September 15, 2014
Today I mailed in my Oregon voter registration form. In doing so, it occurred to me that this will be the first time – ever – that I will vote in the place where I’m actually living.
I registered to vote when I was eighteen, but then went off to college in the fern-dark Pacific Northwest. While at college, I voted in the Presidential elections (and have voted in each one since, of course), but as a Texas voter. And I didn’t pay any attention to the local-to-where-I-was-registered elections and ballots; too busy being caught in “the bubble”.
After college, I went gallivanting off to France. I couldn’t register to vote over there, and since Texas was still (more or less) where I existed as a US citizen, that’s where I got my absentee ballots from. That continued when I was in Boston (both times), since I didn’t expect I’d be living there long enough to make the transfer of voter registration worthwhile. Even when I was living in England, I still kept my Texas registration, because there wasn’t really anywhere else in the US that I could call home enough to have my vote there.
Since I never got British citizenship, I wasn’t able to vote in UK elections despite living there, working there, paying taxes there, etc. (something which rankled regularly).
But now, here I am, settled for at least a while back in Oregon, and with local issues I care about coming up for the vote on November 4th. And now that I’ve sent in my form and therefore will – all being well – be able to vote here in a month and a half… I have a heady mixture of excitement and responsibility swirling in me. (Yes, the thought of being able to vote makes me excitedly happy. I’m a geek.)
The thought that I will actually be able to exercise my most basic democratic right to effect change (or support continuation) where I live is wonderful. Woot!
July 30 2014
A week or so ago, I sent a friend an email asking him if he knew what result/purpose he wants his life to have. His response was, “Man. Mostly I just want the harm:good equation to balance or favor the good side.” Which is an answer, but not what I was looking for. What I meant with my question was how does he hope to achieve that balance or favoring of good? Because it’s something I’m wrestling with, looking forward.
Of course I hope not to do harm. But I want more than that; I want more than a 1:1 good:bad ratio for my life, on balance. I want to be a force for good. I already do what I can in the day-to-day. I try to be conscious in my consumption. I try to cultivate a habit of kindness, and to choose to see the good in people/the world, and to retain optimism.
Still, this isn’t enough. I am dissatisfied. The dissatisfaction arises because I know I could do more. I am not my any means using the full scope of my abilities, either in the day-to-day or the long run. So I am left grappling with how to do more.
I am coming to accept that I may never have a job in the environmental sector. While this is frustrating in some ways, in other ways it might actually be a good thing. With a job, there is always the possibility (probability?) that your passion for what you do will dissipate over time, under the stresses and mundanity of daily work. This is a large part of why I chose not to try to pursue music as a career – I didn’t want to lose my passion for and joy in music under the grind of daily practice and cobbling together a living.
Similarly, it may be that by having to pursue my environmental passions on the side, I am able to invest more, be more efficacious, more passionate. I can be quite persuasive when I am passionate about something, and given that I want to do policy work – essentially, to work to persuade people – being able to retain my passion for my projects should be a boon.
So, finding a way to build regular, fulfilling, useful work in the environmental sector into my life is important. Volunteering is the obvious route, and I’m taking steps in that direction. I may speak with my manager about rearranging my weekly schedule to give me a half-day once a week that I could devote to a regular volunteering gig.
Will even that be enough? I know that I need to pace myself – that I’m talking about the effect of my lifetime – and that if I try to pile too much in, there’s a good chance that I’ll burn out.
And I have no illusions that I am going to change the world – at least, not on a grand scale. That’s okay, though; there are so many people like me around the world, each working on one little bit of the puzzle, and with our powers combined… One person rarely changes the world, but it doesn’t take that many individuals doing their thing to have a demonstrable effect. I am content to focus on my corner of the world, perhaps as large as “regional” scale, but certainly locally.
This only addresses part of what I mean, though. There’s so much that I want to do, both personally and professionally, and I’m struggling with how I can fit even a small portion of it into the time I have left – and how I can learn to be okay with doing only that small portion.
A few can make a difference
July 15, 2014
A week or so ago, I received an email as a supporter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, telling us of an amendment being put forth to the Preserving America’s Transit and Highways Act, which would remove funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program. TAP is “by far the largest dedicated source of funding for trails and biking and walking infrastructure.” The email urged us to contact our Senators, which I did.
Yesterday, I received another email from the RTC, with good news: between the 7,000ish of us who, like me, wrote to our Senators, and the action of 85 groups from the sponsor Senator’s constituency, the amendment has been dropped.
While this is good news in and of itself, it also is heartening to consider in light of what it denotes for personal efficacy.
One of the biggest barriers, it seems to me, to people actually doing anything to try to affect societal issues is the feeling that they can’t have any effect. They’re just one person – what good does can they do?
And it is true: realistically, it is unlikely that any given person is going to be the Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. of his or her cause. BUT…
In the small example above, a relatively-small number of people did make a difference. It only took 7,000 people plus however many signed the letter that the 85 groups put together. Even if that means 10,000 people total… that’s not that many. (The US population as a whole is around 313 million.) We managed to affect federal funding policy, to defend something we care about. And while stopping something from being removed that already exists is less difficult than bringing into existence something that doesn’t, it is still a cause for hope… and a reason to keep trying.
One person may not be able to make any difference on the national scale by themselves. But a relatively small group of individuals can.