Last Updated: March 26th, 2019

March is an important month for social justice issues. There are a number of days specially devoted to the international recognition of problems that plague our world. The UN has designated a number of them:

March 8 – International Women’s Day

March 21 – International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

March 22 – World Water Day

March 24 – International Day for the Right to Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and the Dignity of Victims

March 25 – International Day of the Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

According to the UN, the purpose of such days is to observe, promote awareness and honour the victims of discriminatory practices. There’s some evidence to suggest that this works as an awareness-raising strategy. Certainly, there are huge numbers of events that take place across the globe to commemorate these days. There are also some big criticisms of this strategy. Some have argued that it tokenizes large-scale problems by suggesting that we should pay attention to them only on selected days; that it lets people off the hook for the rest of the year. Critics have also argued that they put too much focus on individual responsibility, rather than on pressuring companies and institutions that have created the problems in the first place.

One of the risks of political awareness days is that the energy they need and create is tough to sustain as a year-round approach to combating social problems. The efforts they require, especially for those active in the fight for a more equal, just and ecologically conscious world, are huge. After all the effort of bringing off an event for one of these days, burnout is pretty common. These days are important to understanding international perspectives on how problems like environmental degradation play out in a global context. If we want real, sustainable change, though, then we also have to develop long-term plans to engage social problems on a personal, local level; plans that we can actually put in place for the rest of the year and follow through with. Not like those New Year’s resolutions that we’ve all completely failed at and lost interest in by the 16th of January.

Because we’re a lazy, lazy species, the most sustainable things we do are things that are easy and that we love. There are some really basic things that we can all do every day, or at least, at every opportunity, to continue driving for social change even after the rally’s over:

Read – Constantly educating ourselves on the issues is one of the most important ways we can work for change because it’s the only way to stay current on what’s happening and to understand the complexities. And yeah, it’s great if we all get through Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, but we can also just follow feminist thinkers on Twitter or read sassy blogs. Thanks, Internet!

Ask somebody else’s opinion – People have lots of opinions (although the quality varies…). Probably they have an opinion on social justice issues. Or will have an opinion on the latest piece you’ve just read. Starting conversations is the most grassroots awareness-raising strategy there is, and also the most sure-fire way to see if your own ideas have some merit, or are just mind-flailing nonsense.

Tell somebody your opinion – Especially if there’s a racist, sexist, homophobic or ableist conversation happening around you. Or some tool tells one of those horrible oppressive jokes and then performs a logical dismount trying to explain how telling the joke somehow doesn’t make them oppressive because it’s just supposed to be “funny.” Half the time people just say oppressive stuff because they think nobody will care. This is always a solid opportunity to cowboy up for change.

Talk to the person in charge – Terrible decisions about environmental and human rights issues are made all the time on a corporate and political level. But policy makers are only held accountable if people hold them accountable. Governments and companies only change when they think they have to. Lots of angry emails and phone calls have historically actually worked to make them think they have to.

Do what you love for somebody who needs it – Everybody is good at something, and has something they love to do. There’s a pretty good chance a non-profit organization somewhere could benefit from your passion however often you think you can share it.

Small, daily acts that resist oppression create change just as surely as new laws do, even if it seems like the pace is slow and the scope is really small. Getting into the habit of being personally engaged with issues that matter also means we’re more likely to stand up in a collective way when the opportunity arises. Changing our own habits to include constant awareness makes us better able to tackle unjust institutions and policies because the slow change we’ve enacted on ourselves has become the most sustainable level of being – a new normal.

image: Nico Paix (Creative Commons BY)