Anyone can be an activist
Activists use a variety of ways to create positive social change. Anyone can make a difference!
What’s your passion? Or maybe the question is: what makes you angry? You might be concerned by deforestation, dwindling crop biodiversity, or single-use plastic. Or you may be passionate about animal welfare, promoting the arts, or campaigning for human rights. Whatever it is, you can be an activist.
What is an activist?
While the word “activist” may conjure up images of protesters chained to trees, activism isn’t an inherently radical idea at all.
Adria Vasil is an environmental journalist and author of the best-selling Ecoholic book series, as well as the Ecoholic column with Toronto’s NOW Magazine. Her writing shows ordinary people that their actions, however big or small, can make a difference. She says, “To me, an activist is anyone that uses their voice to speak out for change.” Similarly, Amherst College defines an activist as “anyone who is fighting for change in society.”
“You don’t have to carry a megaphone and march on Parliament Hill to consider yourself an activist,” Vasil adds. “Really, any time you open up your mouth and push for improvements in how things are done, you’re being an activist.”
Finally, activists want to bring about positive social change, and are not violent, criminals, or anti-society.
Activism in different forms
So what constitutes activism, then? There are myriad different ways to use your voice to enact social change, and according to Vasil, they are all important.
“I deeply believe that society needs all types of activists pushing for change and advocating for a better world at different levels, from armchair activists clicking on petitions and consumer activists that vote with their dollars to the more hardcore activists that are out on antiwhaling vessels or organizing major demonstrations,” she explains. “We’re at a point in history when we need everyone speaking up and pushing for the changes they’d like to see in the world around them.”
Here are just a few examples of common forms of activism that anyone can get involved in.
Not many years ago, letter-writing campaigns were pen-and-paper events. Now, many people have turned to the internet and are writing emails to powerful companies or politicians. This is a wonderful way to let people know you care.
For great how-to tips and guides to letter writing, check out Amnesty International’s “Activism Tools” website at amnesty.ca.
Cyberactivism, also called e-activism, refers to activism online—including blogging, creating or signing online petitions, creating or watching online videos, engaging in social media, and participating in online communities. This is a great option for anyone who’s comfortable using computers or for someone who can’t invest a lot of time—after all, signing an online petition takes seconds!
Again, Amnesty International’s website offers tips and tricks for the beginner online activist.
Boycotting is a familiar term for many of us; it involves willfully refusing to buy certain goods, or participating in certain events, as a form of protest. It usually involves taking these actions publicly or contacting the company in question to tell them about the boycott and why it’s occurring. Typically, it’s more successful the more people who take part. One successful example occurred in the 1980s, when canned tuna was boycotted because of the harm it caused to dolphins; the action prompted major tuna sellers to improve their practices.
The common adage “think globally, act locally” comes into play when working at a community level. This can involve any work at the community level, such as
Not sure how to find a group near you? Do an online search based on your interests or passions, visit a community centre near you, read a community guide, or attend a community meeting.
At the heart of activism lies the belief that change is possible—a belief that was instilled in Vasil at an early age. “My mom told me when I was a teen that we can change the world just by working on our little corner of it, and if each of us keeps working on our corner that eventually we’ll have a better world to call home. That’s the driving philosophy behind Ecoholic,” she says.
“All those small changes create a massive domino effect that fans out across the country. It all starts with one person saying, ‘Things need to change. I’m going to do things differently.’” So what are we waiting for? Let’s do things differently.
Tips for the beginner activist
Feeling inspired? Here are a few of Vasil’s top tips for people interested in starting down the path to activism.
“We don’t live in a society of mind readers, so if you see something that bothers you, don’t be shy—say it out loud,” Vasil explains.
“Even small acts make a difference, like asking a grocery manager for more local, organic produce, telling your local MP you’re unhappy with the way the government’s being run, or posting a complaint on a company’s Facebook page,” says Vasil.
Vasil recommends starting your own petition using websites such as change.orgor thepetitionsite.org. “Kids, teens, totally inexperienced adults have all started online petitions that ended up successfully pressuring big companies to change their practices,” she explains. “You’ll be amazed at the impact you can have.”
Also important is the impact of social media. Vasil also suggests posting your concerns on a company’s or politician’s Facebook page, or mentioning them on Twitter. “It gets their attention,” she says.
There’s definitely strength in numbers when it comes to enacting social change. To connect with people who have the same beliefs/concerns as you, Vasil suggests “volunteering at a local nonprofit organization; starting a group that shares your passion for a cause at work, school, or in your community; or even starting your own nonprofit.” She points out that’s exactly what the Kielburger brothers did to start their now immensely successful and powerful nonprofit organization, Free the Children.
Use your skills
“Tap into your talents,” says Vasil. “Weave your activism into whatever it is you’re good at, whether that’s teaching, art, science, PR, graphic design, research, engineering—you name it.”
Vasil has a very personal connection to this last point, as she considered herself an “activist-turned-journalist.” “I started going to protests as a teen and was volunteering and working in the nonprofit world when I decided to go back to school to become a journalist to give attention to the issues that matter to me. I figured I could best help the causes I cared about by using my skills as a writer/communicator.”