Effective Activism

30 April 2010

Activism, Lifeways

Activism

The Role of Activism. Activists are supposed to be for the world what the immune system is to the body. Ideally, activists work toward creating a better world through efforts such as strengthening families, improving education, enhancing healthcare, promoting fairness, and restoring the environment. According to this broad definition, even people involved in outreach efforts of religious organizations are activists.

Flower Thrower. The activist shown to the right, as depicted by the graffiti artist Banksy, is throwing flowers instead of rocks. This is the kind of activism that will bring about change as well as win hearts and minds.

“Activism isn’t about revolution. It’s about evolution. The change we hope to see may not happen in a single conversation, rally, or lifetime. If we’re going to be radical, let us be radical about compassion, kindness, understanding, cooperation, and reconciliation.” ~ Gregory Johnson

Activism Gone Bad. Sometimes activists operate in ways that are ineffective or counter productive. This is similar to when the immune system begins to attack the body rather than bring healing to it. This may be due to misinformation, poor leadership, or letting emotions exceed reason. Here are some points to consider.

  • Activism has failed when a campaign, initiative, or program results in harm to the cause, members, and society.
  • When laws are broken and people’s rights are violated, public sentiment is sometimes permanently turned against a cause.
  • Sometimes the actions of an activist will seem to be direct contradiction to the principles of the cause they are defending, such as a pro-life activist killing a doctor. When animal rights activists break the law and violate human rights, they are contradicting the principle of compassion that the movement is supposedly founded upon.
  • Too often, activists are reaching out only to those who are like minded. Sometimes activists reach out with compassion towards friends, but animosity toward those who think differently.
  • Quasi-terrorist acts such as breaking into facilities, or outright terrorist acts such as vandalism or violence, detract from a cause, harm property, harm people (if not physically, emotionally), and ultimately result in turning public sentiment against the cause.

Overall, failed activism does more harm than good to a cause and often results in the cause supporters being viewed as fanatics involved in a fringe movement. Those who are genuinely passionate and committed to a cause will defend the cause by denouncing such activities. If you work for, volunteer for, or donate to an organization that is engaged repeatedly in the above counter productive activities it’s best to terminate all involvement and support of that organization. These words of Martin Luther King are a helpful reminder about the importance of staying focused on compassion and peace for the greater good of all:

“We will not resort to violence.
We will not degrade ourselves with hatred.
Love will not be returned with hate.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Effective Activism. Because activists and volunteers are in short supply and your time is limited, it is essential to make the most of your efforts. Here are a few examples of how you can increase the impact of your activism efforts.

  • Activist Coach. Find someone to meet with on a regular basis to discuss your activist goals. Your meetings can be weekly, monthly, or even quarterly, depending on your interest. The purpose for the meetings is to explore and consider ways you can be more effective. Your coach can offer encouragement or provide suggestions you might not have thought of.
  • Apprenticeship Volunteerism. Consider contributing your time, energy, finances, and resources to a local activist in your community. They will be grateful for your help and you will learn a lot in the process.
  • Creative Outreach. Some examples of creative outreach are offered below. In general, the idea of creative outreach is to provide the public with valuable products and/or services while educating about a cause you believe in.
  • Donations Portfolio. Consider developing a portfolio of organizations that represent your interests such as political, environmental, and human rights organizations. Then, contribute monthly to these organizations as if they were investments.
  • Give the Gift of Education. Consider offering classes in your area of specialty, such as a class on: how to use computers, video editing, gardening, time management, conflict resolution, relationships, plant care, cooking, buying a car, bicycle maintenance, or a class on financial management and investing. By offering classes to many people at one time, you can effectively donate the value of your time and expertise to an almost unlimited number of individuals and local organizations. Your local public library is a good place to consider offering such training.
  • Ideas, Action, Results. Some people don’t have ideas. Others, have ideas, but they don’t know how to put them into action. Some have ideas and can put them into action, but something breaks down along the way so the positive results never come. If possible, even on a small scale, try to develop workable systems that take your ideas and put them into actions that will effectively have positive results. In some cases this takes a team of people working together – each having experience and a gifting in a certain phase of this process.
  • Satellite Organization. Pick one or two organizations from our links list and become familiar with the regular news provided on their site. Consider being an unofficial satellite office for your favorite organization, hold local meetings and distribute information about what the organization is doing.
  • Specialized Volunteerism. If your community is like most, there are numerous organizations you would like to help by volunteering. Consider focusing your volunteer efforts in your area of profession, specialty, skill, and greatest experience. In this way, you are contributing the greatest value to the organization.

“We can’t focus our energy on the problems… We must focus on solutions that make those problems irrelevant.” – Gregory Johnson

Creative Action and Outreach. The news media today tends to sensationalize activists as angry anti-social “fringe” members of our society. Terrorists are viewed as a type of religious or political activist. Environmentalists who turn to violence are labeled eco-terrorists. For this reason, there is a great need today for creative, constructive, and peaceful activism. Here are a few examples:

  • Beautification. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will volunteer time to clean parks and renovate public areas. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Camp for a Cause. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will setup a “camp” with tents, tables, and information about a cause you are passionate about. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about. It’s probably a good idea to get permission from local authorities to do this. Otherwise, the tents might not be necessary since you’ll probably end up in jail – which would limit your legitimacy and ability to get your message out.
  • Car Washing. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will offer a free car wash. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Give Gifts. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will give small gifts to people. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Lawn Care. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will mow lawns for people. Consider using electric lawn mowers or hand push lawn mowers. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Marketing. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will volunteer time to help promote locally owned and operated businesses. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Parking Meters, Parking Tickets, Parking Ramp Fees. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will go to parking areas and pay for people’s parking. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about. If you pay tickets, leave a note saying that the ticket was paid by your organization. Please check with your local authorities to be sure this practice is permissible in your area. (20061227we1032)
  • Shovel Snow. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will shovel snow for people. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Street Sweepers. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will volunteer time to sweep side walks in front of shops. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Volunteers. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will volunteer time to help local citizens, non-profit groups, and/or senior citizens. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Washing Laundry. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will go to Laundromats and pay for people’s laundry. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Weeding Gardens. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will weed gardens for people. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.
  • Window Washing. Start a campaign in your city to mobilize activists who will volunteer time to wash show windows of local businesses. Wear placards or t-shirts that promote whatever cause you are passionate about.

Chasidic Wisdom. Chassidism is a branch of Judaism that offers insight into numerous areas of life including activism as seen in the following short writing.

The Rebbe of Kotzk once said: “When I was younger I thought I would change the world. I then decided that I would work on my city, and later concentrated just on my family. But now I have decided just to try and change myself.”

I do not believe the Kotzker Rebbe meant that he would work only on himself and ignore others. After all, he led a big community and was responsible for thousands of followers. What he was saying is that the only effective way to change other people is to begin with ourselves.

Improving our own character and personality is within our control. We choose to progress or stagnate, to become angry or stay calm, to give or to hold back. We cannot control other people, but we can influence them by moving inwards. Changing ourselves will change others. [source]

About Gregory Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer in Iowa City and also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. He also manages IowaCityWebDesignArtist.com and many other topic specific websites.

View all posts by Gregory Johnson
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