3 times courageous groups of people changed America for the better.
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Aspen Institute

We've all heard the inspiring Margaret Mead quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

For many Americans, it sometimes feels like the closest we come to change-making is the one vote we cast at the polls every four years — an unfulfilling process that can leave us more frustrated with the system than hopeful that the changes we desire will ever come. It's tempting to trade in optimism for apathy.

But no person is powerless to create change. History has shown us time and time again that even the smallest groups can make their voices heard and inspire a positive change in not only their immediate communities, but across the country.


Here are three examples you may not know about of individuals and small groups taking a stand and creating big change.

1. The Delano Grape Strike boosts migrant farmworkers.

Image by Joel Levine/Wikimedia Commons.

The life of a farmer has never been an easy one, but it has improved significantly in the past 40 years thanks to the efforts of Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, a community of like-minded people, and ... grapes.

Huerta and Chavez, frustrated with the low wages, lack of health care, and poor conditions their fellow farmers were forced to work in, formed the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. They went door-to-door to unite local farmers — who were discriminated against and sometimes even pitted against one another whenever they demanded better wages — to create a community of workers seeking the basic rights they deserved.

Through a series of organized boycotts starting on Sept. 8, 1965, and lasting more than five years, the Delano Grape Strike aimed to bring national attention to the injustices facing migrant workers.


Image via iStock.

And it did just that. More than 14 million Americans joined the boycott aimed at two of the largest corporations involved in the grape industry in Delano, California: Schenley Industries and the DiGiorgio Corporation.

The corporations were eventually pressured to renegotiate their farmers' contracts, raising their wages, giving them access to health care, and bringing an end to "labor contracting," a system wherein jobs could be assigned by favoritism and bribery.

Huerta and Chavez knew that relentless persistence was one of their greatest allies in the fight for farmers' rights, and that the best way to go about obtaining those rights would be to hit their oppressors where it hurt them the most: their wallets.

If there was ever an accomplishment that called for a celebratory glass of wine, it was this one.

2. Ralph Nader helps start a revolution of the American auto industry.

The 1960s was one of the most innovative and just plain awesome decades that the American auto industry has ever seen. The Big Three (aka GM, Ford, and Chrysler), the Mustang, the GTO, "American muscle" — life was like a tattoo of a bald eagle wrapped in barbed wire back then.

Image via iStock.

Of course, there was a downside to all this coolness: safety. With little regulation to guide them and even fewer laws to govern them, many automobile manufacturers opted to cut corners in their production process in order to meet growing demand as quickly (and as cheaply) as possible.

That was until safety-conscious rebel Ralph Nader published "Unsafe at Any Speed" in 1965, a revolutionary book that called out the Big Three (among other automakers) for the dangers their negligence was placing upon the public.

Ralph Nader aka "The Nadester." Image by Sage Ross/Flickr.

The book became an instant bestseller, and The Big Three's subsequent efforts to blackmail and drag Nader's name through the mud only further spurred the public to action.

When faced with Nader's cold, hard data and increasing demand for accountability, Congress soon passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966, which not only established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but also implemented several safety regulations — chiefly, seat belts, front head restraints, and stronger windshields — that have saved over 250,000 lives in the past 40 years alone.

One man taking on a booming industry in a time when it could do no wrong, and winning. Sometimes the pen truly is mightier than the sword.

Speaking of automobile safety...

3. MADD changes how we think about drinking and driving.

Founded in 1980 by Candace Lightner, the mother of a 13-year-old girl who was tragically killed by a drunk driver, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has been instrumental in implementing many of the modern laws and safety features on vehicles related to drunk driving over the years.

The organization was a crucial part of Congress' decision to lower the national legal blood-alcohol content limit of a driver from 0.10 to 0.08 in 2000, campaigned for breath alcohol ignition interlock devices to be installed in the vehicles of drunk driving offenders, and helped develop a dedicated National Traffic Safety Fund.


Alcohol ignition interlock system. Say that five times fast. Image via iStock.

The punishments for drunk drivers weren't all that severe — or even defined before MADD came to be — and the results the organization has engendered in the time since have been nothing short of astounding.

Thanks in large part to the awareness MADD brought to the issue of drunk driving, alcohol-related vehicle fatalities have decreased 52% since 1982.

In states where ignition interlock devices have become mandatory for all drunk driving offenders, fatalities have been reduced by over 30%.

Even advocates for decriminalizing drunk driving like Radley Balko cannot deny the effect MADD has had on society.

"In fairness, MADD deserves credit for raising awareness of the dangers of driving while intoxicated," Balko wrote in a 2010 article. "It was almost certainly MADD's dogged efforts to spark public debate that affected the drop in fatalities."

Those "dogged efforts" were part of Lightner's quest to turn a personal tragedy into a means of educating the world about the dangers of drunk driving. The massive public awareness campaign included press conferences and candlelight vigils, protesting at state capitols, tying red ribbons onto cars, and popularizing the term "designated driver," to name a few.

MADD was able to create an immense change by simply shining a light on an issue that many people didn't realize was an issue in the first place. And now, there is at least one MADD office in every U.S. state, as well as each province in Canada.

I guess you could say that if you really want to get things done ... (*removes sunglasses*) ... you gotta get mad.

It's easy to feel powerless when looking over the average day's headlines. But change is possible.

It's disheartening to see our government locked in seemingly endless squabbles that garner little to no results. We see the same haunting reminders of centuries-old hatred and bigotry being revived on our streets. For every step we take toward a brighter world, it sometimes seems as if we take two steps back.

But as Winston Churchill once famously declared, "To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often."

Change is something we're all capable of, no matter how insurmountable the odds, and one step toward it is recognizing how it has been achieved before.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.