ac·tiv·ism n. The use of direct, often confrontational action, such as a demonstration or strike, in opposition to or support of a cause.
Thus reads the definition of activism in The Free Dictionary. And I suppose this illustrates well the traditional perception of what an activist does. Hugs trees. Marches with placards. Hunger strikes.
None of these activities appeal to me.
Yet, I consider myself an activist. (It’s in my Twitter bio, so it must be official…)
We All Need to Act
One thing I’ve realized during my two and a half years of researching mental health-related topics for my upcoming book, is that we need to enact major social change if we want to optimize our children’s mental health. For this to happen, we need lots of activists. Everyday activists.
It feels like traditionally, activism has been an all or nothing mindset. Either you’re out there on a regular basis picketing, collecting petition signatures, and handing out leaflets on the street or you’re sitting at home doing nothing.
Fortunately, the world has changed. There are lots of ways to get involved and make a difference—even if picketing isn’t your thing. And it’s okay to start small. Doing something is better than doing nothing.
Three Steps to Everyday Activism
- Become educated on the issues. For example, before I started my research, I didn’t know what “Citizens United” was or this Supreme Court ruling’s impact on politics. Now I know that it allows corporations and other groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on swaying the public one way or another during political elections. This means that corporations and other groups have way too much influence in our political process. People should decide election outcomes, not Big Money. (To get an awesome introduction to Citizens United, check out The Story of Citizens United vs. FEC.)
- Make a commitment to vote. And encourage others to do the same. Due to Big Money’s influence on politics, people feel like it doesn’t matter if they vote or not. All politicians follow the money anyway, so what’s the point, right? The point is that it is our civic duty and right to participate in the election of our leaders. I was shocked to find that only 58.2% of us voted in the 2012 general election. We need to send people to Washington (and our local governments) who will fight against Big Money in politics and look after the needs of everyday people.
- Pick one focus area. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of work that’s needed to create a society that prioritizes happiness and health over consumption and wealth. There are so many organizations working on everything from raising the minimum wage to parental leave policy to mindfulness in schools. You probably feel drawn to a few different areas based on your individual needs or interests. Narrow it down to one area and invest your time there. (But keep abreast of other important issues so you can contact your representatives and let them know where you stand.)
Places to Start
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Like I mentioned above, there are a number of organizations that facilitate different levels of everyday activism. I’ve listed a few here:
- Random Acts of Kindness: Become a #RAKtivist today!
- MomsRising.org: Where moms and people who love them go to change the world
- Race to Nowhere: Transforming education from the ground up
- Slow Money: Investing as if food, farms, and fertility mattered
- Center for a New American Dream: More of what matters
- B Corporation: B the Change
- Inequality for All: “We make the rules of the economy – and we have the power to change those rules.” – Robert Reich
- Mindful Schools: Integrating mindfulness into education
Beyond writing as activism, I have chosen to focus on bringing mental health awareness, mindfulness, and social emotional learning to our local school district. It really doesn’t take much to get started. Just invite a few people with similar goals over for an informal discussion and see where it leads. You can accomplish a lot with a handful of people and a common vision.
How Are You an Everyday Activist?
Let me know in the comments below.