Opinion || Stop blaming politicians, start getting active

Sometimes, making ripples can start a wave.

Having worked most of my professional life with community organisations, I know that’s where real change starts.

Movements are called that for a reason, because they are driven by communities of interest all pushing in the same direction. And it’s almost always just one or two people who spark them.

Many wrongly assume it’s just the rich and politically powerful who call the shots.

I know people are sick of politicians and powerbrokers and the games they play. I know many of us feel despair and disgust at the current state of politics.

But while there are no simple solutions to the challenges facing our society, the fact is that getting involved and getting active is the only way things will change.

Too many of us turn away from the bitter taste of politics and are left to just grumble about the things that bother us, convincing ourselves that nothing we do will make any difference.

But try telling that to teens Milou Albrecht and Harriet O'Shea Carre, both 14, from Castlemaine in central Victoria.

The pair – inspired themselves by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg – sparked a wave of protest by inviting Australian kids to join their “Strike 4 Climate Action”, which saw cities overflowing with students – also mostly girls – calling for policy action.

With clever slogans on placards such as “Procrastinating is our job not yours” #ClimateStrike trended its way to the top of news bulletins.

And the campaign isn’t going to stop. Students are going global with this fight and deploying an arsenal of social media savvy.

From Canberra to the farming communities crippled by drought, climate change is an issue we’ve got to tackle. And walking away isn’t going to help.

The students have instinctively shown what I’ve seen before.

If the existing structures aren’t working for you, then it’s up to people to join a movement, or start something themselves.

Time and again, I’ve witnessed the fact that people have more power than they realise.

Rosie Batty became Australian of the Year for using her voice to address the family violence crisis.

Florida teen Emma Gonzalez started a national campaign after surviving a high-school shooting that killed 17 others.

There are thousands more out there, pushing back against the bad and the corrupt, using social media to engage and get others involved.

The #MeToo movement began with one person, then spread from one to another, like an infection of change.

Of course, a movement must have substance. There needs to be enough people who are concerned, who’ve experienced the same thing, and who want things to be better, such as with the marriage equality campaign.

And there needs to be a leader, or leadership group – a person or persons prepared to speak out, to complain, or find themselves realising: “I’ve had enough. I have to do something.”

If you’re starting or part of a movement, you might be amazed at who else gets on board. But a warning: be prepared to be buying into trouble for your efforts. That’s politics. It is the price than needs to be paid, because the only way to fix systemic issues that trouble us is to get involved.

Of course, just because politics has always been combative doesn’t mean it has to continue that way. That’s why I would urge far more women to stand for politics – whether it’s local, state or federal– so we can make it less blokey, less abusive, less combative.

I’m sure many more women would enter the fray if room was made for them, and if the culture wasn’t so toxic. Those changes could happen tomorrow, if state and federal leaders wanted.

Nominating for political office is not for everyone though. So for starters why not join the board of a community group that fits your beliefs and values, and have a say in how it’s being run?

You might volunteer, or protest, or lobby, or write letters, or dip into a social media campaign and help the movement you believe in to shift things from the status quo.

Whether you’re passionate about the environment, indigenous rights, animal welfare, foster care or any number of causes, you can channel that feeling into something positive.

There are so many groups with different values and strategies. Some will lobby for systems change, others are focussed on helping survivors.

I say start somewhere. And, if you don’t like the group, move on and find another group that you do.

It doesn’t take money, but it does take time and it does take passion. And most of us have a little of both to spare.

Denis Moriarty is group managing director of OurCommunity.com.au, a social enterprise helping the country’s 600,000 not-for-profits