From climate change to the prison industrial complex to the fact that billionaires exist while other people starve, the world's problems can feel overwhelming.
But the truth is that change starts with one small step, and you don't have to quit your day job in order to maximize your impact in the realm of social change. The truth is, if everyone dedicated some time each day to working on social change, the world would probably be a very different place. Here are seven ways you can help the world this week.
1. Practice effective altruism and commit to giving a certain amount (or to raising a certain amount for others)
We all know it's important to give money, but it's really not that simple. Effective altruism asks: How can we use our resources to help others the most? It focuses on researching ways we can all maximize our impact on the world around us. Learn more here.
You can also take a vow to donate a certain percentage of your salary—philosopher Peter Singer, who was influential in creating effective altruism, argues that pledging at least 10% of your annual income is the ethical thing to do. You could also consider giving a form of reparations, particularly if you're living on stolen land. (Start by taking this Reparations Pledge, which provides a solid foundation for that journey).
If you have a sizable amount of wealth or come from privilege, options like the Giving Pledge and Resource Generation can help you redistribute your money to various worthy causes over the long term.
You can also focus your energy on fundraising for organizations that are important to you. Start a crowdfund or a birthday campaign, do peer-to-peer fundraising or direct outreach, or join an organization's fundraising group and start fearlessly asking for money.
2. Sign up to send postcards and phonebank for the 2020 election
It's also important and useful to engage with other local races, so pay attention to those too. Consider making calls and taking action to help flip the Senate, and support local candidates who fight for issues you believe in. Politics sucks, but we really can't sit this one out.
3. Join a climate activism organization
With fires ravaging California and endless hurricanes and storms rocking the globe, the climate crisis is clearly already here. You probably already know that and are deeply concerned. Fortunately, you don't have to reinvent the wheel—new climate change organizations are fighting for radical change at the size and scale we need.
Movements like Sunrise, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the like offer many training opportunities and introductory courses that can help you get started in the work. While it can be intimidating to enter these movements, and while movement work is never easy, a little persistence goes a long way and you will quickly find your place. You may want to protest, write, organize, or just help with administrative tasks, but regardless, now is the time to start.
4. Set aside time to educate yourself and adjust who you're following
We all have gaps in our knowledge when it comes to the realm of social change and social activism, and there's nothing wrong with that. And though a lack of knowledge should never be a barrier to fighting the good fight, it's important and valuable to invest time into learning and gaining skills before or while you're getting involved in social causes—particularly if you're fighting for communities you're not a part of.
Set aside time to learn about complex topics, politicians, or policies you might be unaware of. Actually read articles instead of headlines and explore the nuances of issues. Make a list of the top 3 problems you're concerned about, then order and read a book about each of them (and/or 1 full Wikipedia article). Learn about organizations that exist in your community and attend a town hall. Talk to people already fighting for social change about their approaches. Follow top activists in each field on social media and subscribe to the newsletters of organizations you want to be involved with.
Don't feel like you need to learn everything at once, but you do have the power to grow your knowledge and guide the way you act, and a few little changes go a long way. Programs like 80,000 hours can provide a more structured way of considering how you could make the most difference.
5. Get Trained in De-Escalation, Moderation, and Conflict Resolution
So often, movements and organizations fail not because of flaws in their mission but because of communication issues, and disaster strikes when people provoke and enrage each other instead of de-escalating conflict.
While there's no science to direct de-escalation, there are many ways to learn to practice it in your own life. Check out this free e-book on de-escalation, practice simple tactics like taking ten seconds before responding to someone with anger or listening with your body, take a course on conflict resolution.
This can be a particularly valuable skill to have if you are protesting, when agitators sometimes need to be calmed down; it's also helpful in a scenario where you want to avoid calling the police on someone in crisis.
You might also explore concepts like calling in—which can help if you ever engage in a digital battle or wind up on one side or the other of a callout—and restorative justice circles, which can be incredibly healing whether you're trying to fix an interpersonal relationship, a company struggle, or heal a movement.
6. Use fun extensions like Ecosia, Tab for a Cause, and even Freerice
This is an easy way to make a tiny difference in the world. Download Ecosia as your browser and feel good knowing each search engine is making a contribution towards planting a tree.
The Chrome extension Tab for a Cause makes a donation to a charity every time you open a new page on your browser, and you get to choose where the money goes.
Instead of playing Candy Crush on the train, try a game like Freerice, which donates rice around the world and helps you learn vocabulary.
And instead of spending all your time clicking through Instagram stories that just make you angrier, try downloading an app that contributes to social change. The app CharityMiles matches you with corporate sponsors who donate money for every mile you run or bike. Try the game app Tree Planet, which has planted over 500,000 trees across the world. Download the UN's SharetheMeal, which lets you donate 50 cents when you feel like it to help a child in need.
The app GoodOnYou allows you to view the ethical rankings for over 1,200 fashion brands and helps connect you with sustainable fashion.
The DoSomething app allows you to scroll through a variety of organizations and campaigns that need your help. Budge allows you to challenge your friends to donation competitions. VolunteerMatch helps you find volunteering opportunities near you. And of course, there are always apps like Acts of Kindness which can help you fill your life with more small acts of altruism.
Check out more app suggestions here, or just spend a little time surfing the app store for key terms like "social change," "volunteering," and the like. May as well use all the time you inevitably spend on your phone for some good, right?
7. Get engaged in the fight against prisons
America's prison industrial complex mimics modern slavery. But many groups are fighting tooth and nail against the prison industrial complex, building communities and movements while doing so. Find a whole list of movements to join here and learn more about starting a movement against the prison industrial complex here.
You could volunteer at local prisons (though if you're going to do this it's best to be sure you can make a long-term commitment), donate to a bail fund, or give books to a prison. For longer-term action, though, fighting the system that puts prisoners in jail in the first place is the best bet.
8. Fight against exploitative late capitalism
What do many of these issues have in common? Exploitative late capitalism has pushed us to the brink of climate catastrophe, alienating many of us from our peers, resulting in a widening income gap and many other problems.
There are so many ways to fight against late capitalism, ways that are intimate and rewarding and interconnected. These ways (which fall into four main categories) have been discussed by stoned college students practically forever, but they've also been fought for by generations of workers and activists.
Check out a list of 99 tips here—suggestions include growing your own food, buying food in large quantities and forming a worker's union. Fighting capitalism can be personal, political, communal; it's never done but it begins now. "You need to participate both in political movements for taming capitalism through public policies and in socioeconomic projects of eroding capitalism through the expansion of emancipatory forms of economic activity," writes Erik Olin Wright.
Of course, there's (arguably) no way to really destroy capitalism, and waiting for an eventual revolution is not the move either. So what do we do? We support workers, fight privatization, fight exploitation, and more. We stop visualizing the fight as a linear process with one set goal and think of it instead as a cycle of give and take, rest and revolt.
9. Demand ICE release prisoners in detention camp
ICE has been forcibly sterilizing women, a new whistleblower complaint shows. But the complaints against ICE's human rights abuses in their prison camps have been public for years.
Click here to sign a petition demanding that ICE release all of its prisoners.
10. Tell your own story
Write your own story
Why are you motivated to make change? And what are your personal connections to the issues at hand? Telling your own story—or at least being clear and honest with yourself about it—can provide a lot of clarity and direction in terms of the way you choose to live your life. Be honest about the amount of rest and care you need to give yourself, too.
Many people will never be mobilized to change unless a person directly breaks through to them with a powerful personal story. So if you have a story to tell, share it with the people you know and don't be afraid to be honest. Representation is important, stories are powerful, and if you have a story to tell that could potentially reach and help someone, you should share it.
Don't, however, try to tell other people's stories. In the end, the best thing you can do is just be honest with yourself about where you're starting and focus on what you genuinely love and believe in, and let everything you do connect back to that reason.