Activism doesn’t simply mean chaining yourself to a building or participating in protests. Activists are people who try to elicit social change, and today activism takes many forms. Since the new administration took office, it seems as if things are changing daily. It is hard to keep track of all the possible policy changes that may impact our lives. The constant deluge of information is overwhelming for many people, and infuriating to others. If you find yourself wanting to get more involved but not knowing how, here are a few suggestions.
The most important part of activism is being informed. This has become more difficult with the incessant onslaught of information everywhere you turn. Be critical of the information you access and its sources. It may be easy to believe an article on Facebook but make sure you do your due diligence by checking the sources cited and seeing if other outlets you trust report the same information. News outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post are respected sources of information. There are also reputable online sources such as the BBC, Al-Jazeera News, ProPublica and The Conversation. No matter how you access your information, make sure you are a critical consumer of the content being reported.
It is difficult to keep track of the many policy changes taking place. One way to stay abreast of policy issues is to sign up for text or email alerts from organizations that track policies and proposed legislation. If you’re trying to stay up to date on aging policy, be sure you are getting updates from organizations such as AARP and the National Council on Aging. If your cause is LGBTQ issues, you can sign up for email notifications from organizations such as Equality Pennsylvania, the National Center for Transgender Equality, SAGE and many more. These organizations often monitor the latest political developments and inform those on their mailing lists of ways to take action.
Choose your causes
There are many populations currently under attack by the current administration, including LGBTQ people, women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, refugees and Muslim-Americans. Additionally, policies that could have deleterious effects on immigration, climate change, health care and Medicaid and Medicare have also been proposed. It is hard to take on all of the injustices of the world. Rather than spreading your efforts throughout several different causes and risk becoming overwhelmed, it may be helpful to prioritize the ones that speak to you the most.
After you have decided what issues speak to you the most, figure out how you can make an impact. Protesting is the most visible form of engagement. If you want to take part in protests and rallies, you can speak with local or national organizations that align with your interests and see if they have any upcoming events. However, it is not always necessary to make signs and hit the streets to make a difference. Volunteering your time to an organization doing advocacy work can be effective, and is often extremely needed. Making a monetary donation can help to advance many causes as well.
Make your voice heard
As an activist armed with the latest information and a passion for your causes, find ways to share your voice. You can start a petition or letter-writing campaign and share it with your networks. Rather than just airing your grievances on social media, pick up the phone and call your elected officials. A recent New York Times article explained how a phone call from a constituent can be effective in influencing the decision-making of a representative. The article highlighted the effects that personal stories and lived experiences of constituents have a bigger impact on officials than emails or mass petitions. Your voice is more likely to be heard through speaking to a person in your representative’s office, as opposed to an email that may get lost amongst dozens of other emails.
We are living in a political era that now more than ever requires us to fight for the things that matter to us. Regardless of the specific cause you are fighting for, your advocacy is needed to help protect the rights of others. Activism may sometimes seem overwhelming, but staying informed and involved is important so that we hold those in power accountable for their actions. More than anything else, activism offers everyone an opportunity to take a stand for their beliefs and to make sure their voices are heard.
Michael Johnson is a social-work student at Temple University and an intern at the LGBT Elder Initiative. To learn more about the LGBT Elder Initiative, visit www.lgbtelderinitiative.org or call 215-720-9415.