Frances Moore Lappe (author of Diet For a Small Planet and founder of the Small Planet Institute, right here in Cambridge), presents another alternative:
I think she's on to something. When times are hard and things seem out of control, as they do now, it can be comforting and energizing just to be doing something that you feel makes a difference, whether it solves the problems of the world or not. I think this was the real genius of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression--not necessarily that it provided jobs (the work was hard and the pay was low), but that it provided empowerment. The word has become something of a pop psychology catch-phrase, but perhaps it's time to revisit it. To what extent do economic depression and psychological depression need to go hand in hand? How much can feeling empowered actually give us more power over our circumstances? We can't change the economy, but we can change the way we do business, and the ways in which we relate to each other and to the community. That can make a big difference to our mental "bottom line", and maybe have some effect on our financial one, too.
Community activist organizations and business advocacy groups (like CLF) may not solve the problems of the world, but they reinforce the idea that we're not alone, that there are some variables we can affect, and that we're making a difference just by participating in something that's larger than ourselves and our own worries.
It's time to take back our power.