MOGO Bookshelf: Family Activism

by Kelly Coyle DiNorcia, IHE M.Ed. graduate and humane parenting consultant

“Family” and “Activism” can often feel like they are mutually exclusive. Finding time in a busy family schedule to do volunteer work or even write a letter to an editor or representative can seem overwhelming. But Roberto Vargas, in his book Family Activism: Empowering Your Community, Beginning With Family and Friends (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008) reminds us that activism begins at home. Vargas defines Family Activism as “interacting with those close to you in a way that inspires and prepares them to serve their families and communities as a positive force for change. It is teaching and modeling love among all your relationships, extending acts of caring, thereby encouraging more folks to increase their commitment and time to advancing love and change." (10) In other words, family activists approach their most intimate relationships with the intention of being the change they want to see in the world.

I know that I am not the only person whose activism changed when I had a family. I no longer have the time or energy for the type of volunteer work I used to do, and I’ve had to discover new ways to fit activism into my life as a parent. I am also required to consider whether and how to include my children in my activism. Is it safe? Is it age-appropriate? Does it interest them?

According to Vargas, though, one need not march on Washington or perform an undercover farmed animal rescue to make a difference in the world. He argues that “All people who actively care for and serve others are activists." (21) Vargas has developed what he calls the Familia Approach, in which we express ourselves as activists by creating a culture of peace, consensus, and empowerment within our families. And from there, we simply view everyone as family and our impact spreads to our communities and beyond. We may never know the effects of our actions, but it is important that we approach all our interpersonal interactions with an attitude of porvida, or profound love of life and humanity.

Using examples from his own personal and professional life as a community organizer, Vargas gives readers strategies for leading successful family and community council meetings as well as empowering others to be effective communicators and agents of change. Using the concept of El Sí, or Yes Energy, he counsels readers to connect with their own power and purpose and help those around them to do the same by recognizing their connection with everyone around them.

Helping a sibling work through a difficult situation. Showing a new neighbor around town. Bringing a meal to an ill friend. Offering a word of encouragement to a stranger in the grocery store. All these things can seem so insignificant. The idea of “think globally, act locally” can seem clichéd and, frankly, intended for those who do not want to do the work required to address the Big Issues in a Big Way. Vargas, however, makes a compelling argument that acting locally is, indeed, the place all activists must start in order to truly bring peace and equality to our world.

Kelly DiNorcia is a graduate of IHE's Master of Education in Humane Education program, and serves as a humane parenting consultant, offering workshops and presentations on humane parenting issues. She has also published articles in several parenting-related magazines. Find out more about Kelly at her website, Beautiful Friendships, or follow her blog, Ahimsa Mama.

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