When neither government nor business serve our needs, we must help each other. Here are some solid things we can do in 2022 to be the change we want to see.
In a story from last April that only came to my attention this morning, herds of feral desert donkeys are digging wells. These donkeys (and horses) were once our culture’s essential workers, but having been automated out of their jobs, many escaped to the wilderness and teamed up to stay alive. From Australia to Mongolia to Nevada, these “ass holes” end up providing water for a wide range of species, including birds, mountain lions, and pioneering wetland trees. In a world severely in need of help, how can you and I be like these wild asses and help each other while improving our communities? What can we do in 2022 to make a difference?
Here are some things we can do in 2022, both individually and in small groups:
1. Vote. The midterms are coming up this year, and no matter what direction you think our country should go, voting is the most entry level method we have to make our voices heard. Vote, but do so knowing that our individual voices are tiny, and ill-willed politicians are organizing to make that voice even smaller through suppression efforts like gerrymandering, purging voter rolls, shortening polling hours, and making it harder to vote absentee. That means it’s even more important to make sure you rock the vote. Get your friends to register if they’re not already, and organize rides on election day. Voting, however, is not enough to make deep, systemic change. That takes real action.
2. Protect. The pandemic is far from over, and experts predict that January will bring a tsunami of new infections and hospitalizations. You already know the drill, but it’s a great time to tighten up your personal defenses. Upgrade your mask, wear it properly, wash your hands, keep your distance, get vaccinated and boosted. Let’s keep each other safe since the government isn’t going to do jack to protect us anymore, and businesses will only do what makes them more money.
3. Conserve. Step back from federal politics for a moment and look around your local area, where you have more of a voice. What traditional resources or lifeways are threatened and need your help? In Montana, it was declining populations of native fish. That’s what inspired Cindy Benson, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, to work with Native Fish Keepers, a nonprofit that’s trying to restore native trout in Flathead Lake while donating thousands of pounds of fish to local food banks every year. What can you do in 2022 to preserve and conserve culturally important resources in your area?
4. Educate. Misinformation (and its more malicious twin, disinformation) is everywhere. People could pass along their mistaken notions through ignorance, or even deliberately attempt to deceive others for personal gain. False “information” poisons our discourse and leads to bad decisions that hurt everyone in the long run. Confirmation bias convinces people to believe assertions they want to hear, whether they’re factual or not. Becoming savvier about sorting through the deluge and sussing out the misleading narratives is practically obligatory in today’s media environment. Anyone can be sucked in by a good story, so keep your guard up!
5. Agitate. Is it that nobody wants to work anymore, or is it that people are sick of being treated like easily-flushable crap? The virus has given many workers the time and inspiration to think hard about what they want from their lives. As recent strikers at John Deere, Kellogg’s, Warrior Met, Heaven Hill, Kaiser Permanente and beyond have taught us, it’s prime time to step up (or sit down) for better pay, working conditions, benefits, and dignity. Watching how easily cracks form in the system when the supply chain stumbles shows us what organized forms of disruption could accomplish. What will workers do in 2022 to seize the moment?
6. Cooperate. Beyond a unionized workplace lies the worker-owned co-operative. Imagine being able to elect your boss (or even make decisions as equals), having a say in what goods and services you and your colleagues produce, someone really listening and acting on it when you have a grievance, and being part-owner of the whole enterprise? Not only are cooperatives a potential way to organize a startup or preserve a business when the owner retires, they’re often more productive than standard business models. If you have (or can create) the opportunity, consider patronizing, taking part or investing in a worker-owned co-op.
7. Cultivate. Maybe you started a ‘Rona garden in 2020, maybe you were too busy being an essential worker. Either way, with the shortages ahead, it’s a great idea to turn any yard or land you have access to into a productive food plot. Food prices are likely to rise this year as disasters and lack of water will make agriculture harder than ever. China is holding on to all it can store to feed their people. The price of fertilizer is through the roof. That said, even saving winter’s wood ashes and autumn’s old spoiled straw bales can add fertility to a garden plot for free (or close to it). Building soil is something you can do in 2022 to increase your family’s resilience in hard times.
8. Perambulate. In Spoorwijk, a neighborhood in The Netherlands, residents gather a few times a year to take a walk around their area. Together, they take note of problems like damaged infrastructure, pollution, safety hazards, and even crooked street signs. Then, they do something about it. Participation is a big part of Dutch culture, and people who take responsibility for fixing their neighborhoods instead of merely complaining or putting up with broken things can make places better for everyone living there. And afterwards, there can be cookies and punch. Who doesn’t like that?
9. Innovate. What can your neighborhood do for itself instead of having to pay someone else to do? In New York, not everyone can access reliable internet service, despite living in a giant city. Service can be spotty, and the cost can be prohibitive, especially for students, low-wage workers, and elders on fixed incomes. Enter NYC Mesh, a nonprofit community initiative that brings affordable Wi-Fi to the people. Right now it serves only about 800 households, but it’s not the only initiative of its kind in the city, either. Run by volunteers for a sliding-scale donation each month, NYC Mesh doesn’t block content or sell your personal data, and stands in opposition to the oligopoly of providers that set the terms of access for most New Yorkers.
10. Collaborate. Justin King, a journalist whose YouTube persona “Beau of the Fifth Column” has over 653,000 subscribers, advocates for forming homegrown community networks. These are born when everyday people who want to make their communities better join together and, well, just do it. King suggests picking projects that are big enough to matter, but small enough to accomplish. Maybe you and a few friends get permission and fix up a local playground. Or hold a fundraiser for a domestic violence shelter. Or set up garden plots for families, or help residents clean up after hurricanes. Eventually word gets out that your group gets things done, and before you know it, you’ve built up some political capital. You become the kind of candidate that people would want to vote for, to create the deep, effective, systemic change people crave.
In 2020, the abrupt arrival of the coronavirus and the economic and social turmoil that followed in its wake highlighted the fault lines in a society that has been crumbling for the last 50 years, more or less. Politics hasn’t worked to fix everything that needs to be fixed. I wouldn’t count on a dog-eat-dog economic system to do so, either. There’s no cavalry riding in to save us, so we’re going to have to save ourselves. Start small, do what moves you, and work locally where you can make a real difference. Building trust and neighborhood networks now will shore up resilience for times when it is really needed. While nobody can do everything, it’s possible that more people can do something. What can you do in 2022 to be the change you want to see in the world?
Let’s go dig some holes!