How Can We Make the U.S. Better?

Make the U.S. Better

We received a lot of thoughtful feedback about our last post on why we don’t want to live in the U.S. One valid point is that in many cases it’s not an option to move. And there are ways we can fight to make the U.S. better from the inside. Here are ten things you can do while living in U.S. to advocate for positive change–i.e., for democratic process and against hypocrisy to make the U.S. better.

1. Stay Informed, Know Your Bias

I’ve found that my political party leaning is dangerous to my desire for an informed opinion. We probably all fall on one side of major issues like abortion, but many other issues are not so clearly divided. By getting news from a variety of sources like CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC, Russian Times, and yes, Fox News, we can get a more balanced perspective. Since Google shows you articles that only confirm your current leaning, search engines like Duck Duck Go can also help.

Noam Chomsky’s Requiem for an American Dream is a great documentary that summarizes the way power works in America. You can watch it on Netflix and Vimeo, or on Youtube with Portuguese subtitles here.

For an overall summary of how fractional reserve banking, a debt-based economy, political lobbying by banks, and the war on terror are connected, see The Four Horsemen. This documentary isn’t just doom-and-gloom. It proposes key economic changes to make the U.S. better.


2. Don’t Make the Presidential Election Your Only Political Involvement

For instance, these are the senators who voted for the Saudi Arms deal. Do not reelect them. I’m proud of Senator Patty Murray from my home state of Washington for voting to reject the deal.

This summary of the Saudi Arms deal explains things perfectly. If you are against the humanitarian crisis in Yemen that the U.S. is funding and logitiscally supporting, write to your representatives, and vote against them when they continue to support killing innocent citizens in Yemen.

Here are three petitions you can sign to stop the violence:


3. Fight for Victims of War and Encourage Your Government to Follow Your Example

No matter which side of the political spectrum you adhere to, it’s undeniable that the complex web of proxy wars in the Middle East are killing, displacing, and starving millions of people.

Last week, one of my fellow college alums posted in an alum Facebook group about her new neighbors, refugees from Aleppo who arrived in the U.S. with nothing. She asked our alumni network for Arabic translators, and within 24 hours she was contacted by alumni from around the world offering to Skype with her and the family. In this way and in visiting them, she was able to talk to the family about how she could help them adjust. She created an Amazon Wishlist of items the family needed. Being able to send a blanket to another human being and knowing that it would reach them directly, was an incredible high point for me in an otherwise depressing week filled with news of escalating tension between Russia and the U.S. in Syria.

We’re not always so lucky to be able to help so directly and personally, but there are wonderful organizations we can support who are fighting on refugees’ behalves. has a 4 star rating on Charity Navigator, meaning that 90% of funds go directly to programs. Here is SavetheChildren’s donation page for Yemen.

Urge U.S. to Accept Syrian Refugees


4. Support the Black Lives Matter Movement

Know that this *does not* mean that you don’t support the police. Since when does being angry about institutional racism mean that you don’t support the men and women who risk their lives for our safety every day? We are fighting institutions, not individuals. If we want to make the U.S. better, we can’t afford to see the world in such simplistic, mutually exclusive terms.

The BLM platform is an extensive (and actionable) list of policy demands. If there is no local BLM chapter in your area, one thing you can do immediately is to read the platform, and support the legislative changes it recommends. Vote for them, keep track of their progress in the news, share on your social media. As many wise people have said, a presidential vote should be the last and least of our political involvement.


5. Seek Out and Support Small, Local Businesses

We have several friends back home who have groceries delivered from local farms. Here’s one article that details five online sources for local and organic food delivery.


6. Make an Effort to Buy From Ethical Companies

I have personally struggled to combat my ingrained sense of “cheaper is better,” and “selection is King.” Every time I go back home, I’m tempted to shop at Target, Walmart, and H&M, even knowing that these large chain stores often support unethical manufacturing processes and definitely take money out of my local economy. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard.

I have become familiar enough with that there are a few brands I’m always comfortable buying, and this make ethical shopping a little easier. We used rank-a-brand extensively to determine which brands to source from for our online store Check out your favorite brands on rank-a-brand to see how their practices stack up in terms of labor conditions and environment impact.

One way to reduce the consumption cycle is the incredibly popular site ThredUp, “the largest online consignment and thrift store.”  Etsy is another site with a high concentration of small businesses.

7. Become Involved in Your Local Neighborhood Government

Trying to be an activist on Facebook can be so divisive and depressing–it’s an entirely different feeling to meet your neighbors in person, and work with them on small but meaningful projects.

The last time I visited my hometown, I attended a community meeting about a new housing development in my parents’ neighborhood. The neighborhood was overwhelmingly against the development. The one road into our suburban neighborhood can’t support existing traffic, let alone traffic from 300 new families. Of course, the developer would reap profits without having to pay for improvements to the road, improvements that would be paid for by tax-payers.

I learned several things at this local meeting. One long-time community figure reminded everyone that their involvement makes a difference. The city council always has to take the local neighborhood’s sentiment into account before approving or denying new developments, and community involvement had successfully blocked a development like this in the past. There was a communal feeling of gathering around a united cause at the meeting. It’s a wonderful way to make a difference.

The other thing I learned was that while people mostly talked about the traffic impact, some people mentioned “community culture,” which is an insidiously dangerous term. It’s important to witness the way that people work in groups when it comes to passive aggressive racism–that’s really what we were talking about, when we were talking about “community culture.” That’s the sentiment behind white flight, and I was proud to see community members step up and speak against blanket prejudice against low income families.


8. Support the American Civil Liberties Union

This nonpartisan organization was founded in 1920 to protect the individual liberties and rights guaranteed by the Constitution. No matter how cynical I’ve become about the systematic abuses of democracy in the U.S, I will always take heart that as long as we defend our Constitution, we are defending the best ideals of the U.S., the ideals that make the U.S. unique in the world.

Noam Chomsky reminds us in Requiem for an American Dream that our greatest power as citizens to make the U.S. better is our power to unite. The ACLU defends freedom of speech, without which our country would be entirely lost to the propaganda machines paid for by both the Democratic and Republican sides of mainstream media. Learn more about what the ACLU is about, and support it here.


9. Support States that Pay for Maternity Leave

California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Ohio have all introduced measures to offer paid maternity leave. If you’re not from one of these states or even if you are, check out this article on six ways to push congress to change the law on parental leave. When all other countries in the world except for the U.S. and Papua New Guinea offer government funded maternity leave, it’s clear that by spotlighting this failing of the U.S., activism can affect how quickly we make the U.S better by helping it catch up to the rest of the world.


10. Make the U.S. Better: Make sure you’re registered to vote, and VOTE

The last and least of our efforts to make the U.S. better. When everyone posts reminders to go out and vote, I think we’re missing one critical aspect–our responsibility is not to vote, but to be informed voters.  This is all the more important when our Facebook feeds are full of memes heavy on rhetoric and light on facts. If you haven’t already, take the quiz at to see which presidential candidate you align with most closely on the issues.

I filled out my absentee ballot on Friday, and it took me about two hours to look up every initiative and every local candidate with whom I wasn’t already familiar. This is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of supporting positive world change.

What have we missed? Let us know about your favorite ways to get involved and make the U.S. better.


  • Kelly says:

    Great follow up article to your original post. Since being back in the US this last month, all of the points you made have been painfully highlighted. I’ve had that guilty feeling that if we leave again, it’s like we’re not doing our part and giving up. A bit depressing to think our individual efforts are too small to make an impact, but it may be reality.

    • Sarah B says:

      Great point, Kelly–we’ve alternated between thinking that the problems are too endemic to make a difference, and knowing on the other hand that if Noam Chomsky has hope, we have no right to be so disillusioned. FWIW, many of the things in this article are things we can do from anywhere in the world. I hope that you settle on a decision that works best for your family.

  • Paul Bright says:

    Great follow up to your previous article Sarah! The concepts you presented here are applicable to any nation to make it better.

  • czoski says:

    Thank you for this highly actionable follow up.

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