If so you have become an agent for change, otherwise known as an activist.
I happen to like activists. Usually while other people are complaining about something the activist has already, signed or even organised a petition, put pen to paper to get on some level of government's back, had a letter about the issue published in a local paper and is likely meeting with and planning how to further the particular campaign, with fellow activists!
I have spent years as an activist for many causes, but it was not until my most recent campaign began in earnest, that I realised what a powerful thing social media can be for networking and working towards achieving your goals.
It began with the local off leash fenced dog park. Since moving to Ballarat, I had been writing to the local council and Ballarat Courier doing my best to persuade them that local dog owning ratepayers deserved fenced off leash areas, where our dogs could run and play, as more and more parks within the city began to require dogs to be kept on leads at all times. I was not alone in this endeaour, I discovered later. The City Council saw the sense of it and when they closed the local swimming pool down, the filled it in, demolished the change rooms and canteen and modified the fencing for double dog safe gates. So the Wendouree Dog Park was born in 2015!
One day three of us happened to meet that all believed dog park users could benefit from having a FaceBook page, where we could communicate over run times and other dog park related issues. That very same day we launched 'The Wendouree Dog Squad', a public support group for users of the Wendouree Off Leash Dog Park. Within three months we had over 250 Dog Squad Members.
We also had a list of things we wanted:
- Improvements to our own park, such as better signage, drinking facilities for the dogs, more windbreak plantings and even dreamed of some agility obstacles.
- Speedy maintainance, for example we waited months for a sink hole to be fixed and "dog wallows" at the lowest points of the site that filled with water in winter and became dust bowls in summer are still a problem.
- Similar Dog Parks in each Local Government area of the city, to take the pressure off our own park, which was now becoming so crowded at peak times it was becoming difficut to exercise less out going dogs.
Then I was invited to a meeting of two other like minded Dog Squad members. One had put a lot of time into researching the best off leash parks across the country and written a substancial, impressive and thorough proposal to be sent to our local Council. We met to work out where to from here?
At about the same time, I had written a letter to the local paper regarding the success of the Wendouree Dog Park and how much we needed more of the same.
Then, quite wholistically, on our Dog Squad page, someone suggested we have a Christmas Party. This evolved into a two day event, to maximise the number of our members that could attend.
As a seasoned campaigner, I suggested to the other two, we should get the media and local councillors along to our Christmas Party. The media loves feel good Christmas stories and dogs dressed up in their Christmas finery is potentially worthy of the front page, unless a major news story breaks for the day. As well, it was a golden opportunity to get some key city decision makers on our side.
Our Dog Park did make the front page, as well as page 3 of The Ballarat Courier. The local TV camera man came along and so it was covered on Win News. The new mayor and a new Councillor came along at the Party launch on the Friday night and spoke with us, as well as witnessing the success and utilisation levels of the dog park. We became, effectively, a local issue as well as a local pressure group, all in the process of enjoying both a space for our dogs to exercise and play off leash, as well as a community of local dog owners, who not only cared for our dogs, but also cared for each other.
Realistically, not all members of the Wendouree Dog Squad are going to play key roles in agitating for more for our dogs, but the important thing is there are a number of us who are willing to undertake such work. Other members offer support and sense of community in other ways. That is pretty normal in any campaign for change.
The experience of the Wendouree Dog Squad is not unique. Most action groups evolve from a group of individuals, wishing to further a common cause. Friendships and a sense of community develop and embrace the group. In bygone centuries, public meetings were held to garner support. Thesedays FaceBook and other social media has made organising so much easier than it was as recently as even the turn of the century. It seems everybody is now online, or almost.
Compared to truly major social issues, what improvements we achieve at the Wendouree Dog Park, via our collective efforts and new community group will not have much impact beyond Ballarat. But regardless of this the process is the same, be it some local issue, or something as big as equality for women, same sex marriage, or dying with dignity. Raising awareness, getting your issue heard and talked about and getting those in power on side are all part of the course. Your pressure group may be a small and localised one, like The Wendouree Dog Squad, or it may one that involves literally millions across the planet.
It is possible, even likely, that you may be an agent to make the world a better place, across many issues in the course of a lifetime, or be a complete bystander, that does nothing and silently accepts the status quo. Without those agents of change, women would still be considerd as second class citizens, slavery would have continued to be widespread and miners in Ballarat, would never have managed to facilitate the abolition of the miner's licence and other reforms that were instrumental in shaping a fairer society for non- Aboriginal citizens of the Australian colonies and move us towards a democratically governed country. Aborigines would not have been recognised as citizens for the purpose of the census in 1967 and the abhorrent Apartheid regime, would still be in place in South Africa. I know I could not live with my conscience if I were a social bystander on issues that I cared about where laws need to be changed to be fairer, or I could make a difference by taking a stance. That you are prepared to take action is a sign that you are not prepared to quietly accept things that need to be improved, changed, or, in relaton to climate change, the environment or places of historical or cultural significance possibly saved or prevented from being irrevocably lost. I'm proud to be an agent for change, now matter how big or small the issue.
I may not always be the leader of the pack, but if I think a letter or phoning into the local radio talk back may be useful to promote a cause, or help educate or persuade the public I'll get my two bob's worth in. And yes, sometimes I will attend a rally and take to the streets. Sometimes I am happy just to make a donation. There are different ways of being an agent for change, most of which have merit in their own right, so long as they do not harm others as part of the action. In any case our dog park lobbying and media activities were just part of a small localised campaign.
The proposal for improvements to the Dog Park have yet to go to Council for consideration. We are hopeful some will be acted on quickly. We also are aware some will require considerable funding to come to fruition. They may take a while to achieve, but we have ideas about how we could speed the process along if the Council is happy to work with us!
If none of our improvements get the go ahead, well you never know, we may arrive at a future City of Ballarat Council Meeting complete with our dogs to demonstrate we are truly thorough in our reslove!.
Yes, sometimes when change truly needs to happen it can eventually move people to take to the streets. However, at this stage, I'm pretty sure we have got our issue noticed, established a positive public image and are in the process of moving from a position of having nothing, to one where local residents and their dogs have become a community, within a community in their own right; one whose needs are beginning to be much better met within the city.