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Annie Leonard’s ‘Story of Solutions’ Shows How to Create Change By Fixing a Broken System (Video)

A Q&A with the Story of Stuff Project founder about her new video on the biggest obstacles to change and how we can overcome them.

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AF: What would you say to those — probably most affected by this game — who don’t feel they have time to fight for change? Maybe they are so in the grind with work and other things.

AL: Well, that’s definitely not just their imagination. When I look at some of the systemic obstacles to greater civic engagement in our country, number one is overwork. We work 300 to 400 hours a year more than our counterparts in Europe. We work more hours per week than any other industrialized country except maybe South Korea depending on which data set you look at—and they’re not exactly a leisure-filled society, so that’s not a good bar. It’s not just a perception that we are overworked and exhausted, we actually are overworked and exhausted.

A number of economists who are trying to figure out how to reduce our environmental impact, increase our sense of happiness and increase our civic engagement are on a mission to reduce amount of hours we work in this country. A number of them make a very compelling point that going to a four-day workweek would not only equalize employment opportunities, but it’s probably the single biggest thing we could do to increase civic engagement.

It also has enormous environmental benefits, but it’s on the agenda of very few environmental groups. In Seattle, John de Graaf, who wrote Affluenza, now runs a campaign called Take Back Your Time. He has incredible statistics about how overworked we are compared to not just other countries but to our parents’ generation.

AF: What about those who just feel apathetic and helpless and who don’t think they are going to win anything?

AL: Again, in a sense they’re not imagining that because we have been so pushed out of the political world, pushed out of our democracy so much that our citizen muscles have gotten flabby. I like to talk about consumer muscles and citizen muscles. And our consumer muscles are spoken to and validated so much that they are really overdeveloped. We really know how to be good consumers. But we’re so seldom called upon to act as citizens that our citizen muscles have atrophied and one of the results is we feel apathetic. That’s a negative reinforcing cycle in which we feel apathetic and we don’t do anything so we sit back and watch more and corporations take over our government and get more and more outrageous policies passed and then we get even more apathetic. What we need to do is start exercising our citizen muscles.

You know the corporations, when they’re trying to promote their agenda in the policy world, the big thing they have is money. They have millions and millions of dollars. But we have millions and millions of us. And that’s only going to start making a difference if we start using it. So we’re really on a kick here to get our community and viewers to start exercising our citizen muscles, even if it’s small. Start doing something to build that muscle, because we learn to win by winning. We begin to build power by building power. So even if you’re sore after the first workout, you've got to start getting involved to build that better future. And the good thing is that it’s fun. It provides that sense of meaning and purpose that provides such longer lasting happiness than a new iPhone.

AF: What do you hope is the major takeaway for people?

AL: I hope people get that there is a different level of solutions we should be advocating for—these systemic solutions—and that without that, everything that we do is going to be not enough and really hard.

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