the same – no matter what you do. When I suggested that they write to their elected officials about these issues, they laughed.

“Yeah, right. Who does that?”

Well. I do. All the time.

My friends were shocked. Surely, no one actually reads these letters or emails, and even if they did – would they care?

Of course they care. Politicians must be responsive to the needs of the people they represent or the people will vote them out of office. It’s as simple as that.

If you don’t know who your elected officials are, do an internet search. Usually, all you need to do is put in your postcode.

Once you find your elected representative, write to them. In your email, very politely state your name, the problem, what you want to be changed, and why. If you don’t hear back from them after a few weeks, call! The key is to be polite but persistent.

If there are enough people who think the same way as you do, start a petition and deliver it to their offices. Make sure that you check the rules in your area regarding petitions – otherwise, you may be collecting signatures that won’t count. For example, in most places, the person signing the petition usually needs to be older than 18 and must live in that area/country. They can also only sign once. Check with your jurisdiction to see what is needed.

Many politicians also hold office hours for constituents who want to talk about policy issues or problems. You normally need an appointment, and you will probably speak with their aide. But that’s OK, too. The goal here is to make the office aware of the issue and open a dialogue to fix the problem.

The important thing to remember is that these are very busy people. Unless they invite you for a long chat, do not spend the time showing them photos of your children and your award-winning roses. Get to down to business quickly by stating the problem and what you would like to see done about it.

It is also important to decide which level of elected official should handle the problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people complain about parking issues and trash collection to a member of the US Senate. A politician on the national level cannot do anything about illegal parking. Instead, these types of issues should go to members of your local or city council.

Writing to your elected officials is just one way to effect change. You can hold an event, raise funds, or volunteer – the list goes on.

The world has a lot of really big problems right now. And if we sit back and say, “Well, there’s nothing we can do,” the problems will only get bigger.

You can effect change. Now is the time to take your message to the world.

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to talk about these issues in greater depth. I am also developing a free course specifically to help people understand the world of non-profits and activism. I’ll let you know what it’s finished. I am also available to answer any and all of your questions – either about activism or English in general – so send them to me via my website. I’d love to hear from you.

As always, stay safe wherever you are!