What can you do? Global citizenship and social change

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?

Charlotte Kunkel

Charlotte Kunkel

Charlotte Kunkel has been a professor in the sociology department since 1995, focusing on the topics of gender, stratification and visual sociology. She also serves as the director of Luther's Women and Gender Studies program. Some of her course topics include Introduction to Sociology; Constructs of Race and Racialization; Social Psychology; and Seminar: Gender, Globalization, and Development. She is active in community anti-bias education and has been a long time volunteer for diversity education and the elimination of domestic violence. Her current research interests include the intersections of immigration and systems of race and gender stratification. Check out one of her current projects: The Stories webpage.

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  • November 23 2015 at 10:43 am
    You're right, Char. The way to solve the world's problems is not to try to "fix" "them" or make "them" more like "us." We should not travel the world, but instead use the World-Traveling Method. We need to realize that every culture, every individual, has unique and valid experiences that must be understood and respected within their own contexts. This does not mean, though, that we should accept the inequalities around the world. We need to act as if all people matter. While this goal will never be achieved until the majority of people are on board with the idea of provisioning, the process of change can start with the individual. Advocating for the rights of all races, classes, sexualities, etc. can start with an individual, then spread to even more individuals until it becomes a collective action. If enough individuals act according to their beliefs and simultaneously spread their ideas to others, significant change can be made. *Thumbs up*
  • November 23 2015 at 8:25 pm
    I think one place to start is to find something you are passionate about. For some people that might me a world without oil or for other it could be riding public transportation with people of a group targeted by violence. Once someone finds what they truly want to change or make better it is a lot easier to become engaged in changing the world and being engaged. Similar to what Avery said the world traveling method is important because it's not enough to take action for what you believe in, you also need to make sure you take the time to understand your own experiences and your own history in conjunction with that of others. It is important to be open to the perspectives of others without making them the "other." Using the world-travelling method can take that passion for one thing and open the door to other things that you could be passionate about changing; especially when you realize that everything is interconnected.
  • November 24 2015 at 4:51 am
    Wow! i can put whatever i want here? COOL!!!

    i think we forget sometimes that being "well-travelled" is in no way related to being "well-informed". You're absolutely right that we don't need to physically travel anywhere to start making a difference (the changes we really need are magnificent, sweeping shifts in societal idiologies, and those have to start at home anyway).

    i think what we (the World) need, more than anything, is not a "Plan". What we need is the contagious spread of a genuine interest in figuring out what isn't working in the world, and an uncompromising desire to build a better world for all people. Once we have those things, i think the solutions to our problems will just come naturally.

    But, sadly, this is not a modern issue. Knights of Faith; Renaissance architecture; Reign of Terror. Typing any of these into a search engine would reveal just how long humanity has dealt with these issues (spoiler alert: it's been a very long time). So, if we are going to be the ones to set history on the right course, we need to remain vigilant.

  • November 24 2015 at 9:28 am
    Julie Shockey Trytten, blog administrator

    We do have a Blog Commenting Policy that asks folks to share first and last names when signing on to comment (so people can't hide behind the mask of anonymity). I don't like deleting posts-so to the person who commented above-for future reference please include your name.

  • December 3 2015 at 6:29 pm
    Connie Plaehn
    great article, Char! It was great getting to meet you in November!