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By Sara Benincasa, Sasha Bronner
The world feels particularly fragile this week. Americans are trying to come to terms with the violence and racism that erupted in Charlottesville — meanwhile, white supremacists have applauded the president’s reaction to it — and Barcelona is mourning death and injury after Thursday’s terrorist attack.
During times like these, it’s difficult to tune out all of the voices and opinions around us. And you shouldn’t — staying informed is a large part of activism — but deciding what to do with that information can be overwhelming.
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Just this week, Jimmy Fallon implored his audience to become more active:
“We all need to stand against what is wrong, acknowledge that racism exists, and stand up for all that is right, and civil, and kind,” he said. “And to show the next generation that we haven’t forgotten how hard people have fought for human rights… We can’t go backward.”
We strongly agree with this statement. But it’s also very normal to ask: how do you do activism? How do you show you care?
1) Do your research.
We live in a world where information is at our fingertips, sitting in the palm of our hands. New articles, essays, podcasts, and mini-docs come out every single week. Doing some research on the issues you care about — whether it’s global warming, women’s rights, race in America, or immigration — can go a long way in helping you identify how you want to become active.
Be willing to learn about an opposing viewpoint; try to be open to hearing and thinking about other opinions on the issue. This will help you have deeper conversations with people who agree with you — and those who don’t. Being able to succinctly explain why an issue matters to you is more than half the battle. Information is power, people.
2) Organize with other people.
Participate in a peaceful protest (and learn how to do it safely). Sign up for alerts or newsletters from organizations you align with, and get out of the house and meet up with people to build a collective voice around your cause. If you can’t be there in person, you can still spread the word through social media.
But protesting isn’t the only way. You can volunteer with an organization — doing any little task can help the overall goal — whether it’s making phone calls, painting signs, organizing fliers, etc. If you don’t have the time (or transportation) to volunteer in person, many organizations can use your help remotely. Technology! Donating money is always an option too.
3) Share your voice with people in power.
Staying silent is part of the problem. You know that phrase about the squeaky wheel? Your voice counts. And the more you use it, the louder it gets.
Call or text your political representatives. They are listening — more than ever. Connect on social media or reach out directly. See how to contact U.S. Senators and how to contact your representative in Congress.
Check out tips from one activist about calling his representative (and what happened when he did).
What about other people in power? You can email the editors of publications you read or write an op-ed or a blog post about the issue you’re passionate about. Talk about why it matters to you. Ask questions. And then listen.
4) Know your rights.
Before you engage in activism in any form, you should check out the ACLU’s Know Your Rights info page. Not only will it help you understand some of the legal aspects of the type of activism you may wish to try, but it will also give you insight on what to do if you’re stopped by the police or face any intimidation or bullying.
5) Take care of yourself and those around you.
Activating and organizing can be taxing — especially when we have other things in our lives that demand our attention as well. You can burn out on activism if you don’t take time to rest, replenish, and renew. Your safety (emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual) is the most important thing.
Smaller acts of kindness, like helping someone in your community or organizing a small event at your school, can help make your world a better place. Doing good and spreading love can also be contagious.
Always remember, you do not have to sacrifice or suffer unreasonably in order to qualify as a good human being. You become a hero by standing up for your rights and the rights of others.