Coalition Report

By Heather Navarro
Executive Director, Missouri Coalition For The Environment

When Was The Last Time You Signed A Petition?

I spend a lot of time asking people to sign on to environmental campaigns, such as letters to the governor or the EPA. A lot of people ask me “Does it really matter?” That’s not the right question.

I understand how people have lost hope in our political system and how they can believe their voice doesn’t matter alongside all the corporate lobbyists. And how environmental problems can seem too daunting for any one person to impact.

It’s a lot easier to focus on something such as cleaning up trash in a neighborhood creek or planting milkweed for monarch butterflies. Over the course of one season you can see your impact. And our communities depend on these actions. What is not always easy to see are the long-term results of persistent, community action.

It can he hard to see how calling your congressman or signing a petition changes anything. It’s the dilemma of collective action. One voice isn’t going to topple the system, similar to voting. For most major elections one vote will not change an outcome. The reality is that enough people will choose to vote and a winner will be decided. Those who don’t vote still reap the benefit of living in a democratic society and end up with the same candidate either way. In political science we call these people “free riders.”

The truth is while I want to change policy and I believe that we can, I’m an advocate because I want to be part of the solution. I’m not satisfied free riding.

As citizens we have rights and tools. We can use the media to raise awareness and influence decision-makers. Through the power of the ballot box we can pass initiative petitions and make new laws. We can boycott companies who violate the public trust and we can litigate to enforce the laws that are on the books.

Being an advocate is exercising those rights, and others, to shape the world in which we want to live. If we choose to “free ride” we leave the decision-making and the power to others, many with much less noble motivations.

The next time someone asks you to sign a petition or make a phone call and you catch yourself saying “Oh, it doesn’t matter,” remind yourself that you’re not doing it because it matters. You’re doing it because you matter, because you are not a free rider.

For more information please visit our website www.moenvironment.org.