Can DIY Social Action Make a Difference?

Can't Afford Protest Sign


DIY means Do-It-Yourself.  We are in the midst of a DIY revolution.  It’s time to get directly involved to improve one’s life, or so say home improvement retailers like Home Depot or Lowe’s.  Sometimes it is simply more satisfying (and less expensive) to pick up the hammer and do it yourself.

Young adults in particular have embraced the DIY ethic in their approach to social action.  Benjamin Shepard, Professor of Human Services at City Tech/CUNY, traces an emerging “do-it-yourself spirit” among young activists “that says build what you can with what you have.” 

As Amy Spencer writes, “The DIY movement is about using anything you can get your hands on to shape your own cultural identity, your own version of whatever you think is missing in mainstream culture.  The enduring appeal of this movement is that anyone can be an artist or a creator.” (Shepard, Community Practice as Social Activism, Sage, 2015, pp. 163-164)

What about persons who care not only about social action, but about faith and spirituality as well?   Is there a DIY approach to Spirituality + Social Action that could effectively provide encouragement for young adults who seek social change, whether or not they identify with organized religion?

A Roman Catholic priest, Joseph Cardinal Cardijn (1882-1967) saw the need for young adults to self-organize, DIY-style, as they faced the challenges of Spirituality + Action.  Early in his ministry, Cardijn developed a method of examining one’s life and taking action that emphasized “building what you can with what you have.”  He helped facilitate a sort of “vision quest” that was aimed particularly at young adults and rooted firmly in the workplace. 

Starting in 1912 as a priest serving in a suburb of Brussels, Cardijn developed a method designed to help young women (aged 11-30), many of them needle workers, to develop a personal vision of God’s call for their lives.  How could they bring Christian values to bear on their work setting? 

 Cardijn’s method is made up of three steps, “See-Judge-Act:”

  1. See:  Look carefully at carefully at the work setting and your surrounding relationships as a way of identifying a need to consider. 
  2. Judge:  Reflect on a Christian social teaching discussing this problem and a Gospel lesson addressing the issue. 
  3. Act:  Together with a group, design an action plan provided a Christian solution to the problem.

Cardijn’s overriding goal was to teach young women how to think for themselves.  For this reason, the priest’s role was primarily that of a spiritual director, teaching the young women (and later young men) how to pray and teaching them Gospel stories.  “They have to be able to do it themselves,” he insisted. “They have to fly on their own wings.”  The Young Christian Workers movement grew to 600,000 in Belgium, and into the millions in other countries.  By the time Cardijn died in 1967, the Christian Youth Workers (YCW) were in 109 countries.  Today the YCW, a non-governmental organization with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, has 2,000 grassroots base groups and 20,000 members.

How could Cardijn’s method be put to use today?

 Source:  Shawchuck, Norman, & Heuser, Robert. (1996), Managing the Congregation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon,) 1996, 101-119 and “Canon Joseph Cardijn” at  accessed on 12.10.2014

Photo: Thomas Hawk, “I Can’t Afford An Actual Sign.”  April 9, 2008.  Flickr Creative Commons.

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