Saturday 5 December 2015

Teaching Kids About Grass Roots #Activism & Their Power to Make Change

Teaching my kids about "Grass Roots" Activism.

"I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that. 

Then I realized, I am somebody." 

 Lily Tomlin

That's such a great quote! I think or at least hope that everyone comes to this realization at some point. In the case of my kids I'm a bit more proactive, and want them to realize this earlier rather than later. I believe teaching our children kindness, empathy, tolerance of people, (but not necessary tolerance or acceptance of situations) and courage to take action will lead to a happier life and a better world.

A long time ago, in a community centre far far away...
at playgroup, over coffee, crafts and circle-time a conversation took place between four stay-at-home moms that went something like this:
Kris: "I'm concerned about my kids exposure to pesticides being sprayed on lawns in our neighbourhood. I'm thinking of starting an awareness campaign and putting together information on the health effects of these chemical pesticides, as well as alternative lawn care options. Is anyone else interested in being part of this?"
Cathy, Maureen, and Kirsten: "Yes!"

And so began our band of "Grass Roots Activists"
and the Breathe Deeply (My Lawn Is Pesticide Free) Campaign.

Our goal was two fold: increase awareness about the health effects of chemical pesticides, and compile and share information about effective alternative pest management and lawn care options. Each of us had different skill sets and contributed in different ways. I designed the signs, t-shirts, acted as purchaser/treasurer and applied for grants. Others made signs, researched and wrote pamphlets, and acted as campaign spokesperson and media contact. Together we managed to create 3 pamphlets, each delivered to more than 1500 houses, made and delivered more than 600 signs, distributed more than 100 t-shirts, and successfully applied for 3 different funding grants.

We spoke on the effects of pesticides, a need for a ban, and about lawn care alternatives to our Community Association, at City Council meetings, to local Girl Guides, and set up tables at local events. We were featured on local TV, radio and in newspapers, including The Globe and Mail.

Global and Mail: Tuesday, August 29, 2000
Janis Hass (Special to The Globe and Mail) 
"Outside, a homemade wooden sign on the front lawn sums up her (Kirsten Devenny) philosophy. It reads, "Pesticide Free." ... Over coffee in her living room, Mrs. Devenny discusses the use of pesticides on lawns with her neighbours Kris Wong and Cathy Canton. These stay-at-home moms have banded together to promote pesticide-free lawn care in their leafy Nepean neighbourhood of Crystal Beach. They're concerned about the effects of pesticides on the health of their children..."
(Chemical pesticides for cosmetic purposes on privately owned land were banned in Ontario in 2009.)

So why does this story matter?
From the time my kids were toddlers they've seen their Mom involved in efforts to make their world a better place, giveback or volunteer. They'd ask why I'm doing this, and I'd explain why I thought it was important. All of our kids were there when we met at the playgroup for strategy meetings, or went to the printers for the pamphlets. They saw (and helped) us make more than 600 signs. They helped deliver pamphlets and signs throughout their neighbourhood, and were there for the TV and newspaper interviews. 
They were central to all of this because ultimately it was about them.

I like to think that by setting an example we "plant the seeds" for our kids to grow into critical thinkers and engaged citizens of Canada and the World. I hope through our actions they learned they have a voice, and the power as one individual to bring about change. I think it's imperative youth understand how their local actions can have global impact, 
and that they must be the "somebody to do something".

Technology and Social Media: Tools for Change:
At the time of our Breathe Deeply Campaign smartphones, tablets, wi-fi and apps did not exist, and access to information and the "inter-webs" were not as user friendly as now. Today's technology and social media have been game changers to ones ability to connect, organize, amplify a message and increase awareness. This in turn has increased the potential ability to access people in positions of power and influence. I no longer need to leave my message to the media to interpret, hoping it's edited in a way that accurately conveys my position and that my comments aren't taken out of context. Instead I can initiate dynamic two-way conversations and information sharing, and rather than being reported on, be part of the process as well as the story.

I look at my cell phone and what it can do, and think how exciting, empowering and fascinating it all is. I hope as adults we instill that excitement, feeling of empowerment and fascination in our kids. I have great hopes for them, greener pastures and the future.

Yep, just me Cathy thinking out loud about the grass always being greener regardless of the side I'm on.
(This story was originally posted as part of another post, but I think it's worthy of a stand alone post.) 

Quick shout-out to my husband of 23 years, who has always been supportive of my efforts. Although rarely seen in the forefront it has been his support and help that has made it possible for me to volunteer, be involved and contribute over the years. Not only has he bank rolled many of my efforts, he was (and still is) often left to pick up the slack and do double duty. He's a thinker and problem solver, so when I can't see a way or solution I can always count on him to find one. He is smart kind and generous, making him a perfect role model for our children, even if they don't know it yet. 

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