Direct Advice to the Upcoming Activist


From her long experience, Shannie offers this counsel:

  • There are things that need changing in community, country, and world, and the fresh perspective, vision, energy, and skills of the young are desperately needed.
  • Find something that really turns you on because passion is essential to commitment. Join a local group already engaged in the issue to learn the ropes but if there is no group, start your own.
  • Don’t be too proud to ask for advice if you need it.
  • Always believe in the power of one – examples abound of great achievement coming from one person’s dream.
  • People learn best in an atmosphere that is not threatening or didactic. Everyone has wisdom and sometimes it comes from the unlikely sources, so validate the concerns of people who may not agree with you.
  • Forums, seminars, and roundtables are educational opportunities that foster discussion and information-sharing. Social education at its best is a process of discussion, listening, and consensus-building that involves compromise.
  • If you’re doing an interview or panel presentation, anticipate some of the concerns of listeners and address them upfront. Be very clear about key messages and stay on track no matter what is thrown at you.
  • Learn how to motivate others because activism cannot be done alone. The ability to communicate is needed to broaden any constituency of support.
  • Be honest, upfront, and sincere with others. Make your case clearly and defend it.
  • Integrity means having the "right motive", so people will respect your stand even when they don’t agree with it. It means you do things for the good of the community and the people you are working for and with, rather than for personal gain.
  • Follow through on commitments and remain open and honest about your reasons for doing things.
  • Social activists are really covert educators, so know your subject really well and keep your knowledge up-to-date.

Last Words

People tend to think of social activists as being intensely involved in one large issue with a lifetime focus, but I have been a bit all over the place. But looking back, I can see a kind of thread.

When Shannie Duff began her work in the area of heritage conservation and urban revitalization work in the sixties, the term "sustainable cities" had not yet been coined. However, she believes it is this description that accommodates what she’s been doing all this time, in different ways, to protect the unique beauty of her community, make it inviting, safe, and inclusive for those who live there, advocating for affordable housing, protection of the natural environment, and promotion of active transportation.

Shannie feels that her legacy as a pioneer in the sustainable cities movement will always be in flux:

Social change is not a static process. People change, circumstances change, and new needs arise. So education can’t be a static process either. To be a good educator, you have to be aware of change, aware of the social environment, and always learning.
I haven’t stopped and I really don’t have any great regrets. Given my personality, I believe that I’ve done the best I could with my own talents and managed to have a rich, rewarding life. I have learned so much, made great friends, and gained tremendous satisfaction through my volunteer activities.