Learn about Big Picture Activism
Millions of people are already working to build a better world. What if they joined forces to create systems-level change?
In our learning guide about globalization, we outlined the destructive consequences of the global economic system. Then, in our learning guide on localization, we sketched out a new path forward, based on the principle of economic localization.
Now, we’ll talk about how to take the first (and next) steps down that path, by applying a framework that we call Big Picture Activism.
What is Big Picture Activism?
Big Picture Activism encompasses three aspects:
- Educating yourself about the root causes of the world’s crises;
- Developing a ‘big picture’ understanding of how the different parts of a healthy economy – food, finance, energy, etc. – interact with and build upon each other; and
- Connecting and collaborating with diverse people and movements on the basis of this understanding.
Big Picture Activism is activism that’s grounded in a thorough knowledge of how social and economic systems work. It’s as much about deep reflection and the sharing of expertise as it is about getting out in the streets (though it is, of course, about that too).
In recognizing that the same economic policies drive everything from job insecurity and poverty to climate chaos and political extremism, Big Picture Activism allows us to transcend isolated single-issue campaigns and build powerful coalitions that are big and resilient enough to recapture democratic power from global monopolies. We believe that it is the most effective strategy we have for creating a cohesive global movement towards a cleaner, healthier, and more resilient world.
For a more in-depth look at our take on activism, watch the following talk by Local Futures’ founder Helena Norberg-Hodge:
What does becoming a Big Picture Activist involve?
Chances are you already embody several aspects of Big Picture Activism, but there’s always more to learn. Use the tabs below to explore what being a Big Picture Activist means, and discover how you can get involved in the localization movement – no matter where you are or how familiar you are with traditional activism.
People all over the world are aware that something is fundamentally wrong with the global economic system, and that minor tinkering is not the solution. To inspire them towards action, we need to be able to clearly communicate the mechanisms and impacts of the global economy, and – even more importantly – the vision, benefits, and synergistic elements of flourishing local economies.
Teaching others starts with educating ourselves. It’s not an instant process; understanding these complex systems in your local context takes time and reflection. If you haven’t done so already, start by reading our Globalization and Localization learning guides – and then browse through the resources below to continue your journey.
- Watch Helena Norberg-Hodge’s TEDx Talk illustrating a vision for an ‘Economics of Happiness’.
- Watch our film The Economics of Happiness.
- Delve into our new book Local is Our Future for more detail on the mechanisms of globalization and localization.
- Read our book Ancient Futures for a glimpse into the thriving local economy of pre-industrial Ladakh, and a striking illustration of the effects of globalization.
- Check out Planet Local, our library of inspiring grassroots initiatives from around the world.
- Join our community by signing up for our email updates.
- Read the articles on our blog by Local Futures staff and guest contributors.
- Listen to our Local Bites podcast for interviews with dynamic changemakers.
- Watch our webinars to dive into key issues related to the transition from global to local.
- Come to a Local Futures event to connect with us in person.
- Check out our lists of Organizations for Change, Films for Change, Recommended Readings, and Independent Media Sources to find more sources of inspiration.
Re-thinking Basic Assumptions
A segment on the evening news asks whether consumer spending is adequate to keep the economy going; a few minutes later, the same news program tells us that consumer greed is destroying the environment and jeopardizing the future of humanity. The finger of blame is pointed at rich folks, at poor folks, at distant nations, and at individuals, while systems-level change is presumed to be impossible.
Becoming a Big Picture Activist involves questioning these narratives and unlearning the myths that limit our ability to create a better world. These include:
1) “Inherent human greed is the reason we’re in this mess.”
None of us voted for an economy that uses subsidies, regulations, and taxes to undermine personal and planetary well-being. None of us asked corporate marketers to turn our children into insecure, brand-conscious consumers. This destructive system stems from a 500-year-old culture of conquest and colonialism that continues unabated. Greed, corruption, and aggression are a product of this toxic global monoculture, and not the result of human nature.
Many non-Western cultures co-existed peacefully with each other and with their natural surroundings for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Whenever the natural inclinations of humanity towards love, compassion, and cooperation are allowed to flourish, another way forward opens up.
2) “Focusing on personal growth and individual actions will solve our problems.”
Big Picture Activism involves the understanding that humanity’s problems have both an inner and an outer dimension, and that solving them requires working on both levels. In a society where ‘green’ consumerism is trendy, and even meditation has been co-opted by capitalism, people run the risk of focusing on inner transformation to the exclusion of outer change. Personal lifestyle changes and self-reflection are essential, but they alone will not bring about the systemic transformation needed for the restoration of social and ecological health.
3) “We already know that the economy is the problem and that corporations have too much power – we don’t need to keep discussing that.”
While many people have a sense that economic forces are behind the world’s environmental and social problems, it’s not widely understood that the economy also undermines individual and cultural self-esteem, exacerbates ethnic, racial, and religious conflict, and damages our physical and psychological health. Nor is it widely known that trade treaties have given large corporations and banks so much power that together they have become a de facto global government – exercising tremendous political influence regardless of whether a “left” or “right” party is in office. Discussing and raising awareness of the workings of the current system can increase the effectiveness of activism against corporate rule, and can encourage cross-sector collaboration around economic change as a solution.
4) “The system is going to collapse of its own accord, so there’s no need to waste time trying to change it.”
The system of deregulated capital we have today allows money to be created by banks out of thin air. It is not limited in its mobility, and is increasingly delinked from the real world of nature and people. That means that the economy can keep ‘growing’ even as ecosystems and societies crash. We cannot wait until the last tree falls to change the system, or there may not be a habitable world for future generations.
5) “The CEOs are to blame.”
Big Picture Activism does not point a finger at individual politicians, corporations or bankers. The destructive global economy continues to expand not through a series of intentional choices by individuals, but through the inertia of a system perpetuating itself. The economists who promote the idea of infinite economic growth have been trained to look at flows of money and numerical representations of the world, and are shielded from many of the real-life social and ecological consequences of their models. The CEOs of large corporations and banks are driven by speculative markets to meet short-term profit and growth targets, and so have even less ability to contemplate the overall impact of their actions. Even concerned citizens find it nearly impossible to see all of the hidden ways that their consumer choices and taxes end up supporting an energy-intensive, soul-destroying economy.
The way forward lies not in shaming individuals, but in actively encouraging broad-based, systemic change through constructive criticism, a firm belief in the goodness of people, and steady resistance to the inhumanity of the global economy.
6) “There’s no point in trying – governments won’t listen no matter how many of us march in the streets.”
It is true that millions of people have marched in the past to oppose government decisions like the war in Iraq, with little apparent effect on policymakers. It is also true that millions of people are opposed to gas fracking and nuclear energy, and yet governments continue to promote those technologies. The potential for people to really be heard grows exponentially when we move out of single-issue silos and focus on the common thread that runs through all our concerns. A movement for new, local economies – a movement that is clear about what it is for, not just what it is against– has far greater potential to succeed than any single-issue campaign.
Solving our current crises requires two types of actions working in tandem: those that resist the drivers of social and ecological destruction, and those that help renew local cultures, communities and economies. Both the ‘resistance’ side and the ‘renewal’ side involve making changes on a personal level and a collective level; in order to build a movement powerful enough to turn the tide, we need to move from viewing ourselves as isolated consumers to viewing ourselves as citizens in community with one another. In addition to adopting greener lifestyles, we must forge ever-broader coalitions – a true ‘movement of movements’ – to solve global problems.
Say no to ‘free trade’ treaties that hand over ever more power to transnational banks and corporations.
Put pressure on policymakers to level the economic playing field by insisting that the taxes, subsidies, and regulations that currently favor the big and global are shifted instead towards the small and the local. Speak with local politicians, write to your representatives, and engage with one or more of the groups on our Organizations For Change page.
Get involved with an organization that is rebuilding the economy from the ground up. Find examples in Planet Local, our library of inspiring grassroots projects, and on our Organizations For Change page.
Spread the word about local economies by holding talks and presentations, producing theatre pieces, screening and discussing films, organizing debates, or writing opinion pieces.
Develop a local community and find solidarity with like-minded individuals in your area. Maybe there’s a Transition Network branch near you, or a group promoting local food, or a solar power purchasing cooperative. If you can’t find the kind of group you’re looking for, consider setting one up; you may be surprised at how many other people in your area are interested! Host a DIY Economics of Happiness workshop to formulate a community action plan together.
Join a global community such as our online network, the International Alliance for Localization,to connect with like-minded individuals from around the world, to share ideas and success stories, and to celebrate the sheer number of wonderful initiatives that are flourishing against all odds.
Turning the Tide
One important aspect of the Big Picture Activism framework is that it does not necessarily depend on us convincing current political and economic leaders of the importance of change. Instead, it depends on communities working together – in villages, towns, and cities across the globe – to form a critical mass of engaged and concerned people who are willing to resist the corporate-driven economy and create local alternatives.
In recent years, individuals and organizations involved in single-issue activist campaigns have increasingly begun to recognize the economy as the common thread that links their causes. As a result, we’re seeing the first glimpses of broad, united ‘new economy’ movements. People are harnessing their love, their hope, and their creativity to give birth to cultures and economies of happiness – to local futures, worldwide.
We hope you’ll do the same.
What is Localization?
If economic globalization is the root of so many problems, then localization – an economic shift away from the global towards the local – offers a systemic answer.