One of my favorite headlines from “America’s Finest [satirical] News Source,” The Onion, is “How Bad for the Environment Can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be? 30 Million People Wonder.“
There is sardonic – even prophetic — wisdom in calling out how glibly we can rationalize our irresponsibility: “Its fine, it’s fine . . . . It’s just one bottle. And I’m usually pretty good about this sort of thing. Not a big deal.”
But what I’ve been thinking about lately is how the contrast between the seeming triviality of individual actions and their cumulative effect can work the other way. A similar number of people might wonder, “How much of a positive difference can one e-mail (or letter, or phone call) to an elected official make?”
The Council doesn’t send e-advocacy alerts to 30 million people. However, our contact list is large enough that we could, in theory, generate dozens of messages to a key state legislator, or hundreds to Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation, on a piece of legislation that could have a profound impact on our neighbors who struggle with hunger, poverty, unemployment, health issues, violence, or environmental hazards. And if those who receive our alerts were to share them in their networks, their impact could be multiplied even more.
What would happen if an elected official heard from dozens or hundreds of constituents about an issue that may not be front-page news, or at the top of a partisan agenda, but which deeply concerns people of faith and conscience? It may not change their vote, but it would let them know that their voters are paying attention, and they had better too. It might even help bend the public conversation toward greater attention to matters of justice, compassion, and the common good.
The Onion’s headline might give you pause before throwing a plastic bottle into the trash. I hope this “what would happen if…?” idea might make you think twice before passing up responding to an advocacy alert, whether from the Council or anyone else.
There is no guarantee of the outcome – sending your representative a message that expresses your moral and spiritual convictions about a public issue is an act of faith in more ways than one. But uncertain, loving and hopeful acts are exactly what God calls us to — as people of faith.
WCC Public Policy Coordinator
Read more public policy focus from Dr. Peter Bakken here