An activist is defined as ‘a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change’. When we look back through history, we find that most of the important, socially progressive changes in our society are the result of groups of individuals campaigning passionately about the issues they cared about, who galvanised others into action to force the political establishment to implement change. Activists were an important part of our past, and they will be an important part of our future. We see this through the activists who marched in the Black Lives Matter protests this Summer, those who signed petitions and donated resources; we see this through the students and young people who partook in the climate strikes over the past couple of years; and, we see this through the people who donate their time and energy to this very organisation to join us in the fight against violence against women and girls.
A common misconception about activism is that it exists on an ‘all or nothing’ binary. Being an ‘activist’ doesn’t have to take over your whole life or be your sole identity, and there are so many ways that you can get involved in activism that require varying levels of time and commitment, from signing petitions to sharing social media posts, to marching at protests. All are equally important in the fight for political and social change. Activism simply means to take action and make a stand about the things you care about, committing some of your time, energy or resources to these causes.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown and social distancing measures may present an added complication and confusion to getting started with activism for some. However, throughout lockdown, our digital technologies and communities have demonstrated their capability to keep us connected, and we’ve seen how these can be utilised to stay active in fighting for the causes that are important to us.
This beginner’s guide to activism will provide some helpful tips for how to get started with activism, and offer some suggestions for actionable steps you can take both safely and remotely during the covid-19 pandemic and beyond.
Ask yourself: what am I interested in/passionate about?
The first step is to work out what you’re passionate about and what social and political change you’d like to see implemented. Examples of these could be fighting for more women’s rights, ending violence against women and girls, fighting against racial inequality, fighting for environmental changes, fighting against poverty, fighting for LGBTQ+ rights etc. You’ll find that a lot of these inequalities may be intersectional, in that they relate to one another. In an ideal world we would be able to split our time equally fighting for all the causes we’re passionate about, but a lot of the time we’re limited in terms of time and resources. Perhaps choose one or two causes that you’d like to focus on for the time being, and strive to recognise intersectionality with other forms of inequality in the causes that you commit to.
Educate yourself — follow related social media accounts:
In order to educate yourself about specific issues and developments within these causes, follow social media accounts and news stories related to them. You can use hashtags and keywords to search for posts relating to your causes of interest on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. These will help you to connect with other activists and also ensure that you’re clued up on these issues, which is an actionable step in itself.
Look up local charities/activist organisations:
Once you’ve identified the causes that you’re passionate about and have learnt a bit more about the issues within them, a good place to start is to look up the charities and activist organisations relating to these causes in your local community or general area. You can then visit their respective websites and social media accounts to find out more about their volunteering opportunities that you can get involved in.
Actionable steps you can take:
Volunteer for a charity:
One actionable step you could take is volunteering for a charity or non-profit organisation. Charities have adjusted amazingly to the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions, and lots of organisations are offering remote volunteering opportunities. Taking the example of Cardiff Women’s Aid, there are a range of remote volunteering opportunities you can get involved in such as joining the campaigns group, writing social media content, providing skills sharing workshops on Zoom, moderating survivor forums, and volunteering at the virtual wellbeing cafe. Follow this link to check out all our volunteering opportunities: https://www.cardiffwomensaid.org.uk/volunteer-with-us/
You can also sign up to websites like Catchafire, who match volunteers with opportunities and projects run by non-profit organisations and charities based on their specific skill sets. The volunteering opportunities are all remote and online based so can be done from home.
Donate to a charity:
If you don’t have the time to commit to volunteering, you could show your support with a donation — this could be monetary or it could be through donating certain items that the organisation is in need of in order to support their clients e.g. food, clothing, bedding etc.
If you don’t have the time, money or resources to donate to a charity, that’s completely okay! There are other great ways you can support the work of charities and activist organisations.
Share the social media posts of charities/activist organisations:
One great, accessible way to elevate the platform and the voices of the causes you support is to share related charities’ and activists organisations’ social media content and resources. This raises more awareness and will help to educate others on the cause, and hopefully galvanise people into action.
Write your own blogs and articles:
Alternatively, you can write your own blogs, articles and social media posts about the causes and issues you’re passionate about. You can either pitch these ideas to websites and newspapers, or start your own blogging platform in order to raise awareness about the issues you’re passionate about. The great thing about both this actionable step and the previous one, is that they can both be done remotely at home and you can begin pretty much immediately.
Sign and share petitions:
Another great way to support the causes you’re passionate about is by signing petitions. Change.org is a great resource for this as the website always encourages you to share any petitions you sign, and offers suggestions for similar petitions to sign. Reading and sharing these petitions is also a great way to educate yourself and others on these issues.
Write to local political representatives:
An important part of activism is engaging political representatives with your cause so that they can raise more awareness about them within the political establishment. Writing to your MP via email is a really great way to do this. You can ask them questions about how they have supported your cause in the past and how they intend to do so in the future. You can bring their attention to current issues within your cause and ask how they plan to respond to them. It’s good to stay engaged with this conversation rather than see it as a one-off. If your political representatives fail to do what they pledge to, hold them accountable. You can find the contact details of your MP via this website: https://members.parliament.uk/members/Commons
Protests are probably the main image invoked when we think about activism and that’s because they are a really important vehicle for social change. The atmosphere and image of everyone standing in solidarity to fight for a certain cause is a really powerful one. Activist organisations have worked really hard throughout the pandemic to ensure that their organised action adheres to social distancing safety measures and that protests are a safe space for all involved. Before attending a protest, check the guidance provided by the organiser, wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines. A useful place to check for organised protests is the events tab on Facebook, or searching Twitter and Instagram for shared information about them.
Make achievable lifestyle changes:
Activism doesn’t have to be a single action; it can be a commitment to achievable lifestyle changes in our everyday lives. For example, if you’re passionate about workers’ rights and a company is found to be exploiting their workers, boycotting that company would be a good actionable step of removing support for them. If you’re passionate about animal rights, committing to removing meat from your diet, whether completely or partially would also be a great actionable step to take. If you’re passionate about sustainability, you could consider avoiding buying excess plastic items or refraining from making fast-fashion purchases, in order to support your cause.
- Bethan Gilson, CWA volunteer.