A lone anti-war protester confronts police in Whitehall during the Cuban Missile Crisis, London, 1962 - Photo by Don McCullin
This is How to be an Activist, a reoccurring blog series published by Day of the Girl. To learn more about How to be an Activist, please click here.
Many of us feel like we’re stuck in a place where no one sees our work as valuable. Being the only one in your family, friend group, or area who cares about social justice can be hard. It can feel like a constant battle, and sometimes you might want to give up on activism altogether. Stick with it! It’s an uphill battle, but every single person matters in causes like ours, and knowing that you helped create change will be its own reward in the end.
Here are a few things to remember when you're trying to do good social justice work without support from the people around you.
1. You’re not alone. You might walk out of a heated political debate thinking, “No one in there feels the way I do, and no one’s even making an attempt to understand.” However, when we’re in emotional arguments, anger and fear often go straight to our heads, and it could be that you missed a few people who were nodding along with what you had to say or looking you in the eye. You could have supporters in the shadows and in the woodwork. It’s quite possible that if you’re public with your activism, you’ll have people coming up to you and asking for advice or wondering how they can get involved. You could be surprised at exactly how many people will do so.
2. Use the internet. You can utilize technology to help your activism go global. When you’re physically rooted in a place where people are not activists, social media and other forums can often become places of support and endless creativity. You might find out about a protest in a nearby city through Facebook, or meet an activist from the next town over who shares the same passions that you do on Twitter. When you need clarification on an issue or help finding resources, there will most certainly be someone online who can help. You could also find and join organizations and other groups of activists online. Day of the Girl itself is web-based--a prime example of how much can be accomplished over the internet!
3. Your voice is powerful. We often underestimate the power of speaking up, whether it be to our family, friends, or in the classroom. When you hear rhetoric that is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., and you speak out against it, you could be introducing the people around you to ideas they’ve never even considered. It seems like such a small thing to do with no direct outcome, but even if you’re greeted with silence, putting your thoughts out into the open air can change the direction of conversation. There’s something important in that, and it might make people more open to your input later.
4. Donating is activism. Not everyone can do this, but for some, donating provides a mode of silent and anonymous protest. Your donations don’t even have to be big: simply donating $5 a month to Planned Parenthood or the ACLU can help. Having the Internet makes it easy to find organizations which align with your passions, and when you live in a place where you can’t outwardly express your ideas, donating money to those who are working for causes you support can feel satisfying and have a real impact.
5. Make use of opposition. By experiencing adversity from the beginning of your activist roots, you’re gaining valuable insight into how the people who disagree with you think and act. Think about the arguments being used against you and deconstruct them in your head or on paper. Experiment with different comebacks and see how your adversaries react to them. Did you make someone consider what you were saying, or did they shut down? The differences in perspective which you are experiencing by living in your area will make you a more seasoned and effective activist as time passes. Your debate skills will strengthen and your arguments will become more and more cohesive as time goes on, because you will get plenty of practice. You might even find that you agree with some of your opponents if you make an effort to genuinely listen to them, and there’s no shame in that. There’s so much to lose in being overly defensive.
6. Stay educated. When you live in a region where lots of people try to dismiss your activism, it can be very easy to let yourself drop the ball. There will probably be times where you’ll want to stop checking the news, give up on a campaign, or just sit down and shut up. You might get tired of being an activist. It can be hard to have a foot in the world of social and political justice and another foot in a culture which just doesn’t understand you. Make sure that you take care of yourself, because getting battle fatigue is good for no one. It’s important to make sure that you’re staying mentally healthy. However, keep in mind that persevering in the creation of change is an important part of being an activist. Try to stay informed: keep up with the news and look for new ways that you can participate in the political process and in social justice. Do your own research on issues you’re unfamiliar with by looking for good literature, blogs, and videos. You are an agent for a movement, and that’s a hard role, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding one. Stick with it.