ORDINARY CITIZENS IN MALS, ITALY transformed a need for change in their community into enforceable regulations that put them on a path to a pesticide-free future. Dr. Johannes Unterpertinger, the town pharmacist, believes their approach is a model for successful collective actions that individuals and groups everywhere can replicate as they rise up to face the Goliaths in their own communities.
It’s important to define what’s at risk for people, and to make these risks feel real and immediate. Often this means explaining how people may be impacted by harmful practices (from pesticides to factory farms, or even agricultural runoff). In some cases, the threat of declining property values or a potential loss of income may also inspire people to take action.
It’s equally important to stick with facts. Facts are different from beliefs. We all have beliefs — convictions based on religious faith or cultural and personal values — but facts are evidence-based and often the result of scientific research. Of course, people may draw differing opinions or conclusions from the same facts, but it’s worth noting what one former US Senator, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, famously stated: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
People often draw differing opinions or conclusions from the same facts, so whenever possible, invite experts to share their informed opinions with uninformed groups. Diversity is key. Bring in experts from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, including people whose relevant expertise is that they have a similar lived experience as your audience. Personal stories are critical in showing what winning (or losing) looks like.
When the people of Mals took on the misuse of pesticides in their community, they were protected by the precautionary principle, which guides European thinking on cases where corporate responsibility conflicts with public health and environmental concerns. Still, putting such principles to the test necessitates hiring good lawyers, especially those with environmental or legislative experience. Experienced legal counsel is critical for advancing any group’s advocacy goals; change is not a case of winning over hearts and minds. It requires changing the system itself through policy shifts that are enforced by mandatory rules and regulations.
Decide upon your desired outcome, then define what policies and laws would achieve your goals. Instead of leaving it to others, you may have to propose and even write new legislation yourself.
Change often requires a mix of empathy and skillful negotiation. To change abusive farming practices, you may need to convince some percentage of farmers to use environmentally friendly methods. Understanding their challenges, as well as alternative methods they might use to mitigate abusive practices, may provide you with options and the ability to collaborate and compromise to achieve mutual goals.
When compromise is not an option, it still helps to appreciate the thought processes behind using abusive agricultural practices, as well as the potential risk to farmers who may be forced to adopt new methods.
A successful campaign doesn’t focus on a single issue. Instead, it recognizes that people have different needs and interests. These passions — what they hold dear — are different for everyone. Therefore, it’s critical to present your challenges with a broad range of impacts that touch people in multiple ways.
R. Buckminster Fuller was a 20th century American architect and inventor. He was also a disruptor who believed that sometimes an outdated system, when broken, is better replaced than fixed. AirBNB applied that principle to the hotel industry with great success. Uber and Lyft were equally disruptive. Suddenly, taxis in most American cities were an afterthought, while file sharing on the internet made the entire concept of the recording industry, with its CDs and record stores, suddenly obsolete.
Building new models requires first getting educated. The STOP PESTICIDES Activist Toolkit contains a step-by-step process for protecting your community from pesticide misuse. Nobody studies pesticide activism in school, but with the support of those in your community, you too can succeed. Active participation is every citizen’s right. By taking steps to protect yourself and your community, you join the ranks of justice heroes around the world.
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