Changemaker Chat – B. Lee Coyne

B. Lee Coyne is a “catalyst”–journalist, counselor, educator.  He enjoys exposure to multiculturism and has had the fortune of visiting 30 countries. His hobbies run from travel to cooking, poetry to philately, and I enjoy listening to instrumental music for relaxation–that’s one man’s form of nirvana.

How did you first become interested in social change?

Social Change entered my mind even before I knew the term. I was raised by tolerant grandparents and a mom who encouraged inquiry. When my dad returned from wartime, he was just the opposite, rejecting questions and explanations on any subjects. I soon felt that this was unfair…and thus verbally rebelled. I was seeking the right to be heard.

How do you define social justice?

“Social Justice” extends beyond personal justice to imply an equal playing field. We want nobody to be disenfranchised from the rights and privileges others receive. In that context, we challenge status based on happenstance and having a “lucky break”.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

Early on, I’d say it was developing Sunshine Line, which used the teleconferencing technique to reach out to the homebound elderly. This was launched in Jamaica, NY, back in 1982. Nearly as satisfying were Operation Green Thumb (converting a trash dump into an intergenerational garden) and publishing a special journal of immigrant memories called The Ellis Island Digest. As far as mobilizing an entire community, creating an outdoor mural would top the list; see

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

Our Cherry City Institute is attempting to develop an Asiatowne Culture Center to accentuate Far East food, fashions and the arts. We also have been working with Greyhound Lines to upgrade its terminal, perhaps with a Native American motif.

What is your vision for a better world?

This visionary’s ultimate vision is to train the future generation to learn and practice alternatives to violence, not only war but starting with schoolyard bully behavior.

What are your plans for the future?

I will continue with my weekly radio show on aging-related topics, be an advocate for greater intergenerational cohesion, and seek out kindred souls to collaborate with in fruitful projects that reflect my affinity for humanity. Also in the wings could well be one or several social issue magazines articles and self-help books that help people get unstuck and move their lives in more positive directions.

Changemaker Chat: Dr. Dietrich Fischer

Dr. Dietrich Fischer is the academic director of the World Peace Academy in Switzerland. When we asked him to participate in a changemaker chat, he very humbly replied that he would prefer to share information about the work of others who have brought about remarkable change. What follows is his remarks to students in the Master of Advanced Studies in Peace and Conflict Transformation at the beginning of this trimester.

Dear students and colleagues,

Welcome to our third trimester!

The former German Chancellor Willy Brandt once said, “Peace is not everything, but without peace, everything is nothing.” Therefore, peace is probably the most important subject we can study. Thank you for studying peace!

I am sure you will make important contributions to help build a better, more peaceful world. Here are some examples of what individuals have been able to contribute to peace.


A six year old Canadian boy, Ryan Hreljac, saw on television that there are people in the world who die from thirst, or because their water is contaminated. He was so concerned that he asked his parents to give him extra chores and pay for it, so that he could raise money to send to the organization “WaterCan”, a pun where the meaning of “Can” may be like in “beer can”, or in “Canada”, or in “you can do it.” By sending out emails to everyone he knew, asking for contributions, and asking people to forward the request to those they know, he raised 800,000 Canadian dollars. He made those funds available for drilling water wells in areas without safe drinking water, saving many lives. If a young boy can do this, what can we accomplish?


Randy Kehler, who later became national coordinator of the Nuclear Freeze movement in the United States, was drafted into the Army in the early 1970s to go fight in Vietnam. Like many others, he refused to serve and was sentenced to jail. But unlike many others, he did more than that. Before beginning his jail sentence, he toured the United States, speaking out against the war on university campuses, in churches and to peace organizations. He had no idea whether this would make any difference, but his conscience demanded that he try to do whatever he could.

In one of his audiences was Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon analyst and co‑author of the “Pentagon Papers,” the secret history of the Vietnam war. He had become increasingly disillusioned with the way the United States fought the war, and had begun to doubt its justification. But he said that what finally persuaded him to do something was hearing Randy Kehler speak. Here was a young man willing to go to jail for his conviction that the war was immoral. So Ellsberg secretly made four sets of photocopies of the 7,000 page report, and left them anonymously in boxes in front of the offices of the New York Times, the Washington Post and two other major national newspapers. When editors read the reports, they realized that they contain so many accurate facts that they could not have been forgeries by someone outside of the government, and they began to publish them. President Nixon ordered them to halt publication, but the US Supreme Court ruled that prior restraint violated the first amendment of the US constitution guaranteeing free speech. When people read that they had been deceived all these years by their own government, and that the United States was not winning the war, they began to oppose it in large numbers. That forced President Nixon to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1973, and led to an end of the war in 1975.

At the right moment, one more snowflake can break the branch of a tree. Even if our efforts don’t show any immediate result, whatever we do makes it easier for others who follow to complete our work.


A soft‑spoken, retired Quaker couple from Troy, New York, took a crucial step that led to the complete abolition of Haiti’s army, which in 1991 had violently overthrown the democratically elected government of President Aristide and arbitrarily arrested, tortured and murdered many Haitian citizens.

In 1994, Sue and Marvin Clark from Troy, New York, founded a small NGO, “Global Demilitarization.” In February 1995 they were able to meet in New York with Oscar Arias Sanchez, the former President of Costa Rica, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the war in Nicaragua. They asked him what country he thought might be the next to follow Costa Rica’s example, which had abolished its military in 1949.

Arias suggested Haiti, since most Haitians saw their army as threatening their personal security rather than protecting them from foreign aggression. From informal conversations with many ordinary Haitians, he estimated that about 80 percent wished the army were abolished. He was disappointed that nobody seemed to pay attention to his observations, but was convinced that if an internationally recognized polling firm could confirm his impressions, the world would notice. But that would cost about $20,000, and he did not have that money.

When Sue and Marvin Clark heard this, they wrote to all their friends and friends of friends, sending out about thousand letters, explaining this opportunity and asking for donations. Within a few weeks, they raised $27,000 and sent it to the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, and soon the poll was conducted.

At a news conference in Port‑au‑Prince on April 28, 1995, Oscar Arias could announce that 62 percent of the Haitian people wished to abolish the army, and only 12 percent wished to keep it, with the rest expressing no opinion. When President Aristide heard this, he stepped to the microphone and spontaneously announced, in front of the assembled military leadership, that given the clear wish of the majority of his people, he herewith declared the army abolished!

The international media almost totally ignored this important event. But when President Aristide was asked on a nationally televised interview in the United States after the election of his successor what he considered his greatest achievement during his term in office, he said abolishing the Haitian military.

It is impressive how much difference the efforts of individuals can make. Not even the U.S. Navy was able to abolish Haiti’s army. When President Clinton sent the navy in 1994 to land in Port-au-Prince and help restore the democratically elected government, it turned around in the face of a violent demonstration on the landing peer by a small group of backers of the military dictatorship. Who would have thought that two individuals, without power or wealth, would succeed in helping abolish the Haitian military, simply by talking to the right people and taking the right action at the right time. We can all take courage and hope from this. If we have a dream and pursue it step by step, never giving up, we can ultimately reach it.

After their initial success, Sue and Marvin have launched a campaign to dismantle all nuclear weapons, enlisting a support group of several hundred peace activists who send monthly appeals to the heads of nuclear states to give our children the gift of life instead of the threat of a nuclear holocaust.


When Johan Galtung, widely recognized as the founder of the academic discipline of peace research, founded the first International Peace Research Institute in Oslo in 1959, he and his colleagues sent copies of their working papers regularly to about 400 social science institutes around the world, including the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) in Moscow. They received acknowledgements from many places, but never heard anything from IMEMO. It was as if the papers disappeared in a black hole, leaving no trace. Despite of this lack of feedback, the members of the Oslo team persistently kept sending their papers on alternative approaches to peace, security, development to IMEMO throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1982, Johan Galtung attended a conference at IMEMO. During a break, the librarian took him to the back of the library, opened a locked room, opened a locked cabinet inside the room, and showed him a pile of papers. Here was the entire collection of papers that he and his friends had been sending over the years. The “black hole” had been identified. Surprisingly, the papers were worn out from having passed through many hands, edges bent and torn, with portions underlined and numerous notes in the margins.

In 1991, Vladimir Petrovsky, then Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, came to see Johan Galtung in Oslo and said, “I really wanted to tell you once how grateful we were for all your papers that you kept sending us, even though we could never respond. During the Brezhnev era, I was part of a group of young scholars at IMEMO who met frequently to discuss new ideas, and we studied your books and papers intensively, among others. We knew that our system needed reform, and that the time for change was coming, but we had no clear ideas what form those reforms should take. You provided us with valuable new concepts and concrete ideas how to proceed. And you were neither Marxist nor anti-Marxist.”

The end of the Cold War has many sources, but new ideas developed by Western peace movements‑‑on human rights, economic and political participation, nonviolent conflict resolution, security based on mutual cooperation instead of threats and confrontation, conversion of military industries to civilian use, and nonoffensive defense‑‑which seeped into the former Soviet Union through various discrete channels and apparently found receptive ears, have played an important role.

Can individuals make a difference for the course of history, or are their efforts insignificant compared to major trends, like the movement of a single molecule in the wind? It is clear that if a situation is not ripe for change, if nobody wants to hear new proposals, one individual can make little difference. But if people are unhappy with their present conditions and search for new ways, a good idea, persuasively argued, can go a long way. Yet even when an opportunity for major change arises, someone must seize it or it may be missed. Similarly, if one plants a fruit tree in the desert, it will die. But even in the most fertile soil, under the best climatic conditions, only weeds may grow unless we plant something better. And we never know for sure whether an apparent desert may not hide fertile ground just below the surface, in which one seed can over time give rise to a whole forest. Even if we do not see the results of our efforts for peace immediately, we should not give up, because they may bear fruit some day in unexpected ways.


In 1835, Lloyd Garrison, the publisher of the anti‑slavery gazette “The Liberator”, spoke on the Boston Commons against slavery. He was arrested by the police‑‑to protect his life‑‑ because an angry mob was ready to lynch him. He was secretly moved out of the city at night in an enclosed horse coach. But he continued to fight against slavery, and 30 years later, it was indeed abolished in the United States by President Lincoln.

The Quakers played a leading role in the movement to abolish slavery. Groups of Quakers traveled from town to town in the United States to preach against slavery, and they did not leave a town until at least one person had converted to their cause. In the end, their patience paid off.

When we see the billions spent for weapons today and the pittance available to work for peace, it is easy to despair. But the people who fought for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century did not even have any foundations to apply to. They made personal sacrifices and took risks, while the slave traders and slave owners accumulated huge fortunes. Yet the anti‑slavery movement prevailed in the end, because it had a just cause. For the same reason, the global peace movement will one day prevail over those who profit from war.


Rufus Jones (1863-1948), an American Quaker, who helped found the American Friends Service Committee in 1917, went to England after World War I to help with the reconstruction. He noticed that there were large areas of public land around many cities, which remained uncultivated. He persuaded city governments to divide this land into small parcels and lend them to unemployed people so that they could grow vegetables to feed their own families and earn a modest income from selling what they could spare. One unemployed man was daunted by the task, but worked hard all summer, clearing the land from shrubs and thorns, fertilizing the soil, planting various vegetables, watering them regularly and removing weeds. He earned a rich crop in the fall. Rufus Jones said to him, “Is it not marvelous what God and you have done here together?” The man said, “Well, yes, but you should have seen it when God had it all to himself.”

Unless we do good work, it is not going to happen by itself!

As the anthropologist Margaret Mead has said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Changemaker Chat: Angela Giacchetti

Marketing and communications strategist Angela Giacchetti is passionate about empowering people and working for social justice. A specialist in branding and positioning, cause marketing, and strategic communication, Angela independently speaks and teaches. She also works as Associate for Pipeline Fellowship and consultant to Three Furies. Follow her on Twitter @AGiacchetti.


How did you first become interested in social change?

Some folks have an “ah-ha” moment that they can articulate. I don’t. As long as I can remember, I have been exploding with questions about the world and feeling unsatisfied with the status quo.

Perhaps it comes from my not-so-unique family background. I was raised by a single mom who cleaned other people’s houses to keep our electricity on. However, I think I also come from enough privilege that I felt audacious and empowered to fight.

How do you define social justice?

Justice is not charity, salvation, sympathy, or paternalism. It’s about empathy and most importantly, survival. I don’t work on social justice issues because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I do it because my life depends on it.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

The most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced was speaking on the Planned Parenthood Truth Tour in Englewood NJ. I got to share my personal story as a former patient to a large crowd alongside my elected officials. Although it was a delight to give voice to the patient perspective, it was my big brother that made the day. There was a lively counter-protest going on. When I was at the microphone, they were screaming very hateful things. One of my older brothers was in the crowd supporting me and pulled the counter-protest organizers aside to tell them I was his sister. While I was amplifying the voices of others, he was amplifying my voice. It was so touching to see my activism make my family stronger, and to see it click for my brother that the personal is political.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

I am Pro-Choice Co-Chair of WIN.NYC (Women’s Information Network of New York City) and love the group of women I get to work with. It’s interesting to see how powerful meaningful connections with others can be in terms of social change. Don’t underestimate your personal relationships.

What is your vision for a better world?

One of the things I feel strongly about is defining equality. We need to get specific on how we are making strides for equity and justice. Let’s not simply toss around the words “justice”, “equality”, and “social good”. In my vision for a better world, we are able to define what we are exactly changing, how we are working to make progress, and how we are measuring that impact.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m working on approaching change through varied channels–political and social activism, direct service, leadership and mentorship, and even business. My work at Pipeline Fellowship has taught me that there are many ways to make change. We train women philanthropists to become angel investors through education, mentoring, and practice. Each participant commits to invest in a woman-led for-profit social venture at the end of the training.

Changemaker Chat: Matt Meyer

Matt Meyer is a New York-based educator-activist-author, co-editor of the two volume Africa World Press series Seeds of New Hope and co-author of Guns and Gandhi in Africa, and editor of PM Press’ Let Freedom Ring. He is the War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator, and UN ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his introduction to Guns and Gandhi in Africa, wrote: “Sutherland and Meyer have looked beyond the short-term strategies and tactics which too often divide progressive people . . . They have begun to develop a language which looks at the roots of our humanness.”

How did you first become interested in social change?

Growing up, my dad was a teacher and teacher’s union chapter leader, and my mom was active in community-based social service projects. But neither were very activist oriented beyond that; they gasped as the television images of the war in Vietnam were blasted across the screen, but attended no demonstrations. For me, when I was a senior in high school, and co-editor of my school newspaper, I began to look at some of the political issues facing my age group. Foremost amongst these was President Carter’s re-institution of registration, the first stage in the process of drafting people into the military. We ran a poll of students (who were, of course, overwhelmingly opposed), and an editorial, and then – when my high school sweetheart broke up with me the day before graduation – I plunged into the only thing I found consoling: political work! That summer, the Democratic National Convention was held in my own home town of New York City, and I volunteered to help get a four-star mother (someone who husband and son had been killed in Vietnam) nominated for vice president, just so she could give an anti-registration speech. We got enough delegates to sign, then on the final night the organizers somehow got some press passes so that those of us who had worked the hardest could view the convention from the inside. On that fateful night, it did not matter that I was sitting in the far-away seats at the top of Madison Square Garden. The sitting President of the United States was right there before me, giving his acceptance speech to run for a second term. When he mentioned his policy of registration, a grouping of us booed him, an act heard by millions on national television. The idea that after only a few weeks of social change activism I could boo the President on national TV seemed too good to be true. I wondering what I could do if I remained active for a bit longer!!

How do you define social justice?

For me, social justice is defined by people’s empowerment–a constructive space filled with equal opportunities and equity, with a communalism that suggests not simply that people should “live and let live” but rather “live and help to live.” I was taught that by an old leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement, so I guess it is important to say that social justice includes an end to all colonialism and neocolonialism, and end to imperialism, an end to racism, sexism, heterosexism and patriarchy. But for me, it also means an end to militarism and the violent ways in which we treat one another–both personally and structurally through poverty created by capitalism and the drive for unchecked profits.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

This is a tough one; I have had so many. Could it be when, weeks after the above-mentioned experience, I decided to become a public draft resister, refusing to register when I turned 18. At the press conference, I was greeted by a sweet little lady who was feeding me apple strudel and asking how I was. Turned out this woman, who emceed the press conference, was none other than celebrated author Grace Paley! I met Abbie Hoffman within the year, and ended up doing some secretarial work for him. It became clear that the “left” was much smaller than I could have imagined, and I would end up meeting many very inspiring people over the years: from Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, to Assata Shakur, in exile in Cuba; from my mentors Pan African pacifist Bill Sutherland, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party leader Mawina Koyate, and Puerto Rican human rights elder Luis Nieves Falcon; from my partner and companero Meg Starr to all my comrades in Resistance in Brooklyn; from so many icons of the War Resisters League and peace studies communities…I am always excited about meeting the wonderful people also working so hard to re-shape the world for the better. Perhaps the experiences I’d have to rate as most exciting are the countless creative demonstrations, from when the huge puppets of Bread and Puppet Theater led one million of us into Central Park for an end to nuclear power and arms in 1982, to when hundreds of us blockaded the Liberty Bell to demand that the jailers Let Freedom Ring for death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, to just a year ago, when I went with my 11-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to a street action in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street. They are all my most exciting, along with all the ones still to come.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

I spent three weeks in South Africa this past July and August helping put together a new network, now calling itself the African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network. Along with the War Resisters International and other groups, we will be putting together a major Pan African gathering in 2014. Building up for that, across the African continent and throughout the Diaspora, is the most exciting thing I am currently involved in.

ALSO, I am proud to be part of growing efforts to shine special attention on two prisoners who deserve and demand immediate release. One is Russell Maroon Shoatz, serving close to forty years behind bars, with over thirty of them in torturous solitary confinement. If the US is to even come close to living up to its image of “justice for all,” it must unconditionally release old men who are in prison largely due to the fact that they joined the Black Liberation movement (Panthers, etc) in the late 1960s. Though he is convicted of various “criminal acts,” no common criminal spends this long in solitary or behind bars. The fear is that, once prisoners like Maroon are released, they are going to do what Mandela did when he was released: lead revolutionary movements for massive and radical change. We know, of course, that movements are made by more than just leaders, and our social justice movements must be at least string enough to help these warriors of past struggles get out of jail before they die.

Similarly, the case of Oscar Lopez Rivera, in jail for the thought crime of “seditious conspiracy” to overthrow the US government’s control of his Puerto Rican homeland, must be given full immediate attention.

What are your plans for the future?

A book I have been working on for six years, as co-editor and contributor, is about to be released. We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America contains a foreword by Cornell West, after-poems by Alice Walker and Sonia Sanchez, and a host of amazing essays by scores of activists. So I will be doing some work to promote that book, which Maya Angelou has graciously said “is so needed” at this time. More information about the book, including how to order it, is here:

I am a full-time teacher, and also a full time (or as much as is left) father, and I take those two responsibilities very seriously, as a central part of my commitment of working for a better world.

Changemaker Chat: Jon Elliot Ramer

Jon Eliot Ramer (born 1958) is an American entrepreneur, civic leader, inventor, and musician. He is co-founder of several technology companies including Ramer and Associates, ELF Technologies, Inc., and Smart Channels,as well as the designer and co-founder of several Deep Social Networks. Former Executive Director of the Interra Project, he is a co-founder of Ideal Network, a group-buying social enterprise that donates a percentage of every purchase to a non-profit or school.  Ideal Network is a certified B-Corp that was recognized as “Best in the World for Community” in 2012 by B-Labs. He is also the designer and co-founder of the Compassionate Action Network International,[an organization based in Seattle, that led the effort to make the city the first in the world to affirm Karen Armstrong‘s Charter for Compassion. Ramer is also the songwriter and lead guitarist in the band Once And For All.

How did you first become interested in social change?

My interest in social change has been a part of my life since I was a kid. I had the sense that things were out of balance; and then I learned that the only way they would change was if we did something about it. I never felt complaining was enough, I felt call to get involved, myself, directly.

How do you define social justice?

For me social justice means ensuring that everybody has an equal opportunity and a fair chance to participate as I do.  In the Jewish tradition there’s a phrase Tikkun O’lam which means to mend, heal and transform that world.  This has guided me through my life journey.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

My most exciting experiences as an activist has been watching our local Seattle efforts evolve to become an international campaign. Through the connectivity of the Internet, the realization and awakening to the fact that so many of us are engaged and wanting to participate in creating a world that works for all of us.

I had the good fortune to work closely with Paul Hawken and others in developing Wiser Earth which is now and was connected to his book Blessed Unrest.  Like Paul I was awestruck at the number of individuals, groups, and organizations around the world that are rising up and working for just and lasting change. These moments of insight and realization of our connectedness has been my most exciting experiences.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

The most interesting project I’m currently working on is the Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest. This came as a result of a relationship the city of Seattle’s is building with other cities around the world in particular Louisville Kentucky and their mayor who’s a remarkable leader that challenged us and other cities to dethrone them as the most compassionate city in the world by performing more hours and acts of community service than they performed.

We are reframing the idea of survival of the fittest to be the survival of the kindest. I think is creative, and an inspiring “culture hack” that I consider this the most interesting project I’m currently involved with.  I think the notion of compassion, i.e. empathy into action, and the idea of starting from within is very much aligned with the vision for a better world that I hold and am pursuing. As I see it, this cannot happen from just the top down it requires the bottom up, outside in, and inside out.

What is your vision for a better world?

The vision that I hold is that the elders awaken to support the youth; and provide them with the air time to share their voice, opportunities and resources that are desperately needed to make the shift happen.  In this way we as a community get to coalesce together to turn what we have into what we need to create a better world.

I’m committed to working on issues related to “intergenerational equity” by working with youth and ensuring that indigenous voices can heard and appreciated. Here is the project we started called Young Partners in Development – Empowered Youth, Empowering Society.

Through an event we produced, the Seeds of Compassion, I had the good fortune to build a working relationship with a Hereditary Chief, Phil Lane Jr. He and I wrote a paper on Deep Social Networks and the Digital Fourth Way that lays out this fusion of social networks with ancient indigenous wisdom and science. You can find the paper here.

What are your plans for the future?

To be present and responsive to what comes my way like your invitation!

Changemaker Chat: Tom Tresser

Tom Tresser is a consultant, producer, educator and trainer works with individuals, companies and communities to leverage and amplify their creative assets in order to solve problems, create economic value and trigger civic engagement. He was director of cultural development at Peoples Housing, in north Rogers Park, Chicago, where he created a community arts program that blended the arts, education and micro-enterprise. Tom has acted in some 40 shows and produced over 100 plays, special events, festivals and community programs. He was an arts activist, having organized support for pro-arts candidates and developed a cultural policy think tank at Roosevelt University in the early 1990’s. He was a co-founder of Protect Our Parks, a neighborhood effort to stop the privatization of public space in Chicago. He was a lead organizer for No Games Chicago, an all-volunteer grassroots effort that opposed Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid. He has taught workshops on “The Politics of Creativity – A Call To Service”for arts service organizations in six states. He has taught a number of classes on art, creativity and civic engagement for Loyola University, School of the Art Institute, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and DePaul University. Tom also consults with arts organizations on strategic planning, audience development and peer-to-peer marketing. Tom has published a web-based project, “America Needs You!” – about the need for artists to get involved in politics. Tom was the  Green Party candidate for the position of President of the Board of Commissioners of Cook County in November 2010 election. Tom teaches “Got Creativity? Strategies & Tools for the Next Economy” and “How To Be A Social Change Agent” (IIT Stuart School of Business), “Introduction to the Creative Economy” (online for Project Polymath), and “Acting Up – Using Theater & Technology for Social Change” (online for DePaul University’s School for New Learning). Tom also teaches for the online Certificate in Nonprofit Management Program for the University of Illinois at Chicago. Tom is currently working on establishing a new space for activists and educators to collaborate on enhancing civic engagement initiatives – The CivicLab.

How did you first become interested in social change?

I’ve been involved in civic work since high school when I organized an all-day event where every class got hear from leaders of peer-groups – athletes, hippies, brains, etc. My first voter registration effort was on my college campus in 1973. I’ve always been trying to figure out how to get people involved in public life in meaningful ways while increasing their knowledge of how government works and how it affects them.

How do you define social justice?

Social justice is the system operating well and fairly for all people without respect to pedigree.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist? 

In 2009 I was a co-leader of the grassroots all-volunteer No Games Chicago campaign that worked to defeat the bid for the 2016 Olympics. We went to the IOC’s HQ in Lausanne, Switzerland to deliver our materials to members of the IOC and we went to Copenhagen to deliver more information before the vote to award the games. This was a very difficult and lonely fight as Mayor Daley threw everything he had into this bid and tied up the media, the business community and most nonprofits in backing the bid. We knew we played a role in the IOC’s decision. It IS possible to fight City Hall and win.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

Right now I’m working on my 13th nonprofit enterprise – the CivicLab which will be a store front space where activists, educators, designers and technologists collaborate to build tools that accelerate civic engagement and community improvement efforts. We are a diverse group of civic scientists, civic hackers and activists and educators who are asking questions such as “What does it mean to be civically literate?” “How do we make participating in public life as easy and as compelling as playing Farmville?”

What is your vision for a better world?

In a better world, all people can develop and express their talents and dreams without barriers of poverty, ignorance, poor health or access to resources.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m teaching a number of classes for local universities on civic engagement and public policy and I want to develop new classes on civic creativity (“Democracy as a design problem”) and grassroots civic policy (as a push back against privatization and its apologists). I’d like to get the CivicLab up and running in 2013 and offer a series of classes on building and practicing skills for activism and civic engagement.

Changemaker Chat: Diana Balot Frank

Diana Balot Frank is a recent graduate of the MSW program at Kutztown University, an activist since her student days at N.Y.U., a writer, and an amateur chocolatier. She publishes a blog called The Foot of Mount Olympus.

How did you first become interested in social change?

I was always interested in history and politics. In high school, I could not understand how the holocaust happened. I didn’t understand how one man (Hitler) could do so much harm. It wasn’t until I was in college and working at my summer job as a maid in a hospital that I met some people who were involved in the anti-war movement. My political education and activism started then. I was attending NYU at the time and the president of the university was on the board of directors of Union Carbide which had holdings in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. As a student I was active in anti-apartheid work, keeping ROTC off campus and supporting the Iranian students who had fled the Shah. It was a very exciting time. Also, the women’s liberation movement was occurring and that influenced me as well.

How do you define social justice?

Social justice is economic justice: freedom from want, decent housing, healthcare, education; work that is meaningful and helpful to the people of the world and to the planet. Social justice is democracy defined as regular people having influence on and control over issues that directly affect us in our neighborhoods, our state, our country, our world.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist? 

My most exciting experiences so far have involved demonstrations in NY and Washington DC through the years. Living in a small city and working at a mainstream job for most of my life, there have been many times when I felt isolated and powerless. Being with hundreds of thousands of people who have the same passion for ending war and demanding economic justice reinforces your faith in humanity. Taking someone with you or meeting someone there who has never been to a demonstration before, seeing young families with babies in strollers, older activists, people in wheel chairs, with oxygen tanks, young people with nose rings and tattoos – allows you to see the continuum – the timeline of struggle. It reassures you that people will not stop speaking up when they know something is wrong. Sometimes you bump into people you haven’t seen in 20 years, and that’s nice too.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

I just got involved with the Allentown Community Benefits Coalition. Although I just attended my first meeting, I see this group of people as dynamic and creative. I believe we will have a positive impact on how the Neighborhood Improvement Zone can benefit all the people of Allentown.

What is your vision for a better world?

I see so many things. I think the main thing is that people – regular people – from the day we are born until the day we die are an asset to this world, not the burden we are made to appear to be in this time of unemployment and incarceration. We have to stop waiting for the “job creators” to appear with minimum wage part time jobs and no benefits. We have to get together, see what our community needs and create our own work with cooperative ownership.

What are your plans for the future?

After being laid off from my job as a purchasing manager, I decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in social work. I graduated in May, took the summer off and am currently looking for a position working with a community organization, older adults or hospice. I am also researching the private prison industry. If a state contracts with a private prison corporation, the contract calls for the state to maintain a 90% occupancy rate. That is a little frightening. Here are a few facts from a recently published post on my blog, The Foot of Mount Olympus

•Between 1990 and 2009 the number of people in private prisons increased by 1600%.•6% of state prisoners, 16% of federal prisoners, and, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are housed in private prisons.

•The federal government is in the midst of a private prison expansion spree, driven primarily by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency that locks up roughly 400,000 immigrants each year and spends over $1.9 billion annually on custody operations. ICE now intends to create a new network of massive immigration detention centers, managed largely by private companies, in states including New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois (ACLU, 2011, p. 5).

I am also collecting information regarding food safety with the purpose of pointing out the amount of waste that exists in the way agribusiness manufactures food. I receive daily updates from, sometimes as many as 5 a day announcing recalls of thousands of units of food for reasons including possible e-coli and listeria contamination to undeclared ingredients. It’s mind boggling, the amount of waste.

Changemaker Chat – Kevin Easterling

Kevin Easterling is a native of the Lehigh Valley. As executive director of the Martin Luther & Coretta Scott King Memorial Project of the Lehigh Valley Inc., he coordinated the construction of the only memorial in the world dedicated to Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King

How did you first become interested in social change?

Well, as a Black man and descendant of American Slaves, born and living in America, (Specifically the Lehigh Valley) my life experiences (and love of true history) has made it most important that I be engaged in what is now termed social change. If I had to pick a defining point however, I would say the first time I knew I was classified as different was when I moved to Allentown in the mid 70’s…the Allentown School District at that time still had the integrated busing system and I was required to (because I was Black and I lived in a certain neighborhood) attend an all white elementary school across town. It was part of the school integration laws in those days. My experiences back then as a child ingrained in me that things needed to be different.  I couldn’t put my finger on it back then but I knew something had to change.

How do you define social justice?

The abolition of American Chattel Slavery and South African Apartheid, the American Freedom Movement / Civil Rights Movement, pretty much defines the need for and definition of social justice for me. The need to change laws, institutions and economic inequalities that make a certain social, ethnic or economic class of people unequal or second class citizens to other human beings.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

I’ve never considered myself an activist…it seems like when you’re engaged as a Black man, people (or the Press) often label you as an activist. I’ve pretty much somewhere down the line gained a self-empowering attitude for much of my life. Life in itself is exciting when I’m engaged. In my life time though, I had the experience of observing several major world and local changes that were exciting to me…a few that stick out are the fall of Apartheid in South Africa, (Nelson Mandela becoming president), Obama becoming the first Black president. While I wasn’t directly involved in these two events they were very exciting to me.

(Note: This raises an interesting point…what is an activist? What is activism? This is a great conversation starter for local communities! – Editor)

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

There are several, but if I had to pick one I would have to say the work I’m doing now as the executive director for the Martin Luther & Coretta Scott King Memorial Project of the Lehigh Valley.

What is your vision for a better world?

People have been so conditioned by the rich and powerful that they have settled for injustice because they don’t feel like they can make the world different. The capacity for moral outrage is in much deficit all over the world. A better world will come when all of man-kind understands how we are all connected. There is enough fruit and wealth for everyone on this planet… senseless war and greed has crippled this planet. Remove these two things and things could be a lot better for the world.

What are your plans for the future?

Not sure yet.

Changemaker Chat: David McReynolds

David McReynolds is lifelong Socialist Party activist, a pacifist who worked with the War Resisters League from 1960 through 1999, an author of essays, a speaker, and an organizer, with more than a few arrests during actions. He was also the Socialist Party candidate for President in 1980 and 2000 and the chair of War Resisters International for one term. You can learn more about David by visiting

How did you first become interested in social change?

I suspect I became interesting quite early, in high school, partly as a result of the teachings of the Baptist church I attended, and partly as a result of following events in World War II very closely, and the aftermath of the war.

How do you define social justice?

Social justice would be a society in which, without trying to “level everyone,” there would be no massive concentrations of private wealth and the general population would have decent housing, medical care, and access to education.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

Perhaps the demonstration in Moscow in 1978, opposing both the Soviet and American arms races. Our group demonstration in Red Square as the same moment as fellow pacifists walked onto the White House lawn and unfurled a banner.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

Probably trying to sort through the thousands of negatives and prints in order they can be useful to pacifist and socialist historians (photography having been a hobby of mine).

What is your vision for a better world?

Less emphasis on “nation states,” more serious work on disarmament to a police level.

What are your plans for the future?

At 82, there are no extensive plans for the future