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A Beginner’s Guide to Activism

A few summers ago, I had the opportunity to visit the ruins of Pompeii, Italy. Historically known for being the Roman city frozen in time beneath the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius, these ruins have been largely excavated. Among them were homes, eateries and Romanesque bathhouses - which were littered with graffiti. I later learned these etchings were political endorsements and propaganda.

It occurred to me that these runes revealed displays of activism over 20 centuries old. People from 78 B.C. were writing their views on the ancient equivalent of a bathroom stall. Clearly, not much has changed. It appears humans have always gravitated towards activism. 

However, activism can be difficult to approach, especially in a modern context. It can be discouraging to feel inspired, but not know where to start. This guide will help unveil a number of ways to get started with becoming an activist - ways that extend beyond the walls of a bathroom stall. 

1. Do your Research 

This is #1 for a reason. It is essential to consider that as you are becoming an activist, you are representing more than just yourself. You’re identifying with a movement and what it stands for. Being well-informed through sufficient, if not excessive, research will not only help you to adequately validate and represent your movement, but it may lead you to make important alterations in your own thinking as well.

2. Remain Calm

When it comes to activism, it is difficult to brush off chauvinistic oppositional commentary. In these situations, the phrase “remain calm” is applicable. To respond with the same hostility that was aimed at you is tempting, but do not succumb. Remain calm and remember you’re representing a cause, not just yourself. Stooping down to a level of belligerence is not how you want to be representing what you stand for. 

3. Discussion > Debate 

Prior experience has shown me that this little phrasing alteration can make all the difference when it comes to starting a dialogue with an oppositional perspective. “Debating” has become synonymous with “arguing”. Arguing will not lead to compromise, but having a respectful discussion will allow both parties to gain perspective. Odds are neither will totally change their minds, but discussion is a step towards seeing eye-to-eye.

4. Participation Points

Being an activist rather clearly implies “taking action.” If there is a march or a protest, join in. Find organizations that represent what you stand for and partake. Attend informational seminars that relate to your cause. If it’s election season, go vote. Regularly call your State Representative on behalf of your cause. Participate actively in any way you can.

5. Step Back

Depending on the cause you are standing for as an activist, the work can be emotionally taxing. It is important to take a step back once in a while and assess your personal well-being. This does not mean you should ignore your cause, but it does mean that you should not constantly let your activism run your life - it is only one part of it. 

While this list is intended to serve as a helpful guide, activism can be very personalized. As you continue your work, change things up as you see fit. But if you can, avoid displaying your activism on the wall of a bathroom stall.  

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