How To Become An Activist

Activism is not something you say, or something you do, no single act can encompass it or qualify one as an activist. Activism is a mindset. Protesting does not make you an activist any more than looking at the stars makes you an astronaut. It is an understanding of a broken or flawed system, and the desire to fix it. So how does one become an activist? Here is a helpful guide to get you started on developing your own, unique activist mentality.

Identify Yourself

If you had to give a half hour presentation on a topic what would it be? Where can your friends find you during your free time? What are you passionate about? Answering these questions can help you identify causes the are personal to you. To be an activist you don't need to be promoting a big cause, it can be anything that impacts you or others, no matter how small.

Moving forward, it will be important to view yourself as a leader. Leaders are those who create a path, rather than follow one, and being a leader does not mean you are not also in a team. No single leader will faciliate grand change, it requires the cooperation of a variety of leaders to successfully change the world, and you are on your path to being one of them. Leaders tackle challenges, and being able to define those challenges is what will help you become an effective communicator and leader.

Educate Yourself

Before you can campaign against a problem, you must understand how that problem arises. Is it the result of some outdated piece of legislation, or perhaps the result of a lack of legislation? Is it a systemic issue, or is it an acute problem? What kinds of research have been done already? Who are the affected parties, and what do they have to say about it? These are the questions you should ask yourself to begin developing your understanding of the background and context of the issue.

Scholarly journals are always the best source of information because they provide a wealth of information to those willing to take the time to decipher them. Learning to read academic articles is an invaluable skill that can help you become an effective activist. The information in the articles are cited, offering verifiable facts, and the conclusions of the article can be compared to the methodology to assess the quality of the report. These articles provide such a quality resource because they offer a look into a system or population, rather than offering solely anecdotal evidence as support.

Anecdotal evidence is not your enemy though, in fact it can be used quite effectively to highlight issues and make them personable and relatable to an audience. They also offer glimpses into the reasons behind certain issues, rather than a cumulative assessment of their impact or severity. So reach out to stakeholders in the issue - if you're campaigning for water rights for Flint, Michigan, then reach out to residents, listen to their interviews, or watch the documentaries about their lives. There is often an abundance of information if you are willing to spend the time researching.

Consider using the following as sources for your research:

  • Academic Journals

  • News Reports

  • Interviews

  • Blog Posts

  • Documentaries

  • Talking with affected parties

  • Reaching out to established activists

  • Government Websites

  • Community Groups

  • Corporate or NGO websites

  • Social Media

What really matters is that you weigh the information you obtain proportional to the kind of source you are using. BE AWARE OF BIAS. Do not substantiate your claims completely off of rhetoric from someone that stands to gain from inviting you to their camp. This is crucial in establishing your authority and removing any bias from your own outreach.

Another powerful way for your to develop your knowledge surrounding an issue is to volunteer your time with a nonprofit and gain firsthand experience effecting change and seeing what the problems are, how they manifest, and who they affect.

Moving forward, however you decide to proceed is entirely up to you. Do not feel obligated to be an activist of a certain fashion. The following tips will help you find ways to use your knowledge to effect change in the world around you, whether you're trying to spread awareness for an issue, or trying to end a systemic problem.

Set Actionable Goals

While nobody questions the value of campaigning to secure the rights of the disenfranchised, keeping in mind the scope of your goals is key to a successful venture. Understanding the dichotomy between technical problems and adaptive challenges. Technical problems are those that are acute, easily identifiable, and often administrable with the correct knowledge, while adaptive challenges are those which require concert between creativity and contextual understanding of the systems which interface at their junctions. A design flaw in a car engine can be solved with an engineer tweaking the design, whereas tackling a toxic cultural climate within an organization requires an understanding of the facets of the organization which contribute to that atmosphere.

Is bringing an end to the private prison industry a noble goal? Yes, quite simply, but that does not make it a feasible one. Even if you were able to garner the support of thousands, it would be aimless despite having a well-minded target. Having clean, concise description of your goal, how you plan to achieve it. Identify reasonable targets, and use indicators to gauge success. Keeping with the Flint, MI example, instead of saying, "I am going to make sure the residents of Flint have access to clean water," you could say, "I am going to reach out to businesses and community members for donations of water and money to buy water filtration systems, and measure success through the number of water-days supported (water-days are not a thing, but they explain amounts of water, the recommended daily amount of water per person being one water-day)." If you were able to send fifty gallons of water, then using one half gallon per day as the amount an adult is expected to drink to be healthy (according to many health authorities), then you would have sent 100 water-days to Flint residents, or, in other words, given one resident 100 days of not needing to worry about drinking water. Because the second statement gives a much clearer goal, and provides the framework to achieve that goal, it is a much better tool for guiding your activism.

Engaging the Public

The greatest resource that an activist can utilize is the public. With enough support from community members and stakeholders, you can catalyze change under the proper framework. You cannot mobilize an ignorant public, so the first step is engagement and education. Introduce people to your cause, but make sure to do so respectfully. You wouldn't be receptive to someone screaming at you about dying people in another state and telling you its your fault because you're not doing anything to help, so. . . don't do that. Instead, engage with them on a personal level, ask them if they are aware of your cause. Have they heard about it on the news (if it's a quietly covered topic), or perhaps they've heard about movies about the issue.

If people are not interested, do not press the issue further with them. Instead, thank them for their time, and perhaps p