WE OWN CHANGE: A 20-Something's Guide to 21st Century Activism
“An activist is a person who campaigns for some kind of social change. When you participate in a march protesting the closing of a neighborhood library, you’re an activist. Someone who’s actively involved in a protest or a political or social cause can be called an activist.”
I sat with my back turned to the fire works on July 4th, because for the first time, I truly felt like they weren't for me. The next morning, I woke up to the news of #AltonSterling. For the last three years, July has been a month of heat and heartache for a lot of the country. Now, this post isn't about arguing the morality of the argument. This post is for people who are already interested in working toward becoming actively involved with social change.
If you're here reading this, I assume it's because you're interested in taking actionable steps to change the world around you. I've put together this list of tips for people new to activism - like me! I am writing this as a general guide for people interested in social change, but it is from my point of view (hence the #BlackLivesMatter references). The cause that's close to your heart might be women's reproductive, voting , or LGBTQ rights - either way, this guide is for you.
The title 'activist' is a heavily-loaded word, but campaigning for change is more faceted than most of us understand. There are several different ways to take actionable steps toward affecting change. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Activism can take a lot out of you, but it's worth it.
Just remember to take time for yourself, too. It can be empowering to get involved in a social cause, but it can also drain you. Remember the big picture when things get hard.
A protest is an idea, not a single action.
I've had many discussions with people making the same remarks over and over again, "Why protest? What does it really do? I'm not the kind of person who protests.". That tells me that a lot of people don't understand the meaning of a protest, nor do they understand the many ways in which someone can participate in a protest.
Ideally, a protest is just one part of a multi-step plan to impart social change. It is the marketing component of the plan that tells the public, "We're mad and we want to do something about it". Unfortunately, there's often no plan of action after a protest. Therefore people see them as pointless. However, if you do your homework, you will see that social movement groups like #BlackLiveMatter and Campaign Zero support protests, AND back them up with research and solution-based rhetoric.
If you are someone who doesn't want to march, find other ways to participate in the change. Keep reading to find out how.
Activism isn't one-size fits all.
If you are a beauty blogger, a writer, a graphic designer, a student, a history major, a grocery clerk, or anything else - there is a way for you to contribute. The social change group I meet with weekly has showed me this. We are all different, and we all have different views on how we can help. Instead of fighting over a single action to take, we split into different committees according to what we are interested in. It has become a sort of social change incubator and I love it. If you want to support social change by shopping at minority businesses only - you are an activist; if you want to support social change by writing a play about it - you are an activist; if you want to support social change by running a social media page that educates people on issues, meeting times, etc. - you are an activist, too!
Put your $$$ where your mouth is.
So you're not into protesting, and maybe meeting with a ton of people to talk social issues ramps up your anxiety. Consider a spending boycott, and divert your money to causes, companies, and organizations that you do support. Tell people why you have chosen to do so. Spread the word. Many people believe only money talks. So make yours say what you want it to say. Make them hear you.
We live in a web 2.0 world where people take their cues from social media. When people see that you are participating in something controversial, they will test you. Make sure you're prepared. Take the time to learn your rights, understand what you're trying to change, and the history of it.
Listen to those that came before you.
There's only so much you can learn from a little online research. Activism is a tricky trade. You are dealing with people and systems that will fight dirty to prevent change. Talking to people who have fought for social change before you is crucial to a successful change campaign. A discussion with a neighbor, with a grandparent, with someone you heard speak at an event, may change the way you approach things.
Be Smart. Be Bold. Be Prepared
If you take to the street, then be prepared. If you make a lot of noise down at town hall, then be prepared. If you are vocal in any way that raises your profile, then be prepared. Do not be afraid to move forward, but have a plan in place if you find yourself on any official's radar.
Have any of the recent social issues lit a fire under you to do something? If so, tell me below!