Be a Social Advocate

A step-by-step guide to changing things for the better in your town, your country, or the world.

Photo by Alison Gootee

How to Affect a Community Issue

Formulate a plan: First, develop a realistic solution for the problem. For background information and ideas, consult local journalists and public records at city hall. Majora Carter, founder of the nonprofit group Sustainable South Bronx, successfully fought a waste-transfer station planned for her area and then designed a "greenway" project to replace it. "It isn't enough to advocate against something. You have to do something," Carter says.

Create partnerships: Meet with others who are on your side, as well as those who might be won over. Don't rule out people whose motives might differ from yours. The owner of an existing big business, for example, may have as much of a stake in opposing a new superstore as an environmentalist who wants to save the trees it will flatten.

Talk: Determine whom you need to convince of your goal—both decision makers and the people who influence them. Want to reach a city-council member? First win the support of the people who elected him (say, by speaking up at town meetings).

Build awareness: Local newspapers and TV news shows are always looking for personal-interest stories, so call a local channel's news director or the community news reporter at a local paper and describe in detail how the issue affects the community.

Act: Stage a demonstration. Set up an information booth at the local farmers' market. Hand out flyers at bus stops. The more they see and hear you, the more likely local decision makers are to listen.