Writing for Change: Activism and Writing

“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”-James Baldwin

“What do you want to change with your pen?” Florencia Ramirez asked when she opened her presentation, “Activism and Writing.”  This thought provoking statement had many audience members perk up.

“How many of you have an issue you carry in your heart where you would like to see change?” Most of us could quickly mention several topics:

  • Violence against women and children
  • Education
  • Race, gender, sexual equality
  • Environmental issues

Florencia writes about water scarcity issues on her blog Eat Less Water. She uses this phrase to explain the concept of conserving the natural resource through farming practices and grocery-buying habits. Water experts predict that by 2025, two-thirds of the world will be experiencing water scarcity.

It’s not an easy task to rivet an audience with information on water scarcity especially since research statistics can be boring and dry. We don’t want to be reminded of school when we read about any of these topics.

water scarcity
water scarcity

We want others to care about the issue and we want to get them to act (change).

So how did Florencia manage to speak and write about this issue  of water scarcity and get several people talking about taking shorter showers, using buckets to capture water, and committing to plant only low water plants? Florencia is doing this by translating her passion for the topic and through that passion she has the reader experience that enthusiasm so it becomes their very own.

Three Elements to Use:

  1. Accessibility: Nest your information in story, use interesting language, poetic devices, give the issue a ‘face.’
  2. Optimism: Focus on the positive when you write your story, make it a hopeful one.
  3. Creative non-fiction: use narrative and storytelling to make your point. Your writing then becomes the change agent for something bigger.

An example of all three elements are found in these two short excerpts from the book that Florencia says changed her life:

Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” The outcry that followed its publication forced the banning of DDT and spurred revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. The author nested the technical language of chemical fallout and science with eloquent storytelling and poetic language. She writes:

“These sprays, dusts and aerosols still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, coats the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on the soil-all this through the intended target of a few weeds or insects.”

“A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something about their nature and their power.”

An excerpt from Florencia’s manuscript in progress, Eat Less Water:

“In black stenciled letters on the sky blue wall I painted the words, “I love you to the moon and back” in my baby daughter’s room. It was a quote from my favorite children’s book. It never failed that when I read this line aloud to my daughter my voice cracked with emotion and tears pushed their way free. Many years later, I read in a very different book, that women and children of South Africa walk the distance of the moon and back seventeen times each day for water. I thought about the words that had been in my daughters first room. I contemplated the little girls carrying heavy pots of water on their heads to the moon and back. Again the tears pushed their way free…”

Start with a story, give the issue a ‘face,’ and write with optimism. We need to hear your activism.

“Optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose and therefore, a will to fight for a better world.” Saul Alinsky