If you’re thinking of stepping up your activism this year, it might be tough to know where to start. With so many causes and organizations that are worthy of your time, how do you decide which ones to support? And, what kind of support will be most valuable? The questions often only get more complex from there.
Activism can be a lifelong enterprise, an endless journey towards justice, liberty, and opportunity for all. There’s a lot to learn along the way.
Here are five suggestions for getting started:
1. Know Yourself: As you dip your toes into these new waters, it’s important to have a certain amount of self-understanding. Knowing your own strengths, limits, and interests will allow you to make a valuable, sustainable contribution in your community. First, consider whether you have a natural aptitude for organizing, public speaking, making social connections, or supporting from behind the scenes. Then, figure out how much time and/or money you can realistically give. Next, look at the various causes that are dear to your heart, and see if you feel called toward one or two in particular. Finally, think about your capacity for handling large crowds, administrative tasks, or work that’s emotionally taxing. Taking stock of all these factors will help you determine where you can do the most good, and, over time, you can make adjustments as needed.
2. Listen: There may be a lot you don’t know—about yourself, your community, the causes you support, and the work of activism. Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to learn about these. Even if you don’t have many local resources or a well-stocked public library nearby, the internet can go a long way. The key, though, is to be curious and ready to learn. Seek out perspectives from people you admire, and ask questions. Try to connect with mentors or peers who can point you towards helpful books, articles, and podcasts. Contact the organizations you’d most love to work with, and when they tell you they need a particular kind of support, pay attention.
3. Listen Some More: While you’re working to educate yourself on these topics, keep your ears and heart open to criticism as well. Everyone messes up, in ways big and small, and activists are no exception. When you make a mistake and someone points it out to you, try to remember that they are doing you a service: they’re engaging with you and taking time to help you improve when they could be doing literally anything else. Their words may initially feel harsh or insulting, but do what you can to listen with humility, and apologize where appropriate. This attitude is especially important if your activism is aimed at assisting a group to which you don’t actually belong (e.g., if you’re a cis hetero person working in support of the LGBTQ community, a white person supporting communities of color, or a non-disabled person advocating for people with disabilities). In that case, your job is to be an ally, and it’s absolutely vital that you take their criticism seriously in order for you to improve.
4. Show Up: By definition, activism is active. It’s often easy for all people’s education and good intentions to remain theoretical. But, if you want to make a difference in this world, you’ll need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. What does it look like to take your activism into the real world? This might mean attending a protest or a march, contacting your local legislators, volunteering, or donating money. It might mean campaigning for a candidate you believe in or working with a Political Action Committee (or PAC). Equality Utah PAC, for example, has made great strides in helping elect fair-minded candidates around the state, and we’re always thrilled when new people get involved. As you choose from these options (and many more), remember to take action in a way that makes sense for your situation, and try to respect fellow activists as they do the same.
5. Continue through Highs and Lows: Almost all activist movements will have moments of triumph and moments of defeat. Both have their place. The triumphs validate our efforts and give us energy to proceed; the defeats remind us to take a long view and to evaluate the work we’ve done. When you’re dealing with times that either bolster or challenge your hope in a brighter future, draw close to those you trust. Celebrate and mourn together. Remember what inspired you to be an activist in the first place. Then look to the future. Equality Utah recognizes the unique challenges of this time in history, and at the same time, we’re moving forward. Our team is working with state legislators to prevent hate crimes and is also part of a task force to address teen suicide. And there’s always important work to be done. Whatever setbacks or successes we may experience, our sights are fixed on creating a world where every person is able to pursue their greatest potential in a safe, inclusive community. If we hold on to this hope and our determination, there’s no telling what we can achieve together.
What questions do you have about activism? For those of you who have been involved for many years, what do you wish you’d known when you were just starting out? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter (@EqualityUtah) or Facebook (facebook.com/EqualityUtah).