Caution: This post contains overtly political material. Even businesses have to think about politics.
As a social change/peace/environmental activist for decades, I often engage in actions that I don't feel necessarily will be effective, although sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised. There are times when I have to do something just because to stay silent feels criminal, even if I haven't figured out a way to leverage my input to actually create positive or block negative change.
I am, of course, aware that I have to make choices, that I can't be everywhere and fighting all battles—but still I make and act on decisions that can only influence in a very small way. For example, before he dropped out of the race, I was supporting the presidential candidacy of peace candidate Dennis Kucinich, quite publicly. I'm currently supporting the candidacy of Ed O'Reilly running against John Kerry for the Massachusetts seat in the US Senate. On the practical level—can they win?—neither of these is a sane choice, because neither candidate is electable.
But if the agenda is seen as pushing the Democratic Party to recognize its progressive constituency—and being willing to desert the party for Green or Independent choices if it continues to be unresponsive—then even though the actual impact is quite small, the goal at least is realistic and too important to be ignored. The campaign success of Obama, who at least sounds progressive, is I believe a reaction to the millions of people who have taken similar stands, and all of a sudden our actions are more effectual than we'd thought. After all, everyone thought a year ago that the nomination would easily go to the much more conservative Hillary Clinton.
In the grassroots arena, I've seen real change through my actions. Here, for instance is a group I started to block a particularly nasty mountaintop development (I did NOT write the copy on this site!). When we began, in 1999, people were saying "this is terrible but there's nothing we can do." I was able to be extremely effective in forming a region-wide activist presence that beat the project in just 13 months, with the support of thousands of people. (This success led me to start the Business Ethics Pledge—an attempt to leverage that success into a worldwide social change movement within the business world—somewhat harder than the mountain campaign, though a lot more ambitious.)
Another example is the Seabrook occupation in spring 1977. We had no way of knowing when we took over that parking lot and 1414 of us got arrested, that by the time we were released up to two weeks later, a national Safe Energy/No Nukes movement would be in place, and that not a single new nuclear power plant would be ordered from then until today—more than 30 years so far. To put this into perspective, this action was only three years after Richard Nixon—who wanted to build 1000 new nukes—was forced form office (again, by people's movements).
One regret I do have in a life that has remarkably few regrets is that I did not, during the Bush coup at the end of 2000, make any significant attempt to stop it (unless you count showing up for a series of small demonstrations in my local area and forwarding information about the coup to a network of progressive activists). Even if I didn't really think they'd be effective, there were more actions I could have taken. For example, I could have networked with 100 other organizers around the country and tried to get some traction around a national general strike with a single demand: do the Florida election over, with neutral observers present. But I was still up to my head in Save the Mountain, felt too shocked and disempowered, was disgusted enough with Al gore that I didn't see that Bush would be much worse (little did I know!)—and, quite honestly, was bit scared to incur the formidable wrath of the Bush family, which has a reputation for rather nasty reprisals against its perceived enemies.
In retrospect, had I known how bad this illegal presidency was going to be, and had I known that Save the Mountain was only six weeks away from winning, I hope I would have found the courage and strength to try to organize some kind of real national opposition, and at least make an attempt to throw some logs into the gears of state power. And maybe, like Seabrook, like Save the Mountain, it would have been enough.
This was a situation where *something* needed to be done, and I did almost nothing. Nobody else figured out any effective opposition either, and look at the result.
Shel Horowitz, copywriter and award-winning author of five marketing books Blogging on the intersections of ethics, marketing, media, sustainability, and politics: http://www.principledprofit.com/good-business-blog/