Activism takes many forms and occurs for many reasons–political, social, ethical, and environmental. It’s a broad term with an even broader scope of fruition, yet it seems many people I interact with are quick to pigeonhole anyone who self-identifies as an “activist” or maybe embodies stereotypes themselves.
The assumption is that activists are pushy and loud. That they regularly attend protests and rallies and scream in the face of anyone who opposes them.
While there are definitely activists like this (who may be completely justified in their actions), this is not prerequisite behavior for enacting social change.
I was extremely intimidated when I first began to dip my toe into the world of activist activity and dialogue. Not only did I see many “activist” efforts as confronting or aggressive, I also felt I didn’t quite fit into the scene. Yes, I was politically engaged–or at least wanted to be. Yes, I cared about raising my voice (figuratively) and standing up for what I believe in and trying to bring about change.
Yet I also thought that if I was more shy or passive than my peers, I didn’t belong in their world.
But as I’ve educated myself, watched and spoken with others, and figured out what real political participation means to me, I’ve come to embrace other forms of activism that align more appropriately with my lifestyle and personality.
That doesn’t mean activists should stay within their comfort zone–in fact, a huge part of my personal code of activism is doing things that challenge myself and my way of life.
But that’s just it–everyone’s approach is different in some way–that’s not a negative thing, despite what sticklers may tell you.
If protesting makes you anxious or you feel it’s a bit too vocal or it’s simply not your thing, don’t beat yourself up, but do think of other ways to bring activist efforts into your daily life.
Some examples of such to get you going:
- Subtle acts of protest, like abstaining from egg, dairy, meat, and animal byproduct consumption or refusing to take plastic straws or cutlery from restaurants. Although I don’t think we can simply rely on a capitalism-driven approach to activism, I do think that evaluating your consumption is a good first step. We all must participate in consumption in some way or another, but by boycotting unsavory goods, you are creating less demand and ultimately discouraging their production.
- Engaging in guerilla activity (like gardening in a public space without authorization) as a means of radically exhibiting positive actions. Guerilla activity isn’t inherently positive, but it can be a means of promoting “random acts of kindness” or, rather, random acts of community-minded ventures.
- Artivism, where participants make, present, and engage with art that highlights some sort of political and/or social agenda. Lots of art is political in nature even if the viewer does not realize it. But other forms of art express political or social intentions so explicitly that even the least detail-oriented person in the world would catch on. This type of material is often attention-grabbing, and its creators are brazen, to say the least. While literally speaking on an issue may be hard for some, expression through art may be a medium that proves more accessible and pleasant to navigate.
- Joining a community group or co-op with shared social goals. When you interact with like-minded people, you build a network of support, resources, inspiration. You work towards common goals and will probably see that with more people backing a concept, results will be seen more immediately and/or noticeably. While protesting and rallying can be a great way to raise awareness, the real progress comes through action and collaboration.
- Being an ally for marginalized people through your words and gestures. Similarly to how withholding the truth is still lying, staying silent when you witness oppression or insensitivity is still essentially enabling that sort of behavior. If you are conscious to step up as a support system for your friends and acquaintances who have experienced marginalization in some regard (for instance, queer or non-binary people who are misgendered or people who take the brunt of racially-charged comments), you are making a meaningful contribution that shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Practicing nonviolence. It may sound simple, but it’s actually pretty multifaceted since violence presents itself so sneakily and in so many forms in our lives. We are violent through our speech, through how we choose to interact with (or avoid) others, and through the practices we support with our time, money, and energy. But we can also make choices every day to be as non-harming as possible. We can peacefully protest, of course, but we can also lead by example and embrace compassion through our actions as a stance against the large portion of people who don’t.
There are so many more ways to express activist initiatives but these suggestions may help reframe the way you think about the concept.
But please feel free to add to the list: how do you engage politically and/or socially with your community? Do you feel there are negative connotations associated with activism, or do you feel intimidated by what it entails? Let us know in the comments below.
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