The severity of the problems facing our world today, from poverty and human rights violations to social injustice and environmental pollution, often makes people feel hopeless and helpless. Although no one person alone can solve any of these problems, a growing number of individuals are trying to do that, using their writing skills. They are trying change the world through the power of the written word.
Melody Moazzi, 30, is an Iranian American activist. She writes books and articles in magazines and newspapers. She also uses the Internet to reach out to more readers. "What I found works for me very well has been the blogging," she says. "I've realized that it's reached a lot of people."
Writing is empowering, Moazzi says. It gives her a voice and hope for change. Writing about Iran is her top priority as an activist. "I speak for all Iranians," she says.
Although she understands what's going on her home country, Moazzi says she hasn't been back to Iran for a decade. "I can't pretend for a second I know what it's like to be out on the streets with my life in danger at all." But she says she can write about the struggles she learns about through her connections. "I have a lot of connections. People are writing to me and saying 'this is happening, that's happening.' If I can verify it, then I consider it my duty to make it known that this kind of stuff is happening."
Paul Loeb is another activist using words to bring about change.
"Certainly, part of the role of any of us is to bear witness to the issues at hand, whatever they happen to be," he says. "I write about a lot of different issues, mostly on the blog The Huffington Post. I've written about health care politics, and I've written about global climate change politics, and about energy politics. I've written about Iraq and Iran and lots of other things.
Whether he is writing a blog, a newspaper article or a book, Loeb says he always tries to give readers hope, and a sense that they will be able to find solutions to the problems.
"What I will do is tell stories, global stories, that can inspire people to act because when somebody acts with courage, the lessons are transferable," he says. "So, I can be sitting in Seattle, where I live, and read about Nelson Mandela in a South African jail, 10, 15, 20 years later, and be inspired to act, or I can tell it in a book and it can inspire other people to act."
Telling a story is one of the basics of writing for change, according to Mary Pipher, author of Writing to Change the World.
"It's very, very hard to argue with a story," she says. "We also know that stories are what are remembered from writing and from speaking."
Writing for change can come in many forms, from essays and letters to the editor, to songs and blogs. A speech, if well written, can also be a powerful persuader, Pipher says. "President Obama is a master of writing and speaking in a way that makes everyone who hears or reads his message feel like a stakeholder."
Effective writing, Pipher says, requires certain skills, such as mastery of the language and the art of persuasion. But often, she suggests, the most important skill is the courage to speak up."The most recent example is the crackdown in Iran after the elections," she says. "The skills of the people who were reporting and taking pictures and submitting them via blog and e-mail really had more to do with bravery and just being willing to take chances with their lives to get the message out."
Pipher recalls writing about a man in Burma when she was there. "(He) had a little Etch-A-Sketch [drawing toy] and when I walked by he wrote the words 'Freedom from Fear,' which is Aung San Suu Kyi's slogan. (He) kind of showed that to me and then rapidly erased it," she says. "He obviously was conveying a very important message to a Westerner that people in Burma wanted a new government and supported Aung San Suu Kyi, yet there wasn't really anything eloquent about his writing. He just was brave enough to say the right thing. Which is no small thing."
No matter how emotional the topic, Pipher recommends that writers be rational and understand the point of view of the other side. "Any kind of attack discredits the attacker," she says. "(It's) very important is not to demonize the enemy or talk about the other side as the enemy."
Besides presenting a rational argument, Pipher advises writers to present suggestions for real action.
"It's important to give readers or listeners very specific advice about what they can do if they care about your issue," she says. "Otherwise, they finish reading your piece or hearing your message, and they are going, 'Yeah, that person really has a good point,' but they have no idea how to act on it."
Blogger Paul Loeb agrees that writing about a problem without including follow-up ideas for action can be wasteful. He says writers can also lead by example and action to achieve the change they want.
"Recently in the U.S, a very prominent environmental writer named Bill McKibben, who is one of the first people to write about global climate change, organized something called Step It Up," he says. "He basically taught at a college. He had 6 of his students help him. That was the group that started it. They ended up with something like 1400 events in cities across the U.S. And he is now organizing 350.org, a global effort where people all around the world will be taking a visible stand to draw attention to this critical issue."
Even when change doesn't happen as fast as they desire, Paul Loeb says those writing for change shouldn't give up hope. Learn to be persistent, he says… and keep writing.