You don’t need me to tell you that we live in a very divided country — on a very divided planet, for that matter. But you may need me to tell you that you can still do your part in challenging this reality. It begins with a recognition of what is and what isn’t within your grasp. A big problem with what we call “activism” these days is a lack of perspective.
To hold a march “against” something huge like climate change or racism is not really about garnering results. So, instead, why not think of your work as a form of triage? Rather than its medical definition, triage within your community is about doing work to help those beings (human and non-human):
- Within your reach
- For whom you have the skills to provide meaningful support
You break down and address massive problems by being realistic about what you are capable of offering. This is how you make your efforts count. If you set out to end income inequality, you will quickly become disillusioned. If you create a program of communal cars or food swaps, you’re generating positive outcomes — right there in your own neighborhood.
8 Realistic Ways to Strengthen Your Community
Little Free Libraries
In my neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, NY, there are four Little Free Libraries within walking distance from where I’m typing these words. Little Free Libraries is the world’s largest book-sharing program and you can bring this energy onto your block. Click here to learn more.
It doesn’t get much more fundamental than this. Here’s how the folks at the Food Swap Network explain the process: “A food swap is a recurring event where members of a community share homemade, homegrown, or foraged foods with each other.”
The cost of owning a car is prohibitive. Car-sharing networks blend the concepts of owning a car and public transportation. On a local level, it would involve you and some neighbors sharing a vehicle in a ride-sharing or time-share type of system. The costs are collectivized and thus, exponentially lower than private car ownership.
Your community is made up of more than just your fellow human beings. Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) brings local animal lovers together with a shared mission. Stray and feral cats can be a valuable part of your community as long as they are not breeding. TNR helps such cats by keeping them safe and keeping the population down. Here’s an overview to get you started.
Check on Senior Citizens
There are some members of your community who seem invisible. Before the lockdowns, I was a volunteer “friendly visitor.” This meant I spent time with an elderly person in my neighborhood once a week. As restrictions ease now, this concept is more important than ever. Here’s a sample of one such program. You can volunteer with an existing project or create your own on a micro-level for senior citizens you may know.
Imagine a library where, instead of a book, you check out a drill with a concrete bit. Why should each person overspend on tools when a tool library can keep all of us well-equipped at virtually no cost? Click here to learn the specifics.
Install Bike Racks
To encourage more bike-riding (and less driving), it helps to make being a cyclist a lot easier. Here in the Big Apple, the official program is called CityRacks. Check it out to learn more and get ideas on how to create something similar in your community. More bike racks = more bike riders = fewer cars on the road.
Talk to and Help Homeless People
For nearly five years, I’ve run a program to help homeless women in NYC. My work hasn’t dented systemic issues like patriarchy or poverty. But, consider this: if a homeless woman has a bad toothache, she’s not asking me to start a revolution. She’s simply thrilled if I show up with some Anbesol. Reminder: You can connect with such vulnerable souls and make a difference in their everyday life.
Next Step: Pocket Neighborhoods?
Once a community has connected and been strengthened, larger options suddenly become feasible. For example, the Pocket Neighborhoods movement is gaining momentum. Picture a dozen or so houses and/or apartments clustered around a shared open space. What that space contains is up to the residents but common elements include car-free streets, community gardens, playgrounds, etc. Different designs exist but all of them give the neighbors a shared stake in some common ground. It could be the future.
All of the above are just suggestions. If you let yourself detach from what you’re told is possible, many more ideas will appear. You don’t have to surrender to the mainstream paradigm. You also don’t have to see activism as chanting, marching, and sign-holding. Instead, you can embrace the concept of social triage to not only strengthen your community but also, enrich your life on a daily basis.