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Monday, April 5, 2010

A Little Less Talk, A Little More Activism



There is no formal school for activists. No university degree qualifies the graduate to practice grassroots organizing. Activists as  practitioners of social change, come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, and even from all political parties. And all activists learn from experience. On the other hand, they should be able to benefit from the experience of others. Unfortunately, more often than not, people suddenly find themselves in a situation that requires a certain moral heroism. They had not planned to become activists.

So, activists find their passion. Many find it quite by accident. They organize. Then, they spread the word and get ready for appropriate action. Activists may or may not protest or confront others. Instead, they may try to persuade people to change their behavior directly, but they may not lobby, dissent, or protest politically.

For example, transformational activism is the idea that people need to transform on the inside as well as on the outside in order to create any meaningful change in the world. This type of activism may encourage people to see how they are connected to others and to look for common values to unleash collective creativity in change.


Sheila Kuehl ("I Do, Therefore I Am...," The Advocate, August 17 1999) explains how the Latin sentence, "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) has never been a favorite expression of her activist views. She believes the more appropriate expression to be "Facio, ergo sum." (I do, therefore I am.) For Sheila, "do" completes the responsibility of the activist's mission.


People typically think about a cause of some importance and meekly ask, "How Can I Help?" Their initial caution to commit to action is understandable because they feel they must balance their support with all other aspects of their lives. And, indeed, many don't even ask the question of how they may help because they are afraid of dedicating themselves to something well beyond what they're actually willing to do. To these people, the offer of help is redeemable only in brief measures, if it is even justified as more than just a pleasantry of kind acknowledgment.

Others feel very cautious to commit because they do not trust anyone's strong, passionate desire to engage in a difficult struggle. Many of these people fear the "give an inch, take a mile" attitude that those in charge of the cause can apply to their first efforts. In other words, they fear being convinced by some strong personality to exceed their involvement over predetermined personal limits.

Stuart Bechman ("Making a Difference...," www.infidels.org, July 16 1997) says that although activism is encouraged by those in a democratic society, "... the more impact you wish to make, the more effort it will take. This is the tradeoff that most would-be supporters face in deciding to support a cause. But the good news is that no effort is wasted or pointless - many, many causes have been significantly furthered by just a few people spending a few minutes a day letting others know of their support for these causes. The single largest factor in a cause being realized is the number of people who are willing to stand up and make their voice known, over and beyond any other activity or effort."

There’s always a volume of excuses not to get involved in such efforts such as "It’s too time consuming," or "It's too easily ignored," or "It's not worth the effort." But, the truth is, people do not have to carry the world on shoulders to take advantage of their opportunities to create social justice with activism. Each person is extraordinary in talents and can help others by taking part in activities involving using information and wielding contributions to power.

Drew Davidson of ETC Press (www.etc.cmu.edu/etcpress, Carnegie Mellon University 2010) explains, "Activism and public relations are two areas that lend themselves well to the usefulness that cross-media communications can provide. Through grassroots movements and community support, we can use media to advocate for a variety of social justice issues."

Cross-media communications can encourage involvement and engagement in issues, giving people a chance to take an active role by speaking up and spreading the word from websites, to televisions ads, to buttons to wear.

Also, cross-media can help establish groups by finding people with similar interests and by helping keep them together with vital information. Dynamic websites enable all kinds of timely ways to touch base with activists.

This connectivity comes through the media, but it extends into the real-world by helping organize meetings. It helps people find content that they are interested in as well as help these people share their similar interests.

In conclusion, cross-media communication can dispel apathy. It can help change a group of fairly indifferent, semi-resistant, potential spectators into a dynamic group of socially concerned activists. The ease of using media contributes to the energy-saving advantages of joining a cross-media cause. Instead of falling victim to quitting, activists can contribute with their unique individual talents. In fact, the mass power of such an active attack is substantial.

From least to most active in listed order, Stuart Bechman ("Making a Difference...," www.infidels.org, July 16 1997) finds these contributions very beneficial to the activist community:
  • Talk with those who agree with your viewpoint and offer a sounding-board for each other, reinforcing and strengthening your viewpoints.
  • Talk to others who may not be aware of your viewpoint. Let them know of your viewpoint and of others who share it, what they're doing.
  • Talk to others who you know disagree with your viewpoint. Engage in persuasive (but not confrontational) conversation to test your and their views against the other. See how well your viewpoint stands against theirs.
  • Read/Listen to the media on a regular basis to learn about recent developments regarding the causes you support.
  • Do research to discover organizations which support your viewpoint or cause, using the public library, an Internet Browser, or following up on authors and media sources who have written articles which support your viewpoint. Educate yourself by learning what these organizations know and have done about your cause.
  • Provide a one-time contribution to any of these organizations which advocate your viewpoint.
  • Prepare a database / card file of all organizations you discover that support your cause, including contact person, address and phone numbers, and any other related information such as clippings of their advocacy efforts. Use such acquired information to strengthen your viewpoint.
  • Prepare a database / card file of all organizations you discover that oppose your cause, including contact person, address and phone numbers, and any other related information such as clippings of their advocacy efforts. Use such acquired information to test your viewpoint.
  • Read/Listen to the media on a regular basis to study its presentation of the causes you support. Write a response to any articles or shows which seem to disagree with your viewpoint. Set a periodic personal goal to reach, say, two letters/month.
  • Listen to talk shows which touch on issues of concern to you. Participate on a call-in basis to share your viewpoint. Set a periodic personal goal to reach, say, two call-in shows/month.
  • Regularly support organizations which advocate your viewpoint. Become a member if you can afford it; or contribute money, time, or other resources you may have to offer.
  • Pay attention to local political efforts that appear opposed to your viewpoint. Make your opposing viewpoint known in these efforts to any/all government officials privy to these efforts through a letter, a phone call, or personal appearance.
  • Purchase 'Gift' memberships to the organizations that you support for local libraries and/or government officials so that they are kept apprised of the efforts and information being promulgated by the organizations you support.
  • Participate regularly in local discussion groups that support your viewpoint. Contribute your ideas and opinions to these groups as often as you can.
  • Support political candidates who strongly identify with your viewpoint, through money, time, or other resources.
  • Write an article advocating your cause and submit it to a publication which supports that cause.
  • Write an article advocating your cause and submit it to a publication which is neutral to that cause.
  • Make a public commitment to regularly contribute in some way to an organization which supports your cause.
  • Propose a project which you believe will further your cause and present it to others who may support your project.
  • Take an advisory role in one of the organizations that supports your cause.
  • Recruit another to join and support one of the organizations that supports your cause.
  • Participate in a project sponsored by another.
  • Offer to lead your (or someone else's) project to bring it to fruition.
  • Find a friendly public forum which is interested in and supportive of your viewpoint. Speak on behalf of your cause in this forum.
  • Find a neutral public forum which will allow you to voice your viewpoint. Speak on behalf of your cause in this forum.
  • Lobby/campaign for money and/or resources for an organization that supports your viewpoint.
  • Take a leadership role in one of the organizations that supports your cause.
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