I want to address an issue raised by some on the philanthropy list, which has emphasized the idea of generating charity and activism at the ground level... bypassing corporations and billionaires and governments and stimulating (instead) vigorous engagement by citizens. This discussion has been cranked up by the aftermath of Katrina.
In view of how generous Americans are in time of crisis, how can the goodness of average people be better leveraged in normal times? How to stimulate our fellow citizens to get involved.
Some of you have heard this before. But it bears repeating and your comments are welcome. Certainly it was worthwhile re-writing the notion in compact form, so that others can efficiently pass it along.
There is something that I have long called “Proxy Power”. (I touted it as long as 15 years ago, in the afterword to EARTH.) It is both kind of obvious and deeply under-considered.
Proxy Power is all about the uniquely convenient, but seldom discussed, ability of a modern person to participate in activism... helping change the world... by the simple expedience of joining some group that is vigorously pursuing that part of your personal agenda. In other words, you add both your membership dues and the impact of your membership number as added momentum behind people who are striving to save the world for you.
Every person’s list of memberships is different. For example, I send money every year, selecting among organizations including:
The Sierra Club, to speak out calmly for sustainable technology and to rationally negotiate compromise long term environmental solutions.
Greenpeace, in order to act as the “bad cops” -- getting corporations etc. to negotiate with the Sierra Club! (I do not always agree with Greenpeace. But that is true of several groups on this list. Proxy power is always a weighing of factors.)
Project Heifer. Direct action: empowering poor local farmers overseas.
Oxfam: Fighting global poverty and feeding the world.
Habitat for Humanity. Direct action: both at home and abroad, providing shelter for the poor. (Badly needed right now.)
The Electronic Freedom Foundation. To resist censorship and fight for open accountability.
The Skeptic Society. Fighting for the Enlightenment.
Project Witness. Direct action: getting video equipment into the hands of pro-freedom elements overseas. (Highly recommended.)
The Planetary Society: Supporting education and space exploration.
Donors Choose: Give directly to public school teachers to fund special projects in the classroom.
And so on...
The examples listed above are just a few of a myriad activist organizations that will take your money, and then go forth to try and save the world for you.. I can send them membership dues, vicariously participate by flipping pages in their magazine, then put the magazine in the public library and get on with my life, knowing I have at least empowered someone else to work in my behalf in a dozen areas.
These are not my only charities or charitable endeavors. I volunteer locally and help the scouts do good deeds. I give blood 4x a year (hoping to earn my 10 gallon hat!) and send cash to the Red Cross etc whenever there’s a crisis. I send lots of signed books to charity auctions and send misc checks out all the time. I am trying to get EON started so that (one can hope) some truly ambitious projects might be implemented by billionaire whim. I even ran my own charity for a while: (Science Fiction helps the world? I formerly sponsored a contest aimed at using new tools - and science fiction - to benefit both teachers and kids. The resource list and concept are still useful! See: http://www.analogsf.com/wow for details. )
But Proxy Power is special. Its modern approach has received far too little attention, especially for the convenience factor, which appears, at surface, to make it seem less passionate and “good” than other types of activism. Indeed, charity supposed to be convenient, is it? Convenience makes charity look less.. well... charitable.
But try to look at the big picture. A million people, each donating $25 to a dozen activist organizations, would add up to $300 million sent to groups whose professional activists may know far better how to use the money, than most of those million passive members. Members who could never find the time or expertise to do much on their own.
Next... finishing on Proxy Power... Meanwhile your thoughts are welcome.
For the larger picture, see: Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy
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