The Everyday Activist by Michael Norton

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The Everyday Activist by Michael Norton

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Category: Home and Family
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A bible for people who want to make a difference however big or small. There's all the information you'll need to enthuse yourself and to organise the sort of changes that can make the world a better place.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Boxtree Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0752226354

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Appealingly sub-titled Everything you need to know to get off your backside and start to make a difference this is the book which shows how small actions from ordinary people can make a difference and might even be the spark which starts something quite momentous. Perhaps the most famous example is Rosa Parks whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white person sparked the American Civil Rights movement. It's about seeing something which is wrong, however big or small, and doing something about it. It's about getting others to help and really making a difference.

Don't worry - no one is going to suggest that you should be starting race riots! Most of the suggestions in the book are about improving that which could be better, such as the water supplies in various parts of the world, or the rather dull look of a housing estate rather than righting wrongs, political or otherwise. The book has numerous case studies of people who have, in their own way, made a difference - from the six-year-old Canadian boy who started building wells in Africa through to the sixty-one-year old (described, rather insultingly as being at the other end of the age spectrum... - if you're sixty two then you're obviously past making a difference) who has addressed the problem of litter and made a real improvement in various parts of the world.

You don't know where you want to make a difference? The book is full of ideas that can spark a will to make a change. Most ideas are backed by details of a website where you can get more information. Many of the actions we can take are relatively small and personal - such as composting kitchen waste or recycling toner cartridges - but they will, cumulatively, make a difference.

Once you've decided what you want to do the book is a mine of information about how you should organise yourself (and possibly others) and there's a wealth of detail about funding and the keeping of accounts. I did feel here that an index would have been useful - I wanted to show certain parts to a friend who is in the process of turning her work into a charity, but it wasn't easy to locate the section I wanted quickly. Explanations are generally simple and to the point - I particularly appreciated the sections on drawing up a constitution and the type of accounts which it's necessary to maintain. In the section on communication there's even a template for producing a press release. Some of the detail will not apply if all you're intending to do is make small, personal changes but there's nothing in the book which will limit your ambitions and plenty to encourage you to expand them.

At the end of the book there's a call to action and you're asked to pledge to make a difference. I've made a start on what I'm going to do. I'm going to tackle ageism. Tsk, Mr Norton.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

Here at Bookbag we can also recommend The New Green Consumer Guide by Julia Hailes for people who want to make a difference.

Booklists.jpg The Everyday Activist by Michael Norton is in the Top Ten Green Books for Eco-Warriors.

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Buy The Everyday Activist by Michael Norton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Everyday Activist by Michael Norton at


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Magda said:

... but they will, cumulatively, make a difference...

You know, I always wonder, if most if not all the little things, individual or community things we do, really do make a difference??? [and yes, I know they do in the localised sense, as in tidying the playground or digging a well for one village, or even 10 villages, or campaigning for this or that].

That's all very commendable, and a Good Thing, obviously. As are individual actions which don't necessarily improve anything for the individual, but contribute to the general good (eg recycling, or reducing the emissions etc).


and it's a very, very big but, in fact at least 2 buts, and both relate more to the "general good" than to the "improving local things for ourselves".

Aren't most of the "general good" they the way we (as in the lucky, the priviledged, the rich(er), the North-Westerners) placate our feeling of guilt and absolve ourselves of some or all responsibility for bringing in real, political change?

And, in a more paranoid vein, aren't all these things a safety valve mechanism which allows Those in Power to calim that things are being done, and that this (rather than, let's say some form of revolution) is actually the way to do it?

By no means I say that it's not worth doing small things, it most empathically is (only recnetly I had a huge argument with DH about supporting Amnesty, which, according to him, sins by omission of the political and economical from its message, which means that it looks like there is this floating crelty and torture and exploitation in the wolrd, with no sense of reason behind it).

But I still wonder, if the nice feeling of contributing in a tiny way to saving the world one gets when taking the peelings to the compost heap sin't actually a destructive one.


Sue replied:

I think the first point is that these actions, however small, do make a difference. The potato peelings are better composted than put in the wheelie bin where they'll contribute to landfill. One well in a community without water is better than no well. I don't think that can be argued against.

No doubt there will be people who believe that they are saving the world with their compost bin and will make no attempt to do anything else. Equally I doubt that they're the people who would have brought about real political change that might have made a difference, so surely it is better that they at least compost the vegetable peelings? Surely that might lead to greater awareness one day?

I'm always surprised by the argument (and occasionally by the people who advance the argument) that there is no point in making individual adjustments to our way of life in an attempt to counter global warming as it will all be for nothing once China really gets into its stride. It's not for nothing. Those savings have been made, flights not taken or whatever. It might be that we will have to make more changes in the future, but the value of savings made cannot be diminished.

Besides - potato peelings in the compost bin means free compost next spring and free food next autumn!