An Introduction to Activism

An Introduction to Activism

I’ve been joking lately that activism is my full time job, but it feels so true to me. I studied political science in college, and made my first foray into the world of activism back in 2008. It was an exhilarating time: I cast my first vote in a presidential election for President Barack Obama. I remember rallying on the streets with signs saying “No on Prop 8.” Since then, activism has just been something I value, and an important part of my life.

For many, however, it doesn’t come so naturally. Activism can seem really overwhelming when there are so many issues to care about, especially when it feels like the government is working against everything that we value. If you are hoping to make a difference, then you’ve come to the right place. Here you will find tips that I have learned are essential when becoming an activist. I will try to break them down into smaller steps, and hopefully you will leave with a little more confidence than you had before. Make sure you read to the end so that you can download your activist workbook!

Introduction to Activism Infographic

1. Listen First

First things first – you don’t know as much as you think you do. Probably the most important first step is not only to research the topics, but to listen. Listen to the stories of people that are affected by the proposed policies of the current president and Congress. Read words by people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and women. Understand that your experience will be different than theirs, and that is okay. But by choosing to become active, you are agreeing to be a voice for all people and not just people like you. You have so much to offer, and what you say is significant, but you are just one piece of the puzzle. So listen, learn, and open up your mind and your heart to stories from across the spectrum. It is a priceless gift that you can give yourself.

Here are a few of my favorite resources that I use to educate myself on issues:

Books

Movies and Documentaries

News Sources

Facebook and Twitter Accounts

2. Prioritize Self Care

I wrote about this recently, so I don’t feel the need to go into details again. You can read it here. But I will reiterate one important point: it is essential that you acknowledge that it’s your privilege which gives you the opportunity to prioritize self care in your activist fight. There are some who live with the consequences of the current administration on a daily basis; for some, it affects every facet of their life. If you are not one of these people, recognize that fact and move on. 

3. Specialize

There is an unlimited number of issues that you can become involved in, but you don’t want to burn out before you even get started. Choose a few topics that you want to learn more about and spend some quality time becoming an expert. Even within certain topics, say healthcare or LGBTQ rights, there are specific issues that you can focus on, such as advocating for a single payer healthcare system or fighting against so-called “bathroom bills”. Once you are able to narrow your focus, you can define your ultimate goal, and make a plan of action from there. 

4. Make a Plan

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so be sure you come up with an efficient training schedule. Otherwise you will head into your battle without a clear idea of what to do. How will you support your issues? What will you be working toward, or what is your ultimate goal?

This is probably the hardest part for most people, so here are a few resources that can help you get started:

Indivisible

This guide came about as a response to Trump’s election, and has grown into hundreds of grassroot organizations around the country committed to fighting injustice proposed by the current administration. I’m personally a member of a local group, and it has been an inspiring experience, to say the least. The premise at the heart of Indivisible is defense and reaction, rather than proposing legislation or policy, and it gives specific ways in which you can fight defensively. I would highly recommend reading the guide and coming up with your own action plan from there.

Call the Halls

Emily Ellsworth is a former congressional aide, and she shares her secrets on how to contact your representatives and make them listen to you. Full of worksheets, scripts, and templates, Call the Halls is an invaluable resource for activists at any level, and it will help give you the confidence you need to make a difference at the very basic level.

Here are a few other ideas as to how you can get involved:

  • Attend local rallies and protests and be a presence in your community.
  • Vocally support members of Congress whose votes align with your values.
  • Sign up to receive newsletters from organizations involved with your issues – often they will include specific action tasks you can take. ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Injustice Boycott are great resources to start with. 
  • Visit Swing Left to find your nearest swing district and find out how you can help elect Democrats to office.
  • Encourage your representatives to hold town halls so that they can hear from their constituents directly. 
  • Visit the Women’s March website, which has a list of actions you can take to support the movement.
  • Here’s a great post on other sites and apps you can use to actively resist.

5. Give What You Can

Giving both your time and your money to organizations that share your values is a huge part of activism. These organizations are often able to mobilize and effect change at a much higher level, but they can’t do it without the help of people like you and I. If you can’t give money, don’t worry – there are so many places that need volunteers, especially volunteers that have a skill. In a time when the government is attempting to cut funding for agencies and organizations, every donation matters. I currently give on a regular basis to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and my local NPR station, among others.

6. Find Your People

Never underestimate the power of collective voice. I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a group of people that share your vision and values. Indivisible is a great place to start, but don’t be afraid to start your own group (I’m excited to get started with my own Feminist Happy Hour soon). Meeting with other people is a great way to share ideas, build off of each others’ energy, and maybe even find fun in being an activist. Not only that, but groups are much more impactful than individuals when it comes to fighting for change. 

7. Be All In

For me, personally, I need to be all in for my activism to feel like it counts. A big part of that is to stand up for what I really believe is right, and call people out if what they are doing or saying goes against my values. This can be really difficult, especially if you have that one family member who likes to say politically incorrect things at the dinner table on holidays. When I say be all in, I basically just mean that you need to be committed in every way. Slacktivism is a thing, and something that even I have struggled with. Working toward something just because it affects you, or just posting about something on social media and giving yourself a pat on the back isn’t enough. That’s why I created this guide for you – it’s a great way to figure out what your issues are and how you’re going to work toward them. Give yourself a clear vision and goal, and we might just get where we need to be in the world.

Activism isn’t easy, but it’s important, and you are an important piece of the puzzle. We can’t do it without you.

Download your Activism Workbook here.

Activism Workbook

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2 Comments

    1. Great advice, Joelle. Lively, intelligent, and honest. I’m excited you’re interested in helping the Social Justice Fund for Ventura County. Looking forward to working together!

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