What does it mean to be a global citizen? What does it mean to make social change? Students in my classes are struggling with new knowledge about social constructions of capitalism, citizenship, globalization, racism, security, etc. They ask, "What can we do?" My answers are to resist the urge to go "over there" to fight, to fix, or to send money to "save a child," but to question why our immediate impulse is NOT to change within, or to change something in our immediate context. Globalization, privatization and global captialisms are processes that we are implicated in every day. We don't need to travel to be global or to begin change. Travel may even encourage us to consume the "Other" and build our status as privileged "well-traveled" Americans. Becoming global citizens, on the other hand, simply requires that we recognize our interdependence and interconnections. We can change our focus from consumption to provisioning, we can change our habits of individualism to collectivism, and we can change our goals of personal achievement to the common good. We can change our goals of self- improvement to global improvement and change. We can live as if all people matter.
My students often feel disempowered, overwhelmed and intimidated about making social change. "I am only one of billions…" they say. I challenged them to bring examples of collective action to class. They told about earthday.org asking for pledges about daily behavior change. Their goal is to get to a billion acts of green. You can sign up to eat less meat, turn down your water heater or plant a tree . We learned about "I'll ride with you," a campaign in Australia to stop harassment of Muslims riding public transportation. The group "Anonymous" was suggested as an example of internet activism, "Human" was shared as a project that brings us face to face with the Other, making us reflect on our lives. You can view the film and many clips on Youtube.
In addition, we learned about a simulation "game" on the web, WorldWithoutOil.org. Thousands of people created and continue to tell their stories of adaption to an oil crisis. Students learn how social media and alternative reality games can be used for a social purpose. They were inspired to think again about their daily habits and what power they personally have to change the world. Students at Missouri and Yale are acting collectively for institutional change against racism, through hunger strikes, football walkouts and petitions. Even here at Luther the Live In for gender neutral housing brought attention to campus and the Regents for the need to change.
We can indeed make a difference. We are indeed citizens of the world. But we are quite privileged here at Luther, and for many in the United States, to read and study while we sit comfortably in heated classrooms. We can, however, use these privileges of nation, of education, of class to challenge the systems. Live in the borderlands, embrace the contradictions, write letters to the editor, disrupt the dominant narratives, ride bikes, grow gardens instead of lawns, grow vegetables in containers on your decks, lofts and roofs. Vote, read widely and extensively, learn outside the classroom, challenge misinformation, engage your neighbors, ask why and listen. Too often the narrative is about consumption—buy green, buy fair trade or don't buy. What we truly need is to move from narratives of consumption, from a nation of consumers to a conception of citizenship, collective action and interconnectedness.
What can you do?