I live in a state that was recently ranked 44th in the nation for volunteerism. However, it's not necessarily the style of government here that dissuades people from getting involved. In fact, Rhode Island's government is very, very local. You could be at the grocery store and run into your mayor or even your governor. More often, you run into your town councilor or your state representative. So it's not like other states in which political leaders seem so far away and abstract that getting involved just seems like a lot of work for little impact.
I do think there is far less leisure time these days. People just have to work more now than they did fifty years ago. But our democracy is at stake here! What good is a democracy when the side who has the most money to spend on paid lobbyists has the biggest "voice"? What happened to citizen lobbyists and civic engagement, or just a well-informed public?
Saul Alinsky pointed out that there are two forms of power: people and money. Well, the Sierra Club is never going to have the treasury that ExxonMobil has. But we can have more people. And people equals votes.
Unfortunately, money also pays for message. So many of the people who are opposed to President Obama's Clean Energy Plan have been informed only by the sly Big Oil message machine - casting doubt where there is none, and misinforming people about the costs and benefits of the various energy sources America has.
This was evident during the recent town halls across the country. But since we, theoretically, have the people, we can really work to promote the correct message about our energy future. People have a tendency to digest the news with their friends and neighbors. What if Sierra Club members everywhere hosted a small meeting in their homes, to which they invite their friends and neighbors who aren't necessarily card-carrying environmentalists, to discuss our energy future within the proper framework - that is, energy independence, transportation choices, and a new prosperity.
Keep it simple, short and sweet, and rooted in your values - not wonky technical rhetoric or dry facts. People will only hear the truth that sets them free if that truth is framed in our shared values.
The classic house party is ideal for this: it's easy to organize, can be fun, it's social, and it's over in an hour and a half. You can make it a movie night with your favorite documentary and make it pot luck so there's less pressure for snacks.
Cesar Chavez got involved in the United Farmworkers by hosting a house meeting. Later, when asked what his secret was in growing such a large and effective movement, he replied, "The only way I know how to organize people is to talk to one person, then talk to another person, then talk to another person."