“Living justly” can be such a grand idea that we can’t begin to know how to approach it. Over the last few weeks, there have been calls to protest, to learn, to donate, and to talk to our families and friends to build a more just society. All those things are good and necessary. Keep doing those things. And, what else can we do? We can start by taking baby steps to reducing harm.
Violence against others, ourselves and the planet is deeply embedded into our society’s operating; it is no easy task to move from having a negative impact to having a positive one. Just transition is a framework for moving from an extractive, exploitative economy to a regenerative, cooperative one.
We need to divest from systematized oppression: fossil fuels, the prison industrial complex1, the military industrial complex2, big banks, giant corporations, and capitalism as we have known it. We also need to invest in common benefit through community-led programs and initiatives, mutual aid, food sovereignty, green energy, restorative justice, and truly democratic systems.
- Decrease your footprint.
- Choose greener energy options from your public utility. If you own your home, consider greywater recycling systems and solar panels.
- Fly and drive less. Choose biking/walking/public transit/carpooling when available.
- Buy carbon offsets. Do your research when purchasing. Look for certifications from groups like The Gold Standard and Green-e.
- Grow your own food in your yard and/or join a community garden. Eat less meat. Get produce from your local farmers market, join a CSA, or choose produce that’s grown near where you live.
- Find out whose land you live on (*hint: it’s not yours*), and contribute to the thriving of the peoples on whose unceded territory you dwell by paying land tax. (link if you live in the East Bay, CA.)
- Spend $$ mindfully.
- Support an independent press! Pay for your local and national news.
- Find alternatives to Amazon (and other big box stores, like Walmart, Target, etc.).
- Buy from local Queer/Trans/Black/Indigenous POC-owned stores like markets, pharmacies, cafes, and bookstores. Shop at independent bookstores online and black-owned independent bookstores online.
- Shop sustainable. Boycott products made with prison labor. Boycott companies that support Israel’s oppression of Palestine. Petroleum can be found in MANY products (some identifiers). Plastics, a common petroleum product, are less recyclable than cans or glass.
- Questions to ask when shopping: What are the things you buy? Where do they come from? How are they made? What are they packaged in?
- Reduce & reuse.
- Join your local buy-nothing group to be part of your neighborhood sharing economy.
- Consider borrowing or renting before purchasing your own.
- Check thrift stores and online resale apps for local listings.
- Share or gift items before putting them in the garbage.
These can apply to yourself as an individual, to the company you work for, and/or to the church you attend.
- Invest in the local community now and through your retirement.
- Bank locally. Switch to your local credit union or community bank. They often have better banking options and competitive credit card options as compared to big banks.
- Give intentionally. Guidestar and Charity Navigator can be helpful, but they are not all-inclusive, and you may miss many smaller organizations doing good work if you only rely on them. Increase your impact with company matching. Consider contributing to mutual aid organizing efforts in your area. Not all efforts worth supporting have 501(c)3 status, which means you’ll likely not get a tax deduction, and companies will often not match donations to orgs without 501(c)3 status.
- What is the mission of the organization?
- Are the staff and board from inside or outside the community?
- What is the organization’s relationship to the community it serves?
- How does the organization redistribute wealth and so empower the community to develop their own ideas and solutions to the challenges they face in their particular context?
- Are there conditions to the aid/services that the organization offers?
- In what ways does the organization perpetuate the white savior complex with their “help”?
- Commit to safety. Build capacity for responding to any issues without calling the police. Acknowledge white supremacist culture is default.
- How are we dismantling racism?
- Do women, POCs, LGBTQIA+ identifying folks feel safe (occupying space, speaking in meetings, sharing ideas, etc.)?
- Commit to accessibility. True accessibility welcomes a spectrum of physical/mental/emotional abilities and capacities as well as differing identities and cultures.
- How easily can someone who has mobility challenges, hearing or vision impairment navigate the space, both physical and virtual?
- Are there gender-neutral bathrooms?
- Do we accommodate dietary restrictions?
- Commit to greener practices. Purchase renewable energy. Buy carbon offsets. Contribute to the thriving of the peoples on whose unceded land the company/church sits. Audit practices regularly for ways to reduce footprint, e.g., energy consumption, waste production, supply origin and usage, etc.
- Commit to equity and transparency. Assess on a routine basis. Be open about decision making processes. Normalize sharing wage and benefit information.
- Is everyone paid a living wage, including temp and contract workers?
- How are we closing the wage gap?
- Do our staff and leadership demographics reflect the community?
- Do we require job applicants to check the box if they have a criminal record?
- Are our hiring and advancement policies and practices equitable?
- What about our family leave policy?
- Commit to empowerment and common benefit. Reevaluate from time to time.
- Is our office/church culture empowering? Democratic? Does everyone agree?
- What happens when someone makes a mistake? When the organization encounters improvement opportunities?
- How are we supporting the development of each staff member?
- How are we benefiting the communities in which we operate?
- How are we perpetuating systems of injustice?
- Partner wisely. The Better Business Bureau can be a helpful tool, but it may not provide all desired information, nor does it cover all businesses.
- Who are our vendors?
- Do they treat their workers fairly?
- Pay them a living wage?
- How do they support systems of injustice?
- How do they benefit the communities in which they operate?
- Is there an alternate vendor with more just practices?
- If not, can we leverage our partnership to advocate for change?
Advocate for Cultural Shift in Society
- Connect with your neighbors. This is where myriad opportunities lie: for learning in a group, for hard conversations, for contributing to local mutual aid efforts, for participating in protests…
- Get to know your neighbors. Join neighborhood groups.
- Follow, connect with, join local organizations doing justice work in your area
- Follow, connect with, join coalitions and broader-based justice and solidarity movements around the world.
- Engage civically.
- Vote. Host ballot parties to mobilize friends to vote. Volunteer to monitor the polls to ensure voting rights are protected.
- Get to know your city council people, state senators and assembly person, federal senators and congressperson.
- Be present. Attend city meetings, hearings, forums on budget, schools, policing, development, etc. Get to know the felt needs of the people in your community (e.g., policing in schools, food deserts, gentrification, homelessness, lack of access to healthcare, disenfranchisement).
- Advocate for change in your city, state, and nation. Join a campaign. Comment during public meetings. Phone calls to your representatives are more effective than canned emails, but an email is better than nothing.
Shifting cultures and changing systems is hard work. It’s going to take time, deliberate action, and sustained effort as a community. We can, and we will. We can’t afford not to.
Compiled with inspiration from Movement Generation, suggestions and conversations with different members of PAAC, and resources from the broader activist community.
- The prison industrial complex includes, but is not limited to, policing, private prisons and detention centers. ↩
- The military industrial complex includes, but is not limited to, military support of and arms deals with oppressive regimes, like Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and the Philippine government’s oppression of its people. ↩