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How to Create Social Change

By Cathy Visser, Dietitian & South Sound Food System Member
Senior News, January 2020

This article by Cathy Visser, reprinted with her permission, was written about Lynn Fitz-Hugh’s December 5th talk, “How Does Social Change Really Happen?”  at Traditions Cafe. Lynn-Fitz Hugh is TCAT’s Community Engagement Director.

I attended a talk about social change the other night at a local café. The presenter was well schooled on the history and principals of effective social change. I learned that non-violent methods are faster and more effective than violent methods for changing outdated policies and oppressive governments. Marching in the streets is one way to get attention, but using a variety of tactics is necessary to be effective. Historically, social movements like women’s suffrage, civil rights, and those fighting for gay marriage employed product boycotts, hunger strikes, litigation, and “doing the illegal act” like women voting and gay people marrying before it was legal – all non-violent acts that lead to social change.

One of the more memorable pieces of information shared was that it only takes 3.5% of the population to act in a social movement to shift policy and sway government. While the Women’s March on January 21, 2017 drew over 4 million people nationwide, marchers only represented 1% of the population.

When the conversation turned to what we as individuals can do today to make the social changes we wish to see, the answers were plentiful. The hardest thing to decide is which cause to address and which local group to join. Someone suggested pick an issue that you feel passionately about and join the group working on that issue.

As a nutrition educator, gardener, and avid cook, my passion lies in the impact that our food choices have on personal health, community, and environment. Through involvement with the Thurston County Food Bank, Thurston County Climate Action Team, South Sound Food System network, Senior Services for South Sound, and other local organizations, I have learned about the environmental impact of wasted food. It blows my mind that up to 40% of the food we grow in the U.S. ends up in the landfill where it degrades anaerobically and releases greenhouse gas  pollution that is one of the top three causes of climate change. To address food waste, I have helped with grocery rescue efforts and have taught people about how to waste less food in the community and in their homes.

If you’re not sure about your passion, it is okay to dive in and learn more about the issues. Here’s a list of local contacts for organizations that are hell bent on making social change. Don’t be afraid to join in.

I’ve also included references from the social change lecture that are worth checking out.

Local Social Change Organizations:

Other Resources:

  • Drawdown by Paul Hawken
  • Handbook for Non-Violent Campaigns, 2nd Edition
  • Towards a Living Revolution by George Lakey
  • Why Civil Resistance Works by Erica Chenoweth
  • The movie: A Force More Powerful