Activism: A How-To Guide

One of the most important things to do when the world offers us a challenge is to take action, but sometimes that can be hard to do. In times like these, it’s hard to figure out what to care about and when and how to best show your support, especially in our nuanced world full of tensions between genders, races, and privilege groups whose divisions aren’t always clear. While the most important thing is to answer the question for yourself, here are a few general rules of thumb that can hopefully help to inspire action in those looking for a little guiding light.

1. Join an organization.

Sometimes big change can seem totally paralyzing and even insurmountable to the point that it’s tempting to choose not to engage at all. However, there are plenty of things you can do on a local level that can help you to both see and experience the good that activism can do faster than national or global levels allow. Most towns and cities have several neighborhood groups and city organizations that are constantly working towards making things better right in your backyard where you can see the change transpire.

2. Burst your bubble.

We all surround ourselves with people who agree with us on some level—that’s sort of the basis of friends, right? Of course creating a support network of like-minded individuals is key to a success and happiness, but going too far in one direction can be limiting, too, because you can find yourself totally out of touch with people who don’t think like you do. Like all things, balance is key! Support yourself with the people who live life like you do, but don’t shy away from engaging with others who might not agree.

3. Make your dollars count.

Even if you’re strapped for time, you can still actively participate in moving philosophies and agendas that you care about and believe in forward by being thoughtful about where you spend your money. Becoming a sustaining member of an organization that does great work or even making a one time donation to a cause you care about helps. And when you’re out shopping to buy things as usual, try taking a minute to research where your money is going. If you can get the same thing where business practices better align with your morals and values, that’s an easy way to make a difference.

4. Read up.

There are mountains of books on the subject of activism. Rebecca Solnit wrote an amazing one called Hope in the Dark and Thoreau’s musings on society, culture, and transgressing them in Walden and Civil Disobedience are a quick and beautiful read. Just because something doesn’t line up directly, that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. Fill your mind with activist thoughts, and activist actions will follow.

5. Take a break.

When things get heated, staying on top of all the news and the arguments popping up on both sides against each other can get draining to the point of paralysis. While everyone should certainly strive to stay informed, there’s no reason that you should feel like you have to read every headline the minute it pops up, especially if you’ll spiral into an unproductive place in the middle of your work day. Just save it for later and remember that it’s not going anywhere—the news will be there when you’re ready for it.

6. Care for yourself.

Take time for yourself so you can better care for others—you won’t be any use to those around you if you’re exhausted from burning the candle at both ends. It can feel self-indulgent in a time that calls for generosity, but keeping yourself well-nourished, rested, and exercised is the best thing you can do to ensure that you’re going to be able to be in it for the long haul. Because, if there’s one thing that’s certain about activism, it’s that change is a long, sometimes painfully slow, but entirely necessary and incredibly beautiful process.