Why you should start to be an activist and how.
We live in a time when more than ever, activism and activists can effect positive changes.
Be it, Environmental issues, local heritage, human rights or animal rights, we live in a time when we can discuss these as a global community. It is important to understand the keyword here is global. This means an activist must not only stand for what they believe in, but also understand the culture context for their viewpoint and the potential for conflict they may arise from that. It is the duty of an activist, campaigner or supporter to ensure their activism harms none, and if it does, then own up and accept the responsibilities of that action.
Around 20 years ago now I participated in what I consider my first piece of activism. It was a protest, alongside Peter Tachell, outside a music venue in London to raise awareness of a musician whom frequently used homophobic lyrics in their music. To be honest I hated it. It was the last time I protested or undertook activism in this way.
I found this method of protest confrontational, deliberately provocative and in this instance ineffective. Since then, I worked alongside some wonderful campaigners and activists such as Linda Bellos, Caroline Jones, Julie Newman, Sue Sanders, Paul Patrick and many, many more… I leaned a lot from these ‘Heros and Heroines of contemporary rights.
Of all of these two people stand out as teaching me the most, Linda Bellos and Clare Summerskill.
From Linda I leaned more about viewpoints and the mechanisms of change in human rights than I every thought possible. Perhaps the UK’s most famous Black rights activist of recent decades her impact through ‘being a part of the conversation’ has affected everyone in the UK in their rights and lives. Her approach is to be an activist and to show courage but also to be diplomatic, to be kind, and to work with the issue and never oppose another viewpoint.
Clare’s influence on my view of activism and rights is perhaps less tangible, it talks to the creative parts of the mind. If your skills are playwriting or music such as hers, use it. If you paint to support or highlight a cause, do it. It is engaging with creativity in a way which is in the present, contemporary, and most importantly, not in isolation. Her work in verbatim theatre is a monument to this. In summary the teaching here is this: Creativity for a cause must be a result of genuine compassion and discussion within that cause.
Below is the outline of the workshops and seminars I have given in recent years to various groups of young people wanting to engage more in activism.
Being passionate about a cause is always the motivator. This makes you a supporter, or at most an ally. It is not enough to campaign, in fact in some causes it doesn’t give you the right to campaign. The difference is education. By becoming knowledgeable, talking to people, researching and being educated in the topic you are able to answer questions and join the debate on this topic. When an activist relates to their own experience in a subject they are failing. When they can actively reference in support of others they are a positive influence and therefore making a difference.
Engage the Power of Social Media, but also write letters.
We live in an age when YOU can be an activist from ANYWHERE. That is great, use it! Share it! Like it! Create content… Remember sharing a post on social media makes you a supporter of a cause and not a campaigner. Don’t forget old fashioned techniques of simply writing a well crafted letter to a politician or organisation to demand an answer. In my view a personally put together letter which highlights a cause or requires a reply is still the best way to encourage the politician or organisation to reflect. -Hopefully that simple act of reflecting on their choices, policies or views is the start of that important change.
Be a part of your community, get involved and support local causes as well as global ones. The human race totally relies on volunteers. Volunteer where you can help, support, show compassion and effect change for the better. Never be afraid to work with others. Volunteering with others can and will change your life. (If you’re stuck for an idea try volunteering with the Scouts!)
Find Like-Minded People.
Don’t work in isolation. There is a huge emphasis on how you as an individual can change the world… Don’t believe it. In my personal view there is a mass-market commercialisation of activism underway to ensure that activism is seen as a solitary activity and an act of goodness by individuals. It is not. EVERY rights movement or environmental movement has only be achievable by people working in union with one another. That is what organisations, corporations, and governments fear, coordinated change. It is why they try to avoid activists coming together. If you can think of one positive area of change, human rights, black rights, disability protection, animal cruelty, pollution etc, all of this is achieved by working together!
Get Creative and Have Fun.
Use those skills, we all have that perfect skill to create fun, to share an idea. Activism works best when people are having fun doing it. Remove confrontation, remove hate, use peace, use art, use music and by all means use comedy.
Never let things get to you. This is the key message, stick to your beliefs, hold fast in the questions and back campaigning, and just be honest, just be kind, and don’t step backwards unless it is to regroup or re-examine.
Be the change you want to see. Live it. You need integrity and honesty for your cause to proceed. Embrace the values yourself and see how they fit. Also learn from this. If you as an activist can’t, think why? Then adapt and change your message honestly.
Always talk from the heart.
I frequently struggle not to get upset when taking about couples human, animal or environmental issues. I’ve spent years trying not too as I felt it weakens the message. I was wrong. Be emotional. Be sincere, if it upsets you show that to others as a strength of your compassion.
Never be afraid to be a trouble maker.
Thats how you can change the world, be a trouble maker for peace. Always remind people for a reply, always ask the hard questions, always ask for a space at the debating table. Be the trouble maker for positive change by being constructive in your approach.