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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Everything by Ezra: Stop Doing Outreach


This is the first in a series of writings about effective activism, as part of Everything by Ezra. Keep your eye out next month for the coming edition.

In the wake of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I hope that many people are thinking about activism. Activism, the idea that people can and do change the world, is a beautiful thing. We are so lucky, here at the high school, to be surrounded by so much activism with clubs such as the Climate and Food Justice Club, Warriors for Animal Rights, SHARP Warriors, the Queer Action Club and more.

Ultimately, the goal of activism is to create change in the most effective way possible. But I find that oftentimes, people attempt to make change in any way they can, regardless of whether or not it’s the most effective means of doing so. We only have so much time and energy that we can put into creating change, so it is crucial to ensure that the energy we put into activism is spent as effectively as it can be.

I often see, in modern activism, an emphasis on outreach and education toward individual people, which is great. People should be informed, but truth be told, not everyone needs to know what’s going on in order for change to take place.

Take the transition to renewable energy, for example. Essentially every person in the United States uses energy. Very few of them have control over where their energy comes from. Environmentalists spend a lot of time, money and resources educating people about the importance of renewable energy. And that’s awesome until those people realize they are stuck with whatever energy comes from the electrical grid.

Now, let’s imagine that people do have the power to choose how their electricity is sourced. It’s unrealistic to think that we’re going to convince all 341 million people living in America to switch over to renewable energy. Instead, what’s much more realistic is to think we could change the minds of the people who are in charge of where the electricity comes from.

In Brookline, through a municipal program called Brookline Green Electricity, the town offers upwards of 90 percent renewably sourced electricity at a cheaper rate than Eversource, a private power company, offers its standard electricity. As a result, Brookline consumes 42.2 million kilowatt-hours of fully renewable energy each year, enough to power approximately 4,000 homes. It’s an amazing and expanding program.

It was not necessarily created because lots of people in Brookline think that renewable energy is important, rather, it was created because of decisions made by a few specific people in town government. Community support may have been one factor in the decision-making process, but it was not the only one.

So we could spend tons of time and energy teaching lots of individual people just a little bit about the importance of renewable energy, or we could spend that same time and energy educating a few specific stakeholders who ultimately make the decisions. Those stakeholders are the people that activists need to focus on to be effective.

It’s not that individual education isn’t important, it’s that individual education often ends up at the center of activism and campaigns, when it should really be a supplement to the central pressure put on key stakeholders.

The same basic principle is true of any movement and any activism. For example, in the anti-fur movement, activists could spend years trying to convince every American not to buy fur coats, but that’s never going to happen. What they can do instead is convince people who own stores that sell fur to stop selling fur. In the police reform movement, activists could spend decades trying to convince every American that we need police reform, but that too is never going to happen. What would be more effective, is focusing a campaign on the police chiefs and the local legislators who ultimately hold the power to reform the police.

The number of activists in the world is too small. We will never have enough time, energy, or resources to change everything we want to, which is why it’s so important to ensure that what we are doing is effective and thought out. We don’t need to convince everyone in the world that change is important. We just need to convince the people who hold the decision-making power.

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