A Beginners Guide to Activism: 10 Ways to Get Involved with Issues that Matter
Women all over the world made history in January by marching for women’s rights in one of the largest multi-location protests of all time. For many people, especially young people, it was their very first time marching for anything, and their very first brush with grassroots activism.
With the political climate as polarizing as it is, many people are looking to get involved for the very first time. Figuring out where to start can be overwhelming, but it’s not as hard as you think. We’ve already gone over different ways to get involved with politics, but if elected office doesn’t feel like your thing, there are plenty of ways to promote causes you care about from the ground level.
One of the biggest misconceptions about activism, in my opinion, is that it exists in binary: You’re either an “activist,” when you devotes your life to a cause and does little else, or you’re not. Not only is that way of thinking limiting, but it makes getting involved in the issues – on both a local and national level – seem insurmountable. Getting more involved doesn’t have to take over your life, and it doesn't have to be the primary facet of your identity. You can support and promote meaningful causes and, yes, change the world, while still being a "normal" person living a "normal" life.
If you're not sure where to start, try doing the following:
Consider the issues you’re passionate about.
This is step one—it should be easy. When it comes to the state of the world, what gets you riled up? Animal rights? Civil Rights? Environmental protection? Education? Of course, you’re totally welcome to care about ALL of those issues, but honing in on ones that really matter to you on a personal level will help you get started. Narrow your list down to one or two topics so you can consciously devote time to those causes.
Now, follow those issues in the news and on social media.
Social media is the most powerful sharing tool on the planet, so you’re not just “wasting time” while using it. Spend a few minutes searching through social media using keywords related to the causes you’ve chosen. Follow activist groups and publications in those categories on Facebook at Twitter. This will help you stay in the know, share important news when it happens, and connect with other like-minded individuals.
Zero in on what's happening locally.
When in doubt, go local. If you're feeling overwhelmed about how to get involved in a cause, start by finding organizations and groups near you that are already fighting the good fight. More often than not, these groups will have lists of ways to get involved on their website, Facebook, or Twitter pages.
Once you've done that, here are some actionable steps to consider taking:
You know how I said social media is a powerful sharing tool? Time to use it. This can be as simple as sharing petitions, fundraising pages, and the occasional article on your personal pages. If you want to up the ante, consider starting a blog or social media account dedicated to your cause, especially if you can localize the content to focus on your specific town, city, or state.
Donate time and money to your cause.
If you've already researched local groups and organizations, this should be easy. Consider setting aside a few hours a week – or month – to help the organization of your choice. And, if you feel like you're too busy, remember that showing support with your dollars can really make a difference, even if it feels more removed than actually taking to the streets. Set up a monthly donation and feel good knowing your money is doing some good.
Boycott companies whose practices you disagree with.
Remember how I said donating money can make a difference? It works in reverse, too. Whether your focus is environmental, animal, or human rights, actively choosing not to buy products from companies with unethical practices is a powerful way to voice your disagreement. Bonus: Pair this boycott with a stronglyworded letter or email to the company in question, detailing your decision. Ethical Consumer is a helpful resource for those looking to stop consuming unethically made products.
Implement attainable lifestyle changes.
When thinking about activism, picket lines, and protest signs might be the thing that comes to mind. Those are important aspects of social change, but there are simpler ways to help the world be a better place. If animal rights interest you, consider switching to a meatless diet or cooking a few extra meatless meals at home. If protecting the environment is your thing, think of some simple ways to make your lifestyle more sustainable, like using reusable water bottles, coffee cups, and grocery bags. Women’s rights? Start thinking about the way sexism creeps into everyday conversations, and make a point to change your language. These do not have to be massive overhauls of your way of life, but small and simple changes could make a huge difference over time.
Support – or join – nonprofits lobbying for change.
Right now, in your state, various interest groups are lobbying to change laws at the city and state level. These could be local chapters of a national group, like the ACLU, or a smaller group dedicated specifically to your state. Chances are, that group is in need of donations or volunteers to keep doing what they’re doing. Look for ways to get involved on their website. Again, you don’t have to devote your life to their cause. Even just a few hours of your time every month could make a world of difference.
Help "pack the room" at your state legislature.
Do you know when your state's legislative season is? If you're within reasonable driving distance of your state capital, you can (and should!) turn up to fill the room in support of bills you like, and in opposition of bills you don't. (If you're not close to your capital, remember that big issues can come up at City Council meetings, too!) At most meetings, the public will be able to give testimonies for up to three minutes each. You're going to want to look up your state legislature and read up on the bills in question. If you've already connected with local political organizations, it's probable that they can help you make sense of things if you're feeling overwhelmed.
Turn up for protests and become a regular at community events
One of the easiest and best ways to get involved in community activism is to start showing up for events. If you live in a moderately sized city or town in the United States, I can almost guarantee you that there will be multiple community gatherings for you to choose from. Check the “events” section on Facebook and search with keywords that interest you. Chances are, your local library, university, or coffee shop will host panels, discussions, and film screenings to support various causes. Not only will you meet other activists and like-minded people, you’ll support your local community and become a more engaged citizen.