Communal Spirit: A Story of Change by Annie Leonard


Originally published at ecouterre:


Ever since Annie Leonard learned the true story behind our “stuff”—from bottled water to personal-care products— the sustainability advocate has been on a mission to figure out how shopping better can ease the pressure off our beleaguered planet. But bad shoppers aren’t the source of the problem, she says in The Story of Change, her latest animated short with Free Range Studios, it’s bad policies and bad business practices. In other words, buying green and fair-trade products may be a great place to start, but it’s a terrible place to stop.

“If we actually want to change the world, we can’t talk only about consumers voting with our dollars,” Leonard says in the video. “Real change happens when citizens come together to demand rules that work.”Not that it isn’t important to minimize one’s social and environmental footprints, of course. “Living our values in small ways shows ourselves and others we care,” she says.

If we really want to change the world, however, telling consumers to vote with their dollars isn’t enough. “Real change happens when citizens come together to demand rules that work,” Leonard quips. “After all, would we even know who Gandhi was if he just sewed his own clothes and then sat back waiting for the British to leave India?”

Looking back at Gandhi, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the U.S. civil rights movement, and the environmental victories of the ’70s, Leonard found three things that happened when people get together to push for change.

“First, they share a big idea for how things could be better,” she says. “Not just a little better for a few people, a whole lot better for everyone. And they don’t just tinker around the edges; they go right to the heart of the problem, even when it means changing systems that don’t want to be changed. And that can be scary!”

Second, the people who pushed for these changes didn’t try to do it alone. They worked together until the problem was solved. And finally, she says, these movements succeeded in creating change because they turned their big idea and commitment to work together into action. “We’ve got the big idea and the commitment,” Leonard adds. “We just haven’t turned it all into massive action yet. And this is our only missing piece. So let’s do it.”

Leonard identified six kinds of change-makers: the investigator, the communicator, the builder, the resister, the nurturer, and the networker. Discovering which one you are will help you find your first—or next—step. “I know that changing a whole economic system is a huge challenge,” she says. “It’s not easy to see a clear path from where we are today to where we need to go.”

But the path didn’t start out clear to the groundbreakers before us, either. Get organized, she says, practice those small acts, build your “citizen muscles,” and stay focused on the big idea. And when the time is right, you’ll be ready.





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