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10 ways to become an effective activist

Karen Edwards, author of The Little Book of Activism, gives her tips on making a positive difference and advocating for change.
Protesters march at the Kill The Bill protest in London, May 2021. Steve Eason/Flickr

From the Kill the Bill protests, Black Lives Matter and the MeToo movements to feeding poverty-stricken communities and tackling the climate crisis, there has never been a better time to advocate for the causes that matter.

Here are ten empowering ways to advocate for positive change.

  1. Research and educate

If you hope to educate others on a particular campaign, it is best to have a wealth of factual information, statistics and examples to explain why you support the cause. Read widely – from books to verified news sources, listen to podcasts and watch documentaries and films on the topic you are supporting. If you can, talk to those directly affected by the issue. It is important to be aware of any opposing views. You don’t have to know everything on the topic in question, but it’s important to be open to listening and learning more.

  1. Be a conscious activist

Leading by example is vital because you are helping others to see an issue being tackled in an accessible way. This allows others to see how they, too, can make changes in a real-world setting that could easily be a part of their routine or household. Document what you do in a personal blog or through your social media – and always share valuable resources, such as books, articles or videos, that have educated or inspired you.

  1. Don’t expect change overnight

Remember some of the most important and powerful actions in history – such as the women’s and civil rights movements – took years, decades and, sometimes, centuries to make a difference. Prepare yourself for the long haul and celebrate the little wins – such as community recognition, a great turnout to events, the rise of grassroots groups, obtaining media coverage and support from the public. Each one is a step towards something better.

  1. Be an informed ally

It is up to everyone in society to advocate positive change, but to be an ally is to stand in solidarity with those affected by a specific social issue. Seek out the voices of those who are disadvantaged to fully understand their experiences, and where possible make space for them to speak up for themselves.

Ask questions, read a lot and actively challenge misinformed attitudes. An ally means more than making generalised statements against the problem. It is about using your privilege, in not suffering as a result of the issue, to call out injustice when you see it.

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  1. Join forces with grassroots campaigners

Research local groups and clubs that also support the cause you feel strongly about. You can do this by contacting councils or community organisations and ask to be introduced. Alternatively connect with social media groups who support the same issues.

Remember, while local groups may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, they often make the most difference – due to the closer connection between community and decision maker.

  1. Introverts – get creative!

Being an activist isn’t all about attending rallies or protests – you can encourage advocacy in less overt ways, too. If you enjoy being creative, use paint, fabric, storytelling or photography to get your point across.

From murals to yarnbombing, music and letter-writing to photography – artivism and craftivism are non-intrusive yet powerful ways of raising awareness.

  1. Be mindful of young minds

Children pick up on language, so normalising the uniqueness of humans is valuable. Discuss how and why people might not talk, act or live exactly like they do and encourage discussions of empathy, to address how it might feel when someone is left out or picked on. Encourage young people to maintain friendships from different walks of life and show them how enriched your own life is through such relationships.

  1. Inspire through education

Proudly tell people why you care about the issue, especially if your reason is personal. This is a humbling way of humanising a campaign for those who may not know much about it. Many cases of misinformation or bias stem from ignorance – so by introducing a human element, you may receive a more empathic perspective.

  1. Remain respectful

Bear in mind that not everyone can be persuaded to support an issue, however important it may be to you. When faced with opposition, always stay composed and deliver your viewpoint based on fact and statistics. When challenged with hostility, show respect by listening to both sides of the argument, even if you disagree.

  1. Always use your vote

Vote for the government – both local and national – who will implement the change you want. This means taking the time to research the policies behind each candidate and consider their position on the issue that matters most. While it is unlikely any one candidate will be perfect, there is likely to be someone who is more aligned with your views. If you are unable to vote in person, register for a postal vote, or to assign a proxy, in advance.

The Little Book of Activism by Karen Edwards is published by Summersdale Publishers, £6.99