Throughout my many travels and moments of growth as both an individual and an activist, I’ve found that there are a myriad of causes to choose from. By “cause,” I mean a movement or ideology that you believe in and work towards to create a better future for all. These causes range from feminism, civil rights, environment, and various other genres and sub-genres of social ill. There are so many causes that compiling a list of them all would result in possible brain injury and/or the tendency to run away from the world and Netflix without the chill for the rest of your natural life.
However, fear not! There is a way to engage in social change without fear or shame. In an effort to expand the activist community, I have written this short, simple guide to picking and caring about a cause:
1. It is Okay Not to Engage with a Particular Group
While I was doing a delivery for work, I was wearing on of my Aurora Center T-shirt that read “Love Shouldn’t Hurt.” While I was walking back to the McNamara building, someone from an animal rights group holding a protest yelled, “Yeah, love shouldn’t hurt!”
I did not stop to ask about why they protested or for what reforms they wanted following their protest. I kept walking away. I didn’t feel guilty about it because I didn’t want to stop, and you too can walk away if you feel uninterested in a group’s cause. Especially if the people trying to engage with you yell at you or attempt to make you feel guilty for not engaging, it is okay to walk away. When you find something you’re interested in, you’ll want to approach the group and ask questions. Even if you’re not sure, the people you engage with should not make you feel guilty for your uncertainty. You’ll know when you’re interested, and it’s then that you can make the time to engage with a particular group.
2. Activists Do Not Care About Every Single Cause
People cannot devote themselves to every single cause or fighting every single injustice in the world. Expecting people to care about everything requires an astronomical amount of effort that no one should have to expend. As someone who does volunteer and harass people to care about my particular cause, I can tell you that it’s okay if you walk by only mildly affected by what I say. I understand that you maybe have something else that you care about more. It’s like feminism versus environment for me. I support the fight for environmental preservation. I recycle. I pick up my trash. I wash my laundry on the environmentally friendly settings. However, I care way more about the state of women in the world than the ozone layer.
If you pick something that resonates with you, you’re more likely to devote time and energy into that cause than you would if you were in a different group that you only mildly cared about. Activism requires passion and commitment, so commit to something you actually care about.
3. When Thinking About a Cause to Join, Ask Yourself Why
What interests you about this particular cause? Do you think you can devote your time and energy into this, or do you think you would burn out quickly? Do you have a passion for this? If you feel that you can answer “yes” to these questions, that proves you at least have the drive to participate. If this is the case, then join that group.
4. Self-Care is Really Important
Let’s say you found an activist group you’re absolutely passionate about. After the first couple of weeks of spreading awareness, you have an extremely negative encounter with a student. Maybe this student insults you, making you and the cause you’re fighting for seem pointless and even destructive.
It’s important to remember that this happens constantly. People don’t like the traditional values and societal norms they’ve grown up with to be challenged. While some people are willing to open their minds to changing as the world does, most might not. If you feel discouraged by this, welcome to the club. Everyone who has ever done any type of activist work, big or small, has felt this way. It is important to take care of yourself, so if you feel like you need to step back for a bit or try a different way to help within your group, then do so. If you feel like giving up because of the opposition, remember why you joined in the first place. Hopefully, the passion you have for what you do will override your temporary desire to quit.
5. You Don’t Have to Look Like an Activist to Be One
You can be a man and fight for women’s rights. You can be white and be an ally for ending racism. There’s no distinct way to look or be in order to be an activist. In fact, the differences you bring to the table will make whatever group you join stronger because you have a different perspective. The very idea of activism relies on differing perspectives in order to change the community. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t fit the traditional mold. Activism is about breaking the mold, so why not break it?
6. You Don’t Have to Be Gloria Steinem, but You Should Still Care
Just because you do or don’t do something in the name of social justice doesn’t mean you’re evil or mean. When you pick a cause or organization to participate in, the cause you’re fighting for becomes a deeper part of your life. You believe in the cause, and the cause is something that you value as a part of your identity. If you pick something to care about and put energy into it, that is really all that matters. Like I said before, a little bit of change goes a long way.
While you don’t have to bleed for the cause, it is important to at least care. The current state of the world can seem defeating at times. In activist work, you broaden your understanding of the world, and this comes with a new understanding of how systematic oppression operates. Once you begin to see how interconnected different forms of systematic oppression are, it seems like there’s no point in fighting against these systems. It seems easier to not care at all about any of it, and you’re right. It is easier to not care. However, it is rewarding to care. If you find something you care about changing, then even a small amount of effort on your part will affect change for the better. If we all fight hard enough, we will see that change. I’m not saying this just because I believe in that change. I’m saying this because the world has changed. Despite it’s many flaws, we have the world we have today because it is possible to change the world. Even though there’s still a lot left to do, the system is not the same it was even 20 or 30 years ago. That’s because people cared enough to change it.