By Judy Barlow, Citizen Journalist
When Stelly’s students Kai Barlow and Lexi Haggstrom heard that Member of Parliament representing Saanich-Gulf Islands Elizabeth May had agreed to an interview with Saanich Voice Online, they had a couple of questions they too wanted to ask her, not as a politician, but as an environmentalist/activist. In essence: how to effect change and really make a difference.
Ms May welcomed the questions and had some encouraging and inspiring words, not just for the two teens, but for anyone who wants to make a difference that really matters.
The key, according to May, lies in making your voice heard. “You live in a democracy,” Elizabeth emphasizes, “and even before you can vote you have freedom of speech.”
Elizabeth encourages youth to express their opinions in letters to the editor or in comments posted online. As she points out, “Unless you write, ‘I’m 16 and a student at Stelly’s’, no one who’s reading that letter is going to know. They could think you could be a 50 year old lawyer who’s writing a letter saying, ‘I’m distressed by the fact that our government is now condoning torture.’“
Elizabeth urges teens to speak up and speak out, whenever, wherever, and however they can. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can be great tools for conveying socially relevant messages. Speaking out gives a tremendous boost to your sense of self-worth according to May, who asserts that the very act of engaging with issues that evoke your passion affirms that you have clout, and that you are not, nor need you be, passive.
“The worst thing to do for your mental health,” Elizabeth claims, “is to think that you’re passive victims of the stuff that happens to us as opposed to being engaged actors in a world community that matters to us and we matter to it. It’s really important for young people to realize that they have power. They do matter and they’re really important parts of our society. They can make a difference. And I don’t think they hear that nearly enough.”
If there’s one person who lives by that philosophy it’s Elizabeth May herself. An outspoken activist since the 1970s, Ms May was named by Newsweek as one of the most influential women in the world along with, among others, US First Lady Michelle Obama, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
“I don’t know how that that ever happened,” Elizabeth states with typical self-deprecating Canadian humour. “I have to say I guess that means the world doesn’t have all that many influential women. I didn’t know how to take it. I was really obviously very honoured – they put me in pretty august company.” However it came about, Elizabeth May thanks God for this blessing that came along just when she needed it. “If you’re running for Parliament in Canada there’s nothing the Canadian press takes more seriously than the US media… It was pretty well timed. I found it very surprising.”
Upon reflection, Elizabeth’s best guess is that this recognition can be attributed to her never-say-die ethic. Growing up in a family that valued activism (her mother was a renowned anti-nuclear weapons activist and founding member of SANE) Elizabeth learned that if you think something is wrong you just roll up your sleeves and do whatever needs to be done to make it right. Elizabeth has spent over 40 years putting herself out there regardless of the cost. Following in her mother’s grassroots-organizing footsteps, she’s learned how to multiply the power of one by enlisting the aid of like-minded individuals.
“I’m honoured I have friends who know friends who have friends and I try to use links that I have in the world even among world leaders,” she says. It would seem grassroots organizing, which worked so well in the 70s is just as effective today, even when linking to world leaders.
Perhaps it was Edward Everett Hale who said it best, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
Words to live by for those who would make a difference.