A Call to Action by Dina Elhanan
The term “political apathy” is something used in political science to describe a lack of interest towards politics. In our times this looks like a decrease in voting, lack of trust in government processes, lack of participation in protests/activism, and not participating in discourse that has to do with politics or economics. Essentially, a flood of information because of the internet and the clear failures of our political systems are causing people to feel overwhelmed, anxious, dissociative, and so they disconnect from it all in an attempt to self-preserve.
The biggest internet trends that reflect this apathy include things like Doomers and the cottage-core aesthetic. According to this study published in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 56% of the Canadian and 41.5% of the American population noticed an increase in anxiety as a result of the pandemic and the lockdowns that followed . In terms of social media during this time of high anxiety and rising rates of mental illnesses, aesthetic trends such as cottage core have seen a rise in popularity with people trying to return to simpler, less stressful lives in order to cope with the symptoms of anxiety and various other mental illnesses that are exacerbated by things like stressful work environments with little pay and a lack of human interaction. Doomerism on the other hand is the complete depression and “giving up” resulting from the lower and middle classes becoming more aware during the pandemic that their needs and wants are solely decided by a system meant to uphold the financial interest of those richer and/or more privileged than them, putting their needs in lower priority due to factors they mostly cannot control .
Instead of the solution to this apathy being fleeting social media trends that are usually washed in pretty privilege, require a flexible job (usually being an influencer), and are generally hard to achieve for the average person, local activism can be a good antidote for those that feel disenfranchised and helpless in our current political situation (specifically in North America, however this applies to other countries as well). I know a lot of people right now are discouraged and feel helpless with not only the overturn of Roe V. Wade in the US but the general negative sentiments towards the current cost of living, the nature of work, and more).
So what is local activism, how can anyone engage in it, and is it actually an effective thing to do? Local activism is the activity of working to bring political or social changes on a level that is the activist’s own community (whether that be a group of friends, a workplace, a city, or a block of houses). A few examples of this include working with a non-profit that specifically looks to solve a deficiency in your local political system. For me, this was using my software development skills and hardware knowledge to contribute code and work with ToMesh, a non-profit organization looking to connect people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) for free since our local government has overlooked the lack of internet access in lower-income communities in the GTHA making it harder for these communities to find jobs or better education to improve their economic situation. Another example of local activism is community fridges . These fridges are built, decorated, managed, donated to, and used by people that live around the area where the fridges are located all for free in an effort to bridge the gap that still exists in government assistance when it comes to food insecurity and the rising costs of groceries due to inflation . These organizations are present everywhere, and in the areas they aren’t there is always going to be a need for people to bridge these gaps and an opportunity for anyone, including you the reader, to build those bridges.
What about those of us who don’t have the time in our schedules due to work and other obligations like caregiving? Aside from donating to non-profits and possibly offering remote services to some of these organizations there’s also work that can be done within our homes, workplaces, friendships, relationships, and engagement in politics that can be considered local activism. Hearing perspectives from those our political and social systems tend to silence such as Indigenous groups and other minorities is a good start. A really easy and enjoyable way of doing this is engaging in art, entertainment, and literature coming from these communities. Other examples would be creating a culture within our relationships and the workplace that support those with disabilities to be able to have the social, economic, and even physical mobility that everyone else enjoys. Getting our communities to vote, to run for office if they are able, to write to our local politicians about our concerns, to protest, and put political pressure on those who are supposed to be working for our interests are also great ways to perform local activism.
Although it is true as that individuals we do not have as much power and ability to change these systems as corporations, the wealthy, and politicians, local activism makes a direct impact to lessen the issues resulting from the inaction of our politicians and corporations and at the very least helps us feel like we are making a difference instead of being apathetic, anxious, depressed, isolated and most importantly complacent.