Friday, August 8, 2008

Standing Up and Speaking Out

There is something wrong. Seriously wrong.

There is something wrong when 38.8 million people stand up in solidarity against poverty across the world in one day, and it's nowhere prominent in the major U.S. press. It's wrong that of those 38.8 million, yes 38.8 MILLION, North America only contributed 109.828 to that number (

I don't claim to be a political activist, in fact, far from it. I have my views, but don't ask me to stand up and be able to eloquently and convincingly debate them. I also don't claim to have the answers...did I contact the press and try to get the word out? No. (To my defense, I had only heard about the Stand Up world-wide event less than 2 weeks before it was to happen, and did, on short notice, organize a small 14 person event in my community.) That again, to me means something is wrong. How come I hadn't heard about it? Moreover, how did I not hear that last year 23.5 Million people stood up for this same cause and broke a world record? I watch the news, read the newspaper every day. I may not be an "activist" but I do consider myself pretty well informed on world events, and a strong advocate of social justice.

I probably sound like a broken record you've all heard before. But if something's broken, shouldn't it be fixed? All too often we on the nightly news and in the newspaper of the casualties of war, the killing of kids, by kids, in our own neighborhoods. It leads a person to want to turn off their television and tune it all out. There is too much violence, too much hurt, too many crooked politicians. The list goes on and on. But you know what? There are also a hell of a lot of people out there combating every one of those issues and trying in their own way to make this world a little better. And the more we hear these stories, the more hope there is that one day we'll overcome these issues.

So why is it, when 38.8 Million people Stand Up and Speak Out for something as important as extreme poverty - something 189 world leaders pledged to eradicate by 2015, including our very own United States, it's not a MAJOR story?

The point of Stand Up and Speak Out was to show how many people DO care, and hold the governments responsible for the promise they made. But if 38.8 MILLION people stand up , and it's not deemed newsworthy, then something is wrong. Something is wrong when you go to Google News and type in "stand up against poverty" and you have to dig 4 pages deep before you come to an article published by a U.S. news source.

I don't believe in the "Ugly American" any more than I believe in the "Islamic terrorist" or the "lazy illegal immigrant." Individuals are terrorists, individuals are lazy, and yes, some American's behave very ugly. What I DO believe is that humans are generally good people. 38.3 Million of them proved that yesterday. But unfortunately millions more don't know that because apparently it's not newsworthy.


The above is a letter I wrote (and sent) to every major local and national news agency I could think of on October 17th of last year. And no, I did not receive any kind of response from any of them.

As I mentioned in this post, meeting Greg Mortenson profoundly changed my life. When he came last September to speak on Bainbridge Island, he mentioned the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): 8 goals for improving the lives of the world's poorest people that 189 world leaders promised to accomplish by 2015. The goals are:
ø eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
ø achieve universal primary education
ø promote gender equality and empower women
ø reduce child mortality
ø improve maternal health
ø combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
ø ensure environmental sustainability
ø develop a global partnership for development

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that prior to hearing Greg speak, I had never heard of the MDGs. But, I was so in awe and inspired by the things he spoke about and his desire to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan that the next day I immediately googled "Millennium Development Goals" in hopes of learning more and seeing what I might be able to do. That is how I learned of the world-wide Stand Up event which was taking place in just two weeks. As I did with the penny drive I said to myself "heck, I could plan one of these, why not?!" And so I emailed a handful of people who had been involved with the penny drive asking if they would like to participate. I immediately ordered white wrist bands, printed out a bit of information to hand out about the MDGs, and hoped for the best. 2 weeks later, at a local coffee shop 14 people showed up to Stand Up and Speak Out. Not an earth shattering number by any means. But 14 people more than would have stood up had I not been inspired by Greg's words and learned about the MDGs myself.

So, did my event, with a mere 14 people make a difference? I like to think so. The 14 of us became more aware, and if each of those 14 people told just one person about the event and the MDGs that means others are becoming aware and possibly taking action, and that I think is making a difference. One guy who attended was someone who walked up to me at the grocery store a week earlier (I had never met him before) and said "I think what you did with the penny drive was very cool!" and so I told him about the Stand Up event. Today I consider him a friend, and he has already volunteered to help with this year's event. A woman who was a tremendous help with the penny drive brought her two children to the event and they read the pledge to all of us. I still will often see a gentleman who attended on the ferry and he is still wearing his white wristband, as am I. In fact, the other day I had someone ask me what my white band symbolized and I enthusiastically told the person about the MDGs!

So sure, we didn't save the world that night, we didn't achieve any of the goals, and we didn't even write any letters to world leaders that night but we did come together for a common cause and became more aware. That is important. It may not be huge, but important nonetheless.

This year I have a bit more time to plan the Stand Up event (Oct. 17-19) and I hope to get more people involved, hopefully help out some local organizations who are fighting poverty and see more press coverage. If you live on Bainbridge Island and would like to get involved, please email me and leave a comment. And, if you are in another part of the country/world and want to organize your own Stand Up event please leave a comment and let me know. I think it would be wonderful if we had a whole list of bloggers out there Standing Up! I'd love to list them on here as well. Please don't think "oh, I couldn't possibly organize such an event, that's too big" because really, the size of the event doesn't matter. If just one person shows up, that is one more person aware and making a difference.

I hope to hear from you, and hope you too consider Standing Up and Speaking Out.

To learn more, and see pictures from last years event around the world please visit Stand Up Against Poverty.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead


#4 said...

Thank you for making this event happen. I'm stoked to have been a part of it and to have learned what the MDGs are, too.

Small Change said...

Right...remember MDGs not MGD ;) Your photog skills will be called upon again this year!