A Beginner's Guide to Activism

Black Lives Matter protest via Stocksy
Source: Photographer

The country has experienced dramatic changes this year amidst the pandemic, the mainstream revival of the Black Lives Matter movement, and amplified calls for intersectional environmentalism. Regardless of what prompted your decision to start or deepen your activism, it’s possible to fight for a cause you care about whether or not you can join a protest. Read more about how to protest in the covid-19 era.

“When you advocate for change, no matter how small or large the action, you join a movement of people fighting for a more just world,” says Charlotte Tate, Green America’s labor justice campaigns director. While the playing field may have changed, the urgency of issues has not. Getting more involved as an activist is simple:

1. Study the Issue

Activists represent the values and agenda of that issue, so do research and keep up-to-date with news to ensure you thoroughly know and prevent misinformation in the movement. As an issue evolves, your understanding of that issue should, too. Engage with organizations run by the people who are affected by the fight to amplify their voices and avoid causing further harm.

2. Find Your People

Whether you’re concerned about wildlife protection, racial justice, or human rights, there is a flavor of organization that works on your issue. Ask your friends, seek networking events, or search Google for advocacy groups on your issue in your area. Many national organizations also run focused local chapters.

When you find a passion, stick with it: “The issues most worth being active on are often the ones that
take the longest to achieve,” says Todd Larsen, Green America’s executive co-director for consumer and
corporate engagement.

3. Vote with Your Dollar

With every penny you spend, you can vote for fair wages, environmental health, and social justice. You
can boycott companies that conduct shady business practices by using money as leverage. Spending your
dollars at small green businesses and minority-owned businesses pushes the economy to be equitable and circular.
Find certified green businesses at greenpages.org.

4. Donate & Volunteer

Donating to advocacy and nonprofit organizations is another form of economic activism. Donations go to funding advocacy campaigns, developing research, scholarships, and other work. If you are short on funds but have plenty of time, try volunteering. Contact the organization or community activist group to find out what they need.

5. Check Off Your Slack-tivist To-Do List

  • Follow social media accounts of organizations and activists fighting for the same causes as you. These groups are plugged into updates on the issues and some may serve food for thought to actively challenge your biases.
  • Comment, sign, and share the actions of organizations and community activists. There is power in numbers and the more people you bring on board, the more pressure you can assert.
  • Exercise caution when engaging the trolls. Unproductive confrontation will leave you drained and may cause you to burn out faster.
  • Comment on posts from elected leaders. A study from the Congress Foundation demonstrated that policymakers pay attention to social media comments to keep a pulse on issues important to their constituents. This has the most potential impact when engaging with local leaders. 

How to Talk to Your Legislators

One of the most important tools in your advocacy kit is knowing how to talk to a policymaker. You don’t have to be an expert—what makes you powerful is your connection to the issue. Telling a legislator or staffer a personal story is more memorable than reciting copied text.

Often, calling is the simplest way to contact your legislator. For local officials, find contact information on city or county websites. For Congressional representatives, call the Congressional switchboard (202-224-3121) and share your zip code to be connected. You will most likely reach a staffer who keeps track of constituents’ positions and who will summarize your call to give to your legislator. You may also get a voicemail box where you should leave a message that a staffer will listen to later. If you’re calling about a bill, be sure to mention its number along with your opinion.

Letters are another tool to tell your story. A letter that looks and feels original is more likely to resonate with your legislator than one copied word for word; however, hundreds of signatures on a letter to a policymaker is also valuable, since it demonstrates that many people feel the same way.

Once the pandemic is over, meet your Congress member at their local office, where they tend to be more accessible.

Climate Questions to Ask at a Virtual Town Hall

The last few years have seen a surge of concern over climate change. Here are a few questions to ask candidates at your local town hall. Check townhallproject.com to see if your elected leaders are hosting virtual events and for contact information for your representatives.

  • Where does the climate crisis fall under your list of priorities when you step into office?
  • Nearly 60 percent of US voters support the Green New Deal, and it could stimulate a post-covid-19 economy by creating millions of clean energy jobs. Do you support it?
  • What plan do you have to reduce carbon emissions?
  • How do you plan to address racial inequity in climate infrastructure plans in our city/state/country?
  • Many communities are on the frontlines of climate change: low-lying coastal cities, communities of color, and those at risk of losing existing energy jobs. How do you intend to include vulnerable communities in climate adaptation plans for a “just transition?”
From Green American Magazine Issue