The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

05 September 2007

Get Up… and go

Mobilising citizen activism through the internet: In 2004, the Democratic Presidential hopeful, Howard Dean, then Governor of Vermont, astonished the US political establishment. From this small liberal State at the North East tip of the USA, and with no money and no backing from party bosses or big sponsors, Dean was able to mobilize hnundreds of thousands of volunteers and supporters. In the process, he created a political force to be reckoned with. The fact that John Kerry, the Party’s candidate of choice, beat Dean and the other hopefuls to fight the election (although he then lost it convincingly) does not diminish Dean’s achievement in creating a political movement largely consisting of young people fed up with traditional politics.

But mobilising people through the internet was not new. In 1998, an organization called MoveOn had been established to urge Americans to move on from the issue of President Clinton’s impeachment, which was obsessing and dividing the political establishment, to dealing with the really important issues facing the American people.

MoveOn was started by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs with no experience in politics. Joan Blades and Wes Boyd were deeply frustrated with the partisan warfare going on in Washington DC, so they launched an online petition to "Censure President Clinton and Move On to Pressing Issues Facing the Nation". Within days hundreds of thousands of individuals had signed up. And Joan and Wes began looking for ways of making their voices heard.

MoveOn was formed as a political action committee so that like-minded, concerned citizens could influence the outcome of congressional elections, and in turn, the balance of power in Washington DC. Now known as Political Action, this organisation provides individuals, who normally have little political power, an opportunity to aggregate their contributions with others to gain a greater voice in the political process, and brings people together to take important stands on the most important issues facing our country.

In the UK in 2003, a similar movement was started largely in response to the government’s decision to press ahead with the invasion of Iraq, which was called Our World Our Say.

Both these organisations are non-party political, but try to influence the political parties. They share liberal ideas: green, anti-war and injustice, pro-human rights and cooperation, etc. They also encourage people to participate in the democratic process by voting and holding their representatives to account.

Crossing the bridge: What do you do once you have crossed the bridge and reached the other side?

“On Sunday 28th May 2000, we were among the 250,000 Australians who braved a cold early winter’s day to march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to demonstrate Australians’ commitment to reconciliation. The walk for reconciliation was just one of several major moments in the last 10 years – like the war in Iraq and the Tampa controversy – when Australians mobilised in large numbers in favour of a more progressive vision of the country.

Although Australia has enjoyed great economic prosperity over the last decade, those of us who want to be part of a more just and progressive country have found ourselves disappointed and disheartened. Popular movements like the one opposing the Iraq war quickly appeared, raising hopes, but then dissipated. There had been no strategy or organisation to capture that energy and turn it into permanent, broad-based national movement.”

What could people do after walking to the other side of the bridge? It was this question that inspired Jeremy Heimans and David Madden to create GetUp.

Their vision was an organisation that used technology to make it easy for Australians to “engage in real political action on the major issues facing the country, and to create a new progressive movement – a community working to advance social justice, economic fairness and environmental sustainability.”

Don’t give up, GetUp: GetUp was launched with a national TV ad and email campaign. The response was overwhelming – many Australians were looking for a new way to have a voice and participate in politics again. By the end of the 2006 financial year GetUp had 100,000 members and had already made an impact on a number of major national issues. By September 2007, membership had increased to 250,000,

Join your fellow citizens in fighting for justice, fairness and e better environment. Get Up off your backside. Move On and deal with the really important issues facing our society and our communities. It’s Our World; let’s have Our Say!

Move On:
Our World, Our Say:

“It was the kind of crisp and sunny August day Canberra is famous for. I watched, with a pack of journalists, as the plane flew in towards the city’s centre and then proceeded to write “Vote No!” in gigantic letters above Parliament House, impossible to miss for miles around. It was an appeal from GetUp members to senators to reject the regressive changes to the Migration Act that would see asylum seekers, including children, detained offshore. Twenty minutes later, I watched as John Howard strode out of the same House and announced he was withdrawing the legislation.

“For me, this moment has come to symbolise much about GetUp that we should aspire to for all our work. The skywriting was a single bold act that communicated effectively the community’s concern. But it was the culmination of a long campaign – a campaign that had attracted a mass diverse movement of more than 100,000 supporters to our online petition, included a national television advertisement narrated by Jack Thompson, received support from all sides of politics and was developed in collaboration from partners such as Chilout and A Just Australia. Thankfully, it was also successful.

“GetUp is a truly new type of organisation in the Australian political context, recognised here at home – and internationally – for breaking new ground in campaigning. We’ve demonstrated beyond doubt that there is a role for a multi-issue progressive political campaigning organisation, and that the internet plays a truly empowering role in our democracy. An organised and dispersed population can influence political outcomes and at the same time can change the political consciousness of a generation with the click of a mouse.” – Brett Solomon, Executive Director, GetUp

Some campaigns run by GetUp include:

Say NO to a pulp mill in Tasmania: The proposed Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley represents a major threat to Tasmania’s environment and economy.

Close the gap: Indigenous Australians have a life expectancy almost twenty years lower than other Australians. That's unacceptable. We need our country to commit to achieving Indigenous health equality within a generation.

Take a stand against racism: In response to Sydney's race riots, we need to channel our emotions and shame into something practical and hopeful. That starts with taking personal responsibility for racism in our own lives and communities.

Bring David Hicks home: Unlike other governments, ours has failed to stand up for its citizen's basic human and legal rights – and that matters more than what kind of man David Hicks (is or isn't. David Hicks was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, and was allowed home in return for an admission of guilt.

Save the Cheetah

The world's fastest land animal, the sleek and long-legged cheetah, Acinonyx Jubatus, is losing its race for survival. Once a common animal found on five continents, the cheetah is now an endangered species.

Loss of habitat, conflict with humans, as well as its own loss of genetic variation, are the main threats facing the cheetah today. The cheetah needs large expanses of land to survive, but with changes in land use and habitat pressures, such as bush encroachment, this area is becoming smaller and smaller. Unfortunately, captive breeding efforts have not proved meaningful to the cheetah's hopes of survival.

Cheetahs can reach speeds of over 70 mph, but they are extremely clumsy fighters. The result is that although the cheetahs are the best hunters in Africa, they lose much of their prey to the more aggressive predators, such as lions and hyenas, who chase them away and steal their food.

In 1900, more than 100,000 cheetahs were found in 44 countries throughout Africa and Asia. Today only 12,000 to 15,000 animals remain, existing mostly in small-pocketed populations in 24 to 26 countries in Africa, and less than 100 in Iran. The cheetah is classified as an endangered species.

The largest population of cheetahs is in Namibia. But there was a drastic decline of the number of cheetahs in that country in the 1980s, when the population halved over the decade, and now there are less than 2,500 animals remaining.

Dr. Laurie Marker founded and the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia in 1990, having worked with cheetahs since 1974. Her aim was to find a solution for the continued existence of the cheetah and to stabilise the population of animals in the wild.

Dogs are the answer! The removal of lions and leopards from the farmlands, in addition to plentiful natural prey animals and an abundance of water, have allowed the cheetah to exist on Namibian farms. This sharing of land and resources has led to conflict, with the cheetah on the losing end.

In the 1980's, Namibia was hit hard by drought. The cheetah's natural prey base died or was killed by farmers to reduce grazing and watering pressures on their livestock. With little natural prey to hunt, some cheetahs were forced to prey on livestock. Many farmers considered the cheetah a major threat to their livelihood.

In Namibia, cheetahs are a protected species. But when cheetahs come into conflict with humans and their livestock, farmers are allowed to "remove" the animal. Trapping and shooting cheetahs that are suspected of being a threat to livestock is permitted. Sometimes cheetahs that are just passing through are immediately labeled as "problem animals".

The Cheetah Conservation Fund's has come up with the solution of using guarding dogs to protect farm animals.

A livestock guarding dog lives with the herd, eats and sleeps with the livestock and travels with them. The dog is always on alert, and defends its herd against a variety of threats – against baboons, jackals, caracals, cheetahs, leopards and even humans. The dog’s job is to bark and posture to scare the predator away. Cheetahs are not normally aggressive, so are quick to retreat from a barking dog.

You can sponsor a dog to save the cheetah. The Cheetah Conservation Fund breeds, cares for and places about 30 puppies a year. Each dog costs CCF around $500 a year in care. These costs include food, vaccinations, new-owner support, veterinary care and long-term monitoring. You can sponsor a dog, either yourself or by as a group of people, by raising $500 a year for CCF.

Cheetah Conservation Fund:

02 September 2007

Rebuilding New Orleans: Katrina two years on

Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas on 23 August 2005, and crossed southern Florida as no more than a moderate Category 1 hurricane, where it caused some deaths and flooding. It then strengthened rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico becoming one of the strongest hurricanes on record while at sea. The storm weakened before making its landfall as a Category 3 storm on the morning of 29 August 2005 in southeast Louisiana and at the Louisiana/Mississippi state line.

The storm surge caused severe damage along the Gulf Coast, devastating the several Mississippi cities. In Louisiana, the flood protection system in New Orleans failed in 53 different places. Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans breached as Katrina passed east of the city. 80% of the city and many neighbouring areas were flooded.

At least 1,836 people lost their lives because of Katrina and the subsequent floods. It was the deadliest US hurricane since 1928. The storm is estimated to have been responsible for $81.2 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in US history.

The federal, state and local government reaction to Katrina was widespread. For a country which is spending huge amounts of money invading and then trying to pacify Iraq, it seems curious to many (within and outside the USA) that the same sense of urgency and commitment has not been applied towards rebuilding the homes and the lives of the very many citizens of New Orleans who lost everything as a result of Katrina.

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 29 August 2007, exactly two years on from Katrina:

“New Orleans and other areas maimed by Hurricane Katrina should be pretty, pristine and perfectly rebuilt by now. Shouldn't they? After all, two years have passed since the storm battered Gulf Coast communities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Billions of dollars have been spent, thousands of work-hours logged, and God knows how many prayers murmured to reassemble what the winds and waters of Katrina tore apart.

Actually, two years is not enough time to have completed all the needed repairs, especially in New Orleans, where insufficient levees contributed to most of the city's becoming submerged. But here's the problem in assessing the progress that has been made: Katrina reconstruction has suffered from so much waste, incompetence and indifference that it's impossible to separate challenges caused by nature from the man-made ones.

New Orleans has improved some since the hurricane:
• Its population is at 66 percent of its pre-Katrina size, up from 50 percent last year.
• Students are returning to schools, though in smaller numbers.
• The region's economy is stronger. Meetings and conventions are at 70 percent of their pre-Katrina level; tourism at about 60 percent. New Orleans' sales tax revenue has returned to 84 percent of its pre-storm level.

…Progress wouldn't have occurred without the tenacity and toil of survivors, and of volunteers who trekked to the Gulf Coast from around the country."

One major mobiliser of NGOs has been Habitat for Humanity International. One of its key partners has been Project Homecoming organised by the Presbytery of South Louisiana.

With the help of some 70,000 volunteers, more than 1,100 homes have already been built or are under construction in the Gulf Coast Recovery Program in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. And every month, volunteers start working on 52 more homes.

If you are passing by New Orleans, on vacation or next year for Mardi Gras, and if you are a dab hand with a hammer, why not stay longer and volunteer your time and muscle power towards this magnificent volunteer effort. You will not just be helping the victims regain their homes and rebuild their lives in the city where they want to live; but you will be showing that people care, and perhaps shaming government into recognizing that they could and should do better.

Habitat for Humanity’s Katrina Relief:
Presbytery of South Louisiana’s Project Homecoming:
Facts about Katrina: