Starting in May 2007, Eve Ensler canvassed the best brains around the globe for their world-fixing ideas. "We have two roads to choose from," she said. "The one we are on is leading to escalating poverty and starvation, war, ethnic strife, 'disaster capitalism,' insane violence against women, the plunder of the biosphere. The other road requires change—redistributing resources, honoring the earth and women's bodies, ending racism, poverty, illiteracy, and war."
Extraordinary people—columnist Katha Pollitt, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights Michael Ratner, actress and activist Jane Fonda and author Jeremy Scahill—suggested ways to bring about this transformation that were featured in Ensler's O column, "A Million Ways to Save the World." We also asked you to provide ideas, and thousands poured in, including these earthshaking suggestions, now exclusively on Oprah.com.
Give Big by Sizing Down
My husband and I own a deli, and we provide food for more than 30 kids each week. But we know we have to do more. My mother lives next door to us, and she and I are willing to sell our houses—we're willing to downsize—so that we can help those around us. There are kids that live in trailers. They have no food, and in the winter, their homes have no insulation. This winter, they were freezing. Our equity is in our homes, so if we sell them, we could have so much more to give to them.
— Michele Giarratano, 39
Speak the Same Language
I believe we need language to get to the truth, understanding, and eventual peace. If everyone, especially Americans, were more strongly encouraged to learn another language, we'd all benefit. Many times we can't even speak to people we want so badly to get along with. By learning just one new language, each person would see where she fits into the world more clearly and be able to consider other people's perspectives.
— Martine Lamartiniere, 33
Tallahassee, Florida Leave a Message at the Beep
I started the "Light a Candle Campaign" in which women reach out to one another and offer words of encouragement. Participating only takes three minutes. You phone three women and leave a one-minute message of appreciation for each. Over a hundred people have made calls so far—and it's working. They say they feel better, and the people they've left messages for feel great, too.
— Rebecca Evans, 40
Check Out a Digital Book
My colleagues and I developed the International Children's Digital Library, the largest digital collection of books for 3- to 13-year-olds. We've made the books available for free in 38 languages because research has shown that sharing personal experiences can change attitudes, and we believe reading will help children learn to value tolerance. As they gain respect for diverse cultures and ideas, they'll find their own new ways to save their world.
— Allison Druin, 43
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Send Flowers with Power
A bouquet of flowers might be laden with penalties. Those that are grown with conventional techniques contribute to the contamination of groundwater through fertilizer and pesticide runoff. The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) reports that two-thirds of Colombian and Ecuadorian flower workers suffer work-related health problems. Furthermore, the International Labor Organization estimates that 20 percent of Ecuadorian flower workers are children.
I am opening a store to provide consumers with flowers that fully reflect the heartfelt sentiment they embody. My flowers will be environmentally friendly, and my goals include reducing environmental pollution, supporting local economies and supplying fresher flowers by selling locally grown produce.
— Hannah Ling, 31
New York City
Not Just a Pretty Dress
Together with fashion designer Malcolm Harris and model Lydia Hearst, I work on a project called Designers for Darfur (DFD). In February of 2008, we gathered over 30 designers and thousands of fans at a New York Fashion Week event to increase awareness and raise funds to support humanitarian efforts in Darfur.
During the upcoming New York Fashion Week, we'll collaborate with the Deitch Projects Gallery to produce another benefit show with artists. We expect to educate even greater numbers of influential New Yorkers. This project has proven to me that by doing each of our parts in our home and work environments—for me, this happens to be fashion in New York—we can all work toward an improved world.
— Melanie Harris, 28
New York City When T-shirts Really Say Something...
We are five women from New Orleans, three of whom lost homes and property to Katrina. While we were exiled to Houston, we started to sell T-shirts to raise money for others who lost their homes but didn't have insurance.
When we started on Magazine Street in New Orleans, only a few people had returned to the city. Honestly, we thought we might raise $1,000 and walk away. But we sold 200 shirts in two hours. Then, our website went live, and a few retailers picked up the shirts. Before we knew it, we had raised $80,000 for a Habitat home. We all have fulfilling jobs, but nothing can compare to the feeling we got after turning over the keys to that first house to local musician and single father Michael Harris.
— Clare Durrett, 45 (and friends)
Skip the Straw
We could save millions of pounds of plastic waste if people would consider not using a straw. Straws could be optional, rather than automatically given with every drink we order. (They even come with water!) I've tried for years to get restaurants on board. It seems so silly—most people just laugh, but sometimes they actually agree to make straws optional, and I'm proud to be a part of that change.
— Tracey Welch, 59
Fight for Peace at Home
I'm part of the steering committee for the New Hampshire Department of Peace Campaign. We are working diligently, under the auspices of the National Peace Alliance, to raise awareness of a bill in front of Congress to establish a cabinet-level Department of Peace that would address issues in this country relating to domestic violence, gang violence, and bullying in the schools. They would also work with community leaders on an international level to establish a culture of peace. We believe in this bill because there should be an official counterbalance to the culture of war we've been living in.
— Deborah Enright, 54
Amherst, New Hampshire Check On a Child
When you see a child under 18 walking somewhere without an adult, remember you are the adult. Stop and ask if he or she needs help. This way, perhaps we can save just one child that is about to be taken advantage of. Maybe she is okay and doesn't need help and has a wonderful family. But just maybe she needs a kind stranger to offer a helping hand and a way out.
— Theresa Floresa, 42
Run for Office
As the former (now retired) mayor of a small city in Texas, I found I couldn't change the world by ending disease, hunger, or wars, but I affected people's lives directly. Now, I encourage women to run for political office—and vote in elections—in their hometowns. Small city officials see to it that clean water flows to homes and sewage flows away, that garbage is picked up efficiently, and that people will get prompt and efficient response from police, EMS, and firefighters. When more women get into politics—at any level—they'll also offer new viewpoints about how to change their towns, and ultimately, the world.
— Marcy Meffert, 73
Leon Valley, Texas
Make Giving Automatic
Set aside 10 percent of your income each month and give it away. I've started a "giving file" where I collect articles and information about organizations that have inspired me so I always know what to do with the money I've saved.
— Lisa Welch, 34
Arvada, Colorado Take Me Out to the Ballgame
At every sporting event, concert, or any type of activity that is held in a venue, I'd like to see those attending bring nonperishable foods to be handed out at local shelters later. For example, the Bristol Race is held in my area, and over 160,000 people attend this race twice a year. If each person brought one can of food, we'd have 320,000 cans of food for shelters in the Tri-Cities. Wow! I think this would be an awesome thing to see and plan to try it this year.
— Amy Quillen, 37
Transform a Life
In 2005, my husband, my three children, and I sold everything we owned and moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to open an aftercare shelter for young Cambodian and Vietnamese girls rescued from the sex-slave trade. We had become aware of the issue and wanted to do something substantial. Once there, we realized 15- to 20-year-old girls needed a place to transition into independent productive living. We started the Transitional Living Center to offer them housing, life skills training, healthcare and dentalcare, and viable job training in everything from IT to tailoring. Back in America, we started a new organization to continue this work.
— Athena Pond, 36
A Note from Eve:
In April, we will celebrate V-Day's 10th anniversary—a decade of ending violence against women. It will be a megaevent, and many who have written in "A Million Ways to Save the World" will be there; Oprah herself will be onstage. I urge you to come and join us. It is you who holds the power, the energy, the will to shift the current paradigm. And when you find your voice, your courage, your boldness, it will be you who saves the world.
V-Day's "V to the Tenth." New Orleans, Superlove/Superdome. April 11 and 12 (go to vday.org for details). See you there.