I’m here to tell you that
your voice has tremendous power and that you have the ability to create
amazing and progressive change. Many people would like to see change
in our world, but if you’re anything like I was a few years ago,
the idea of being an “activist” may seem a bit large or
outrageous. Sure, you vote (I hope!), but an activist you’re not.
Right? Well, check out some definitions of the word “active”
in Webster’s New World English Dictionary:
• moving about, working, or doing something as opposed to resting
• carrying out some action or process, or able to do so;
• marked by involvement, energy, or action;
• used to describe a volcano that is not extinct and still erupts
The last description is truly the kick-start of many activists’
stories. All it takes is initiative.
My quick evolvement into consumer advocacy began quite by accident,
by just picking up the phone one day. What compelled me was frustration,
but also the desire to inform and offer suggestions. I had just attended
a Dodgers’ ballgame and discovered that their cafeteria was no
longer, thereby eliminating my vegetarian options at the stadium. With
the veggie burritos, burgers and salad bars gone, I found nothing comparable,
which left me with peanuts—literally. So I thought I’d call
the concession manager and let him know that there were many people
like myself at the games, buying little or nothing from the vendors
and opting to either eat before the game or bring their own food. And
that’s what I did. I was nervous, but he was very happy to hear
We forget that as consumers and as constituents, our vendors and our
representatives want to hear from us. They want to satisfy us because
that is their business. Protesting has its place, but my personal style
is focusing on answers and expressing myself with a smile. When we make
our experiences and suggestions known with a tone of appreciation, their
desire to satisfy us will only be stronger. Realizing that your voice
is welcomed makes it easy. So talk, write, inform, and share your suggestions
with the concession manager or food director when the food you’d
prefer to eat isn’t offered, or with your legislators when you
want them to vote yes or no on a piece of legislation. I founded Soy
Happy as a consumer advocacy organization, encouraging people everywhere
to engage in this kind of activism. It has thrived with support and
as a result, we have succeeded in opening doors to vegetarian alternatives
in a wide variety of mainstream venues.
Those of you living in California may have heard about the “Healthy
School Lunch” Resolution (ACR16), up before state legislators
right now, which would mandate that all California schools offer a daily
plant-based lunch option. Assembly Concurrent Resolution 16 is a testament
to grassroots activism. Soy Happy is media and communications coordinator
for this resolution, and I’ve been fortunate in working with two
enthusiastic and active women who have been instrumental in its success.
I’d like to introduce them and share some of their thoughts. Barbara
Gates is the director of Project Healthy Beginnings, the organization
sponsoring ACR16, and she explains how easy it was to get involved.
Assemblyman Joe Nation (D; San Rafael) is the author of ACR16, and his
Senior Aide, Jackie Bowland, explains how this campaign has been a model
of effective grassroots political activism.
We agree with Margaret Mead when she said, “Never doubt that a
small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Barbara Gates, Director, Project Healthy Beginnings
I made the decision to advocate for plant-based
school lunches because it seemed natural as the mother of two vegan
children. It was that simple. I try to help my children to feel accepted
at school, to improve their environment, and be a role model for them.
What started out with a phone call to our nutrition department at the
Cajon Valley Unified School District ended up as a campaign to pass
ACR16. I had no idea we would ever come this far, but in all honesty
I can say it was basically very easy. I went to the capitol, pitched
the idea to select legislators and made some calls for institutional
So much of our life is spent doubting that we as individuals can truly
make a difference, but this experience has changed all that for me.
Every step of the way I was met with more and more support as I witnessed
the tremendous momentum taking hold. It’s a matter of starting—at
the beginning—and being willing to take the journey, which for
me has been one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling of my life.
Some tips from Jackie Bowland, Senior Aide to Assemblyman Joe
Having roughly four years’ experience in state legislative politics,
I’ve had a VIP pass to the ongoing debate between what people
perceive the “political process” to be, and what actually
gets the job done. I think the common perception is that only money
talks in Sacramento and/or Washington. Unfortunately, this has led to
a general laziness on the part of the masses: people don’t vote,
they don’t contact their local elected officials to hold them
accountable, they don’t attend political events or town hall meetings.
Frankly, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the masses aren’t
speaking, but the lobbyists are, how can people possibly expect a different
One of our present measures, ACR16, is, I believe, a perfect model of
what can happen when normal people speak up. This is an entirely constituent-driven
effort, and the success of the measure thus far is attributed to the
amazing grassroots support that has sprung up around the issue of alternative
What would I recommend for effective grassroots politics?
1) Use email. Al Gore created it for a reason. All elected officials
use their email addresses these days and it’s the quickest, simplest
means of communication—we’ve even had classes of 2nd graders
email this office as part of a project implementing computer techniques
with current events. If your six year-old can do it, what’s holding
2) Use form letters—why not?! It makes things easier for everyone
involved. All I have to do is take a brief look at the letter and I
know what it’s pertaining to. All you have to do is sign your
a) One caveat: Sign your name; then write your name with your address
legibly. This is crucial! Some offices have response policies—make
sure they know how to reach you.
3) Encourage everyone you know who’s part of a group, organization,
or company to write a letter of support on letterhead. If you don’t
have letterhead, make some! Organizational support is always viewed
Things to avoid?
1) Addressing a Senator as “Assemblyman.” Know your target
audience! Don’t give away your political naïvety.
2) Name-calling. I shouldn’t even have to elaborate. Even if you
are working against a measure, calling someone a derogatory name does
not reflect favorably on you, and your letter will quickly find its
way to the “round file”—the trash can. This may also
result in a local peace officer knocking on your front door and slapping
you with a restraining order for threatening an elected official (no
3) Misspellings. Use spell check, people!
Good luck and remember: you’re not helping to fix anything by
sitting on the couch.
For more information about ACR16 and Soy Happy, visit www.soyhappy.org/schoolrez.htm.