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Why Isn't 'Activists' a Category in the Yellow Pages?

By Maria Rogers · January 29th, 2003 · Burning Questions
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Wouldn't it be great if people seeking social justice had a reference book to find others who are doing the same?

That's the purpose of Future 500, a book two years in the making. Future 500 lists the grassroots movers and shakers working their causes without big money lobbyists. Included are the groups that started because somebody cared enough about an issue to start organizing.

"When you are tired of the madness on your block, in your community, city or world and you feel like nobody else is fighting the good fight and building the just peace, flip through these pages and find where your talent, resources and passion can fit," the book's introduction says. "This book is all about change -- learning about, documenting, admiring, being, making change."

A glossary offers alternative definitions of phrases, poking fun at the way we've been taught not to take a closer look at the issues defining our society. Consider the definition of "prison industrial complex," for example.

"Prisons are businesses and many are owned and run like corporations," the book says. "To make sure business keeps growing, you gotta have more and more workers, i.e., prisoners, so policy-makers, politicians and the media work with corporations to create laws and conditions that will incarcerate more and more people."

The definition of "welfare deform/reform" offers a similar jolt of reality.

"In 1996 former president Clinton launched 'welfare reform' (now commonly called 'welfare deform'), a system that has forced thousands of families (mostly single women with children) off welfare and into extreme and isolating poverty," the book says.

An essay in Future 500 by William Upski Wimsatt gives hope to those looking for help from today's youth leaders.

"Until recently, there wasn't much of a youth movement," he writes. "During the 1980s and '90s, college students consistently polled as the most conservative segment of the voting public. We were said to be reacting against our absent, divorced parents, rejecting the idealism of the '60s. We were hypnotized by turbo-capitalism, video games and shock TV."

But the youth movement today is growing -- and effective, according to Wimsatt.

"Students have organized more protests on college campuses since 1999 than any period since the 1960s -- and they're winning major victories: living wages, sweatshops, ethnic studies, recruitment and retention of students and faculty of color, Native American mascots, divestment from companies crushing the people of Burma and Tibet, cafeteria companies who own for-profit prisons, oil companies drilling on indigenous lands," he writes.

Cincinnati CopWatch is the only Cincinnati group included in the print edition of Fortune 500. Gavin Leonard, an organizer with CopWatch, says Future 500 offers great potential for networking. The Active Element Foundation, which published the book, has also been an excellent resource for connecting with other activists, Leonard says.

Kofi Taha, co-director of Active Element, says frequent calls for information about activist groups led to the creation of the directory.

"We knew it was a pretty monumental task," he says. "The amount of work was super-intense."

The Active Element Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports young organizers through grants, technical assistance and networking opportunities.

"There's a consistent message that young people are apathetic and we felt that by pulling together this volume, it makes it undeniable that young people are in fact very involved," Taha says.

Over the course of the project 10 researchers scoured sources to find the groups that would be included, interviewing most of the groups twice.

The Web site that accompanies Future 500 -- www.future500.com -- has received thousands of hits, according to Taha.

"The initial splash has been tremendous," he says.

Networking among progressive activists is key to building strength among movements, causes and communities. But given the political environment during the War on Terror, is it wise to publicize contact information for so many activists? Even the introduction to Fortune 500 seems to wonder.

"When seeking justice becomes completely illegal, this book will be the star witness for the prosecution," it says.



BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.
 
 
 
 

 

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