Advocacy Potpourri

Why Change Happens – And Why It Doesn’t

In light of Nelson Mandela’s passing, I wanted to share two recent anecdotes from my life that illustrate why needed change does and does not occur.

Last night, I attended a township zoning board meeting to voice my opposition to a proposed zoning change adjacent to my neighborhood. When the meeting began, not a seat was vacant, and for the next two hours, I listened as my neighbors took the podium and described their affection for our neighborhood. More so, how they feared this proposed zoning change would negatively impact our quality of life.

It may sound corny, but as they spoke of mothers jogging through the streets with strollers (we have no sidewalks), kids riding bikes and trick or treating, and dog humans picking up their pooch’s poo, I got a little choked up. I was proud of my neighbors for realizing how special our modest little corner of the world is, and even more proud they took time out of their busy schedules to show up at a municipal meeting to fight something they viewed as a threat to it. As opposed to what we read, see, and hear on a daily basis, it was a great demonstration of what democracy is supposed to be.

In contrast:

I’ve been doing this living donor advocacy thing for five years now. During that time, I’ve developed relationships with a handful of people I rely on for knowledge, corroboration and advice. Publicly however, I’ve always been pretty much on my own. In the last year, a prominent living donor related list-serv was shuttered with next to no advance warning. Many members were shocked, angry and betrayed by this move, but the sponsor of the list-serv was unmoved by their protests*. Anyway, there was some talk of someone else picking up the mantle and relaunching the list-serv. I volunteered my server space but was emphatic that I wouldn’t and couldn’t run it alone. A couple of people agreed to help me out.

Months later (you had to know that was coming, right?), I was approached by one of these folks, asking about the status of the list and had there been a lot of subscribers? I informed her I’d been very busy (training people for the election = $$; acting in a theater production, etc), and that I’d had no time to promote the list (thought it was set up). I also told her I was exhausted from being a five-year, one-woman show and I needed her help.

Her response: Well, if you’re tired, maybe we should drop it.

Instead of saying, “Hey, I believe this is an important project, tell me what I can do”, this person (in essence) said: Oh. Well, if you’re not going to carry the burden then I guess it won’t happen.

This, folks, is why things don’t improve despite people’s proclamations that they should. Because theory and philosophy are easy, but work is dirty, and icky and frankly – work. And gee, don’t I have enough on my plate with my family/job/dog/vacation/bills/etc? I mean, aren’t there people who get *paid* to do that sort of thing???

No. No, there are not. I’ve been here for five years with every cost coming out of my threadbare pocket, and a donation button on the website that no one has bothered to click. A simple request of “Hey, help me get this email list-serv you want so badly off the ground” is met with “Uh, can’t you do that?”

So the next time The System (whatever system) bites you in the ass, ask yourself: When was the last time I did something to actively make the world a better place?

Then roll up your damned sleeves and make it happen.


*When the National Kidney Foundation tries to tell the world they care about living donors, remember this.