Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr.
What is Activism?
What comes to mind when you hear the term activist? Who or what are you picturing?
In conversations with friends, family members, and clients, I’ve noticed that many folks think that activism is only for people who are doing justice work full time. They associate the term activist with people who are leading protests or lobbying at the state Capitol building every day.
However, I’d like to remind you that every decision you make holds political weight. The personal is political.
That said, activism is work that all of us can engage in.
We all have the tools to stand up for our values and beliefs each and every day. The tools are completely free and are already at your fingertips. No degree or training or materials are necessary.
This is my working definition of activism: Using my resources, including my voice, physical presence, money, energy, and time, to honor and support people, institutions, and policies that align with my values and highest vision for our world.
For example, some of the ways I practice activism on a regular basis include recycling, donating to local organizations that I am inspired by, and taking my own reusable bags to the grocery store.
So, I will ask you to again consider: What comes to mind when you hear the term activist? Who or what are you picturing?
Is there anything different from your first thoughts, feelings, or beliefs? How so?
10 Ways to Show Up as an Everyday Activist
In developing a broad and inclusive definition of activism, one that invites each one of us into mindful living, I have come up with a list of 20 ways to practice everyday activism with your family.
I invite you to print and browse the list below and notice which items you are already doing; circle those numbers. Place a star next to the items that make you feel excited, motivated, intrigued, or curious. Additionally, notice which items you feel most resistant towards; put a dot next to these.
1. Spend time in your community. Get out and about in your neighborhood and city. Just being with diverse groups in the community will support your awareness and growth, and you’ll make meaningful connections.
2. Commit to one small act a day/week that connects to your passions, interests, and values. For example, if you are concerned about environmental issues, you can work on the community garden in your neighborhood. If you are interested in narrowing the class divide, serve at a shelter or food bank.
3. Vote. At every election. Did you know that school boards make a ton of decisions that impact your city at large? Yes, every election and every position matters.
4. Volunteer. Find local organizations to support through your time and energy.
5. Read and research about the topics and issues you are called to AND the ones that feel at the edge of your comfort zone. Read more; explore a range of sources and mediums. Know that you don’t always have to have an answer because questions and curiosity are powerful. Most importantly, stay open to learning more, not only about the “issues” on the table but about yourself as well.
6. Find creative outlets for your processing and expression. As you read and research and talk, things can get heavy and emotional. Having outlets for these feelings is important. I, personally, turn to writing most often. Art and music are other wonderful ways to express the depths of your experience.
7. Share your own stories and experiences as it feels right. When you have a story or experience that speaks to your values and positions, include that in your conversations as you are comfortable and as it feels relevant. Remember that you can engage in conversations virtually and in real life (IRL).
8. Talk with friends and family about the issues you are curious about. Sweeping politics under the rug just doesn’t work, and, furthermore, it’s a symptom of privilege. The call to action here is to be authentic in naming your values and concerns and engaging your loved ones on these topics.
9. Support products, services, and companies that DO align with your values. Spend your money supporting people and institutions that you agree with. Local is always a great place to start if this feels obscure or overwhelming.
10. Boycott products, services, and companies whose values DON’T align with yours. Simply don’t buy from companies that don’t align with your values. Look into big brands, whether they make food, cleaning products, cosmetics, or clothing, and learn about how ethical (or not) they are.
11. Write letters, send faxes, or call local and federal politicians. Follow the legislation that is being proposed in your state and at the federal level. When you find a law that you align with, write or call in your support. Likewise, when you find a law that you see as harmful, write or call in your dissent. Find out who represents you here!
12. Use online petitions and bots to send letters and opinions. Show support for issues you care about by signing on to (or starting!) petitions; explore change.org to get started signing today. You can also easily write letters to your politicians through bots like resist.bot.
13. Share and retweet content on social media. The internet has allowed us to share issues and solutions in a matter of seconds. Hashtags have helped people gather both virtually and IRL, and one way that you can show support for movements, news, and leaders is by sharing or retweeting. #BlackLivesMatter helped us realize the power of the internet in creating a movement and inspiring professional and “everyday” activists to gather together.
14. Journal. Explore your own biases and gaps in knowledge and experience. When you have questions and curiosities, go to the page. Ask yourself to think through the questions. Maybe, like me, you’ll end up with more questions, and this, too, is growth.
15. Incorporate donation into regular events you host or attend. Ask friends to bring canned food or feminine hygiene products to events. Then, donate the collection to local organizations. Typically, most people will have these items on hand already so this is a great way to engage your community in activism.
16. Host or participate in book clubs or conversation groups that are focused on current events and issues. You can find established book clubs via MeetUp.com or branch out on your own to gather a group of folks who are interested in reading and being curious together. I have facilitated a feminist book club and a Decentering Whiteness community in Austin, Texas, for example.
17. Find mentors and guides. Lots of them. Notice which leaders you are feeling called to. Which ones challenge you and offer you opportunities for growth? Again, explore different mediums— podcasts, books, Instagram influencers, and so on.
18. Enroll in trainings to learn more about issues you care about and/or to hone your activism skills. Seek out trainings (again, online or IRL) to support you in your journey. Check with your employer to see if they are willing to sponsor your learning opportunities!
19. Financially support activists, educators, politicians who are working for change. Give money to folks on the front lines, people who are dedicating their lives to this work. You can do this through organizations, Patreon, or Venmo, for example. Many activists are sharing their Venmo accounts and taking compensation in this way.
20. Practice self-care. In order to show up fully for this work, you’ll need to be refueled and recharged. Maintain practices that allow you to rest and relax!
Practicing Activism as a Family
Activism is not adult work, it’s human work. Each item on this list is available to the children and teens in your life. Making activism a part of everyday family life will support tremendous growth, from self-awareness to connection with others to participation in community. This is what Connected Hearts is all about.
As you begin this work, you may find yourself and your family ready to engage in meaningful, yet difficult, conversations. This guide will support your family as you engage in these tough chats.
Here’s to living with open hearts and minds as we work together as human activists! See you out there!