So you want to make the world a better place. You know issues like peace, hunger, and the environment are important, and you’d like to be making a contribution. What stops you? Probably (1) you don’t think you’ll be effective, or (2) you just don’t have the time. So you go on feeling guilty for not being more engaged.
Feel guilty no more. A new approach to social activism has been crafted by a relatively young anti-nuclear group called 20/20 Vision, and it is proving remarkably successful both in getting people involved and in making their voices heard where it counts.
Their strategy is elegantly simple. For a small $20 annual subscription fee, 20/20 Vision will send you a monthly postcard that details the most effective action you can take that month to fight nuclear weapons. They guarantee that action will require no more than 20 minutes. (That’s right, 20 minutes.) And these actions are remarkably effective.
For example, one postcard to a group of Massachusetts members instructed them to call their congressman and urge him to attend a key committee meeting and to vote for two amendments that would (1) cut funding for nuclear tests above 1 kiloton, and (2) cut funds for weapons systems exceeding certain Salt II limits.
The congressman received 400 calls. He attended the meeting and supported the amendments, which went on to be passed by the full House.
20/20 Vision is organized by congressional districts (there are currently chapters in 48 of them). A core group of volunteers in each district agrees to research and select the monthly action most appropriate to the members in each district, and to send out the brightly colored, concisely written postcards. Members are promised that they will receive no further solicitations for money, nor will they get any mail other than the postcards and a semiannual report on the chapter’s progress.
The program is the brainchild of long-time peace activist (and former art teacher) Lois Barber. "I felt that the existing peace organizations were good at getting people outraged," she says, "but they didn’t give them an ongoing way to be consistently involved."
How did she get the idea for 20/20 Vision? "I stayed up late thinking about it. I wondered, what do you ask people to do? How do you remove the obstacles to participating?" When a possible solution presented itself, she started the first project with a few hundred dollars of her own money, loaned to a local peace group. "I got paid back very quickly," she recalls. "People seemed to take to the idea right away."
One of those who took to the idea was California peace activist Jeremy Sherman. He teamed up with Barber to turn 20/20 Vision into a national nonprofit organization, and developed the "franchise" structure that provides local groups with a combination of autonomy and national support. (Sherman’s father is founder of the Midas Muffler franchise chain.)
What does the future hold for 20/20 Vision, since the Cold War seems to be rapidly thawing out? Barber explains that regardless of Gorbachev, nuclear weapons are still a big problem. In the time it took to negotiate the INF treaty, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. built more weapons than the treaty eliminates. And the U.S. is still producing three nuclear warheads every day.
What about other issues like the environment or world hunger? "People are very interested in adopting our model for other issues," says Barber. While open to the idea, she is hesitant to commit 20/20 Vision itself to a broadened focus at this point in its life.
But to seasoned activists involved in many different issues, the model she and Sherman have developed must look very appealing, especially for its ability to get nonactivists involved. After all, if you can in fact "defuse nuclear bombs on your coffee break" – as 20/20 Vision’s brochure claims – why not spend part of your lunch hour fighting global warming?
To find out more or to help start a 20/20 Vision Core Group in your area, write them at 1181 C Solano Ave., Albany, CA 94706, Tel. 415-528-8800.