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Tips for Young Activists

Are you ready to make a difference in the world? Whether it's a cause you're working for, the need for a new stop sign in the neighborhood, or a school rule that needs to be made (or changed), keep the following tips in mind as you work toward your goal. Just remember: Change is never easy -- but with enthusiasm, imagination, and integrity, it's always possible.

  • Scope out the situation and research your options. Let's assume you're trying to change a school policy or rule -- do any other schools have a similar rule that is working? Is change possible?

  • Find out who's in charge. Who are the decision-makers you'll need to convince? Asking the principal to change a school board policy isn't usually going to produce the results you're looking for. You need to present your case to those who have the power to put your ideas into action.

  • Identify allies. Who would benefit from the change you're working toward? Get their support and help.

  • Work toward a "win-win" situation. Few people enjoy being told they're wrong -- especially if they are. In a confrontation the natural instinct is to dig in your heels and resist change. Whenever possible, work toward a solution that allows the other person to adopt your idea with dignity.

  • Try quiet diplomacy before going "public" with your cause. A phone call or letter can be a good place to start. It could be that the only reason your idea hasn't been adopted is because no one has ever asked or thought of it before.

Going Public

Petitions are an excellent way to attract public support and can have a powerful impact on decision-makers.

Keep yor petition fairly simple and straightforward. In one or two sentences, outline your case and make a "call to action." Example: "The rash of recent traffic accidents at the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue shows this intersection is hazardous. We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the highway department install a stop sign as soon as possible."

Presenting your petition should be a public event. Advise the local media of the date and time you intend to deliver your document. Don't forget to make an appointment with the recipient. Unannounced visits with media in tow are not usually appreciated. Hint: Make photocopies of your petition before you present it. The names and addresses of the signers may be useful if a follow-up is necessary.

Write On!

As effective as petitions are, there's another secret weapon in the activist's tool box: letters. Letters to the editor of newspapers and to elected representatives can work wonders.

Keep your written communication polite and to the point. You may not think highly of the person you're writing to, but name calling -- public or private -- isn't going to win friends and influence people.

A petition with 1,000 names is a single document that can be looked at, shoved into a drawer, and ignored. Five hundred letters arriving over a course of weeks will cause any official to sit up and take notice.

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