So you want to be an activist? When you imagine yourself being this “vigorous advocate for a cause” are you bent over a desk, calloused fingers waging war with a pen? Or are you standing eye-to-eye with a police officer, blaring obscenity at the top of your lungs hoping to break his poker face? Like most things that encompass passion, activism has been romanticized and a newbie may have unrealistic expectations of what they are getting themselves into when they partake in this applauded endeavor. Luckily, the aforementioned do count—but are only a few of the wide range of acts that can be labelled as activism. These acts can be as diverse and unique as the causes they represent.
In high school, the opportunities to participate in lasting social change may seem seldom. What’s signing a couple petitions really going to do? Great, we raised $100 dollars for hurricane relief, but that’s nothing compared to the $5000 the neighboring school raised. If you’ve concluded dabbling your signatures on papers or baking cupcakes isn’t your idea of “activism”, then do not fret. Recently, more and more NGO’s have been creating opportunities for youth engagement. Amnesty International has created a new youth leadership platform called iAmnesty. They assign you specific tasks based on your skills and areas of interest. Me to We offers youth trips that enable individuals to make positive impacts through participating in development projects, all while broadening their horizons and seeing the world. Red Cross, Free the Children, Greenpeace Canada, PEN Canada; the plethora of clubs and organizations to become involved in are virtually endless.
But when it comes down to it, how does one make themselves care? We all know of world crises, famine, poverty, social injustices, etc. They are happening each and every day, all one has to do is turn on the TV and flip to the news channel. It is not until adversity hits close to home that one’s perspective changes. So here’s Tip #1: Educate yourself. Look deeply into the cause of your choice, whether it be forced child abortion or homophobia. When you go past people’s pain and immerse yourself into understanding their culture, history and psychology they evolve from being another victim to an individual. Only when you personalize an issue is it possible to transform pity into empathy and truly connect. Do not just skim the surface, but truly dedicate yourself into not only understanding what is happening, but why it is happening.
Tip #2: Do not rely solely on information solely from news media. Mass media has a demand to deliver facts in a timely fashion. In the process of doing, it becomes the case that some journalists forfeit their integrity and instead of reporting the news, they end up creating the news. Get inspired to act from other mediums- slam poetry, film, song, etc. When a young adult reads an objective, informative article they do not finish it feeling empowered. Instead, dismal views about humanity and the condition of the world linger in their minds. But when this information is delivered through various art forms, it has the power to cultivate wonders whilst feeding information. It exceeds the task of educating by imbuing youth with a sense of hope, urgency and ambition that drives them to take those risks, seek solutions, respond to international crisis’s and advocate for human rights. Messages delivered through artistic mediums are the true propellers of social change as they not only inform, but reel out those intense emotions that connect human beings in a way that disables them from sitting still.
Tip #3: Communicate. Do not just engage in idle small talk, but dig deep when conversing. If you see someone distressed, ask them what’s bugging them and if you can help. Do not accept an “it’s nothing” or “it’s fine” when it’s clearly not. The beauty of this salad bowl we live in is that we are surrounded by humans of diverse backgrounds, such as immigrants and refugees each carrying stories unique to their travels. The most enlightening moment I had this year was when I decided to go up the quiet, new kid at the back of class and ask about his old school. I found out that he still wakes up in the midst of the night, sweating and wondering if his mother banging kitchen pots downstairs were the sirens alarming the citizens of incoming rockets. Remember, when you wait until you can do everything for everybody, you’ll end up doing nothing for no one.
Tip #4. Have role models. Gandhi, Maya Angelou, Muhammad Ali; discover what these amazing people did for the world and start striving towards similar goals. Best of all, one does not need to look beyond country borders or in history textbooks to discover who inspires them. We have some amazing students here at Richmond Hill High that are already seeing the world from a holistic viewpoint and are taking initiative to change things in places other than their immediate environment. Ask them how you can get involved, network yourself and your abilities and realize that opportunities are everywhere.
Tip #5: Have a Personal Mantra. Passion can be fleeting. When we tuck ourselves in, our minds stray from the article we read about genocide and instead, gets lost in twitter drama or Kim Kardashians latest scandal. The distance adds to this effect; the issues many activists fight for are miles away from home. Childhood malnutrition, terrorism, genocide- sounds more like a movie plotline then a real event occurring to real people. We have become desensitized to the overbearing number of statistics and thus, these occurrences have become unfathomable to us. Whether your mantra is a renowned quote like “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results” or song lyrics such as “When it’s all said and done, we are one”, give yourself a constant reminder about why you decided to partake in activism in the first place and the everlasting change they can implement.
Tip #6: Do not be shaken by those determined to disconcert you. People will wonder if you came back from your Me to We trip with something more than a new profile picture beside an African child, if your actions are more than just another collectable on your resume of humanist achievements. Many of us privileged first-world folk have become so self-involved that it is near impossible to recognize the righteousness of a selfless deed. Remind yourself that you have nothing to prove to anyone. And even if you are an utter scumbag who’s doing it solely for outstanding recognition, the families relying on foreign aid could care less.
Activism is actually quite simple. Tip#7: To act, all one has to do is react. Know what’s going on in the world and if you are not okay with what you are hearing and seeing, do something. Rise from your complacent buttocks and run a marathon that supports a cause such as Strides for Stroke, buy CD’s from artists that have their own non-for-profits like Rise Against, or accompany your friend to their support group.
So there you go. The reasons to become an activist are plentiful. Youthful energy can be cultivated into positive change and in the process, youth will engage in exciting opportunities and transform into globally conscious individuals. The reality is that you’re most likely not going to sport war paint as you wave a flag and sprint into a cloudy dust of rioting people. But though you may be young, inexperienced and naïve, all you need is the will and you have the potential to change lives, whether they are millions of miles away or it’s the kids sitting behind you in class.
It’s tough to enact change when you’re in an environment where it feels like every bodies talking about the same stories, just with different names. It’s always about the latest episode, the latest concert, the latest celebrity gossip. John Green, a famous young adult author, once had one of characters in his books, Margo Spiegelman, say this quote that has risen to popularity in youth culture: “It’s a paper town. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters”. To that, I have one question to ask Margo. Have you, while engaging in conversation with these so-called paper people, ever talked about anything that matters?