7 Ways to Make an Impact in America Right Now

Being a travel website like this is, I’ve written about some beautiful, special destinations, both near and far. However, the beauty and specialness of those destinations hasn’t come without a cost or contrast that isn’t so beautiful. I’ve written about the millions of street dogs in Costa Rica, shared about the need for clean water in places like Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, and talked about the townships of South Africa and its Apartheid history of  institutionalized racial segregation. These aren’t pretty things to talk about. But there are no utopias, and you can’t have beauty without the blemishes. And if anywhere has blemishes right now, it's America the Beautiful. What's more, it'd be a poor act of stewardship on my part to spend so much time promoting travel around America, but yet not address those blemishes.

So I'm not going to beat around the bush here: America is a messy place right now. And it has been for a while. Public land and national parks are being stripped away. States, and even other countries, have had to issue travel warnings about the safety of minorities. People with the right to enter America from other nations are being banned and turned away at international airports. And white nationalists have taken to the streets, and in doing so, injured and killed others. And all the while, the president of the U.S. defends white nationalists, and many of these other things. As Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer wrote in her last Facebook post, “'If you're not outraged you're not paying attention.” (Charlottesville sunset and vigil photos below from Brantley Ussery from Visit Charlottesville).

Yet don’t mistake this for a "political post." This doesn't have anything to do with political parties or differences in political stances. This is a post about being a decent human being. Quite simply, the time to be silent and do nothing in America came and left a long time ago. If you want to know the consequences of doing nothing, ask Harry Leslie Smith, the second world war veteran, who in the summer of 1939 laughed off the fascist newsreels, only to find war at his door step mere days later.

But what is it that Americans can really do right now to make an impact? The pressure of it all can feel so overwhelming and paralyzing. Can one person really make an impact? And where do we even start?

The answer is yes, you can make an impact. And your action, and subsequent impact, becomes a snowball effect. That one person who makes an impact, then inspires two people, and those two people then make an impact and inspire four people, and then those four people make an impact and inspire eight people, and so on.

And the fact is that people are making an impact every single day in the name of a number of different causes. Over one weekend in January, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised $24 million in donations, which is several times the amount it raises in a single year. Recently, a GOP lawmaker rescinded his bill to sell off public lands because of the calls, messages and responses he got (your calls are working!). Print publications are seeing record-breaking subscription numbers, women are running for political office in record numbers, and the National Park Service set a record for visitors for the third year in a row. Not to mention, Saturday Night Live is funnier than it’s been in years.

So today, and in the coming weeks and months, I’m going to be sharing practical things that people can be doing to make an impact now. Sometimes it may be about supporting lifestyle brands that give back, while other times about how to protect and preserve the outdoors.

Today, however, in light of recent events, it’s simply about things we can do individually, and together, to be good humans, support the right organizations, and be allies for one another and stand up for what’s right, especially for those people, like black people, who continue to be victims of inequality and racism in America. (Meanwhile, Southern Poverty Law Center recently published this guide to responding to hate.)

Note: Many of the organizations and brands I mention below are organizations and brands that I've used, supported and donated to. I neither expect everyone to use and support these organizations, nor expect everyone to agree with their benefit. But do fucking something. Lives are literally at stake here. 

7 ways to make an impact now

1. Contact friends, acquaintances, colleagues and people of color and other backgrounds to listen, learn and be an ally. This has been one of the single most important things I’ve done lately, inspired by my writer friend, Julie, who posted a great practical list last week of 10 things that white people can be doing right now (which inspired some of the things I mention in this post). I realized I haven’t spent enough time reaching out to friends of color and other nationalities and backgrounds to listen and learn from them.

As Julie put it, "Hold spaces open for friend of color who feel terrorized and terrified by this moment to talk." People of other color and backgrounds have long been marginalized in America, and the marginalization and discrimination did not stop with the end of racial segregation. They need us, all of us, and they can’t carry the burden of things like what happened in Charlottesville alone. They've been calling out racism for so long. Will we now listen, stand with them, and call it out too?

2. Attend, organize, and show up at vigils, marches, support groups, and local meetings. I wish that we’ve seen the last white supremacist march. But the fact is that we haven’t. What happened in Charlottesville isn’t isolated, nor is it a reflection on Charlottesville. Even in my own city of Los Angeles, in Santa Monica, white nationalists recently interrupted a racial justice committee meeting. Thus, we must continue standing up, showing up and supporting our friends, neighbors and strangers of different ethnicities and backgrounds and speaking out against wrongdoing. As Edmund Burke so famously stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

3. Listen, learn and read more outside of your bubble. I am a white, southern-born male who grew up in a culture that was set up for my success. And my schooling and development growing up was largely through that lens. While I’ll never be able to truly relate to and understand what it’d be like growing up or living in America as a Latino, Muslim or black person, I can at least learn more about their experiences and hardships, trying to see the world through their eyes, which hopefully will lend itself to more empathy and actionable takeaways. Some books that Julie recommends: Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, Devil in the Grove, The Original Black Elite, and Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press.

4. Pick three to five causes that are “your causes.” Listen, we’re not superheroes who can be everywhere and do everything at once. However, we can change the world by changing our little corner of the world. And for me, that’s meant trying to make a difference with causes I’m passionate about and believe in. Having a career in the travel and outdoor industry, this has been where I’ve spent the most time this year researching, talking with people, writing and calling politicians, and sharing information about how people can get involved. For me personally, climate change and the threat to the national park service and public lands have been a couple of the most pressing issues. Even still, while some of these causes are a matter of personal conviction, there are other issues, like hate, racism and inequality, which should naturally move us to act.

5. Donate your money. The Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, Planned Parenthood, and Life After Hate (non-profit to help people leave hate groups) are just a few organizations that have seen recent budget cuts or are facing threats in budget cuts. And many of these, and others, who do great work in the way of outdoor advocacy, protecting the environment, human rights, racial justice and health services, are dependent on donations. But I know that not everyone has a surplus of money to just give away. So consider setting up a small monthly donation to a cause or non-profit you want to support. Don’t know where to begin? This list from Jezebel is a great place to start.

6. Donate your time. Many of the organizations you can donate money to, you can also donate your time to. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Boys & Girls Club, NextGen Climate Action, and Planned Parenthood are just a few organizations you can volunteer with. Elsewhere, get involved on more of a local level. A couple favorite L.A. organizations include L.A. Kitchen, which transforms donated fruits and produce into healthy, scratch-made meals, and the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

7. Make purchases that give back. When you’re not donating your money, the money you’re spending on food, clothes and other things could be giving back. Tentree plants 10 trees for every item purchased, Cotopaxi creates outdoor products that fund sustainable poverty relief, Parks Project product purchases contributes directly to different conservancies across the USA for the on-going care of national parks, and The Outrage donates money from every purchase to organizations that fight inequality. Furthermore, some credit cards donate money to charity, while online marketplaces, like Amazon, can donate a percentage of your purchase to charity. For booking travel, check out my friends at Kind Traveler, where your next hotel stay could give back to a local or international charity.

Make an impact: Tentree planted trees in Madagascar
Make an impact: Tentree planted trees in Madagascar

Charlottesville photos from Brantley Ussery from Visit Charlottesville.

What else can people do to make an impact?