When I was a kid, about ten or so, my yuppie hippie dad and my sister, recently out of college and wielding an environmental science degree, which never did get her a job in the “real world,” imparted unto me stories of the evils of litter. My new knowledge in hand, I began to notice the piles of beer cans and McDonald’s bags accumulating in the ditches along the side of our winding country road and decided I was going to do something about it. I whipped up a quite impressive flyer on Microsoft Paint, complete with a hand-illustrated graphic of an overflowing trash can and wavy smell lines, advertising a garbage clean-up day. My dad helped me with the details of what, when, where, and why, and he suggested I narrow my audience down to the kids on my bus because they were the people who lived on our road and were the ones affected by the abhorrent amount of trash that had accumulated. I set about distributing the flyers much more timidly than I had originally approached my plan because it meant talking to people and, subsequently, only two of us showed up. Nevertheless, the two of us filled four black trash bags and collected two hundred and three cigarette butts along the 1.2 miles of Garrett County road.
The moral of this story is twofold: you can’t care about the problem if you don’t know it’s a problem, and a small project can still make a difference. Sure, we were just a couple of fifth graders who probably should have been wearing rubber gloves or hazmat suits, but we made a difference within our small community. And, had I not learned about the horrors of litter and pollution, I wouldn’t have known to care. Today, I still haven’t done much to contribute to any of the great social revolutions happening around the world, but I have made it my point to educate myself about them and choose a side. I am a firm believer that the solution to almost every problem can be traced back to education and knowledge. An activist has to start somewhere before he or she can change the world, and you can change the world, so you might as well start with a little research.