The Modern Activist
For most people today, political activism amounts to little more than expressing their opinion publicly.
Debate and discussion are certainly part of the core of this nation’s political system, and we have the utmost respect for anyone willing to speak up and let their voice be heard on a larger scale. It takes courage to express your beliefs and let people challenge you, and maturity to listen to opposing viewpoints and weigh in with reason and thought.
Activism, though, requires a little bit more.
Have you ever heard the rallying cries that “we should do something” about a public issue? Who, exactly, is the “we” that should be taking action?
For the majority of people, expressing displeasure on social media is about as far as their action goes – after that, it’s up to the government or some other anonymous “we” to pick up the pieces and make things happy again. Most self proclaimed activists are little more than opinionated individuals that somehow believe that vocalizing their personal discomfort makes a profound difference in the world.
Is that really activism?
What Makes A Difference?
By all means, express your personal opinions. Just don’t think that this country, this society, this world, owes you anything in return. If you want to see a difference, you have to take meaningful action.
We say meaningful action for a good reason:
Just because you’re “doing something” doesn’t mean you’re going to get a result or see a change. Think of it this way:
If you put Chinese money in an American vending machine, it’s not going to give you product in return. Sure, you’re taking action. You’re doing something…you’re even putting money into the coin slot, which is supposed to work…but it’s not the right currency.
It takes the right currency, applied in the right place, followed by appropriate actions, to get a soda out of a machine. Political activism is the same. It takes the right actions, applied in appropriate places at correct times, to effect change.
What are the right actions?
We’re glad you asked.
How To Effect Political Change
You’re not powerless. Your voice DOES count.
You just have to make sure you’re talking to the right people.
Here are a few of the actions you can take that will actually make an impact:
1) Participate in a political lobby. If you want to encourage change by verbally expressing your opinion, make sure you’re talking to people who are involved in actually making those changes. Political lobbies like VCDL’s Lobby Day in Virginia give voters the opportunity to speak directly to elected representatives. When elected officials get face to face with constituents and see firsthand that citizens take their own political responsibility seriously, opinions are not so easily dismissed. Work with local political organizations in your area to see if there are lobby day opportunities in your state, or organize your own group to take a trip to a state capital to put your voices in the right place.
2) Financially support organizations that speak on your behalf. Membership to a political organization does more than you might think. Most Americans can’t afford to hire full time lobbyists to work in Washington – but when a lot of people come together and put a little bit of money towards a cause, great things can happen. Just make sure that you’re supporting an organization that spends its time and money wisely, and that stands for an ideal you wholeheartedly support. A political action committee is only as good as its leadership, so pay attention and donate where you’re sure it’s going to make a positive difference. Check for a track record of success and integrity; even if you strongly agree with the stated mission, good intentions don’t get things done.
3) Expose others to your cause in a positive, constructive way. Sometimes awareness does make a difference, but Tweeting about it isn’t the best way to win others to your way of thinking. Politicians travel and campaign in person for a reason: that person to person contact is vitally important in the exchange of ideas. If your cause is particularly high profile, putting even more information out there in the world might not be the best way to proceed, but if there’s something important to you that many people don’t know about, consider hosting an event that is 1) enjoyable, 2) marketable, 3) positive, and 4) teaches people about your cause. You see this methodology often in animal rescue as a fundraising strategy, and it works. It doesn’t apply to every situation, but it might work for you.
4) Be the shining example. Okay, so this tip comes with a disclaimer. You’re probably not going to change many minds just by being a genuinely good human being, BUT you WILL convince people that your political belief is invalid and negative if you regularly exress your opinion and you’re regularly an asshole. Think about the people on your Facebook list who constantly belittle and insult others in order to make a point that their personal belief is somehow better and morally right. Don’t you dismiss them, and their cause, because of how they handle it? The last thing you want is for your ideals to be associated with terrible behavior, so if you consider yourself an activist, you should strive to be a positive, uplifting person so that your worthy cause doesn’t get linked to nasty people.
5) Help other people be heard. So many Americans see the millions of people futilely arguing over issues with no effect, and they believe that there’s nothing that an individual can do in the face of a massive government. Show those people that there is a way their voice can be heard, and that it can change the world, by offering to help with voter registration, transporting people to and from the polls, distributing contact information for elected officials, sharing the resources offered by organizations to which you belong, and even just offering education to average citizens on the content of the US Constitution. One way you might do that is by supporting The Liberty Bill, which is championed by a 7th Grade Civics Teacher at Liberty Middle School in Ashland, Virginia. Students learn about civics each year by supporting an actual bill before congress to put an abridged version of the Constitution on the back of the $1 bill. Contact the teacher through the link provided for more information on how you can help.
The Bottom Line
Here’s the deal:
Activism takes action, and it’s not easy or convenient, so most people won’t do it. The American Revolution was started, and won, with support from less than 1/3 of the population of the British colonies because that small percentage was willing to take meaningful action.
Despite popular belief, majority does not always rule. Decisions in this country aren’t made by a popular vote – they’re influenced primarily by the people who are willing to step out of their comfort zones and do what’s not always easy.
Your voice does matter.
Just make sure you’re talking to the right people.