While much of activism has to do with finding a larger group of people with similar interests and working towards change, focusing on your own understanding of different social problems is also essential. Whether you work with a larger group or on your own, things in the world of Activism can move at an incredible rate of speed and it can be difficult to keep up or even establish yourself in a well-rounded intersectional understanding of the world you live in and the ways it impacts you and the other folks in it. It’s possible that you’ve noticed that there are a few places in activism (or maybe so many places that it becomes kind of overwhelming) surrounding certain identities, experiences, or theories where you don’t know all the answers or even the basics. What do you do?
- a. Pretend you know everything or that the things you don’t know don’t actually matter and hope no one notices and you don’t inadvertently silence folks and/or ruin lives and/or contribute to oppression in a really terrible way.
- b. Demand that folks of marginalized identities tell you about their experiences of oppression and how it impacts them; refuse to believe them until they provide you with physical evidence; jump up and down a whole lot; isolate yourself and exhaust those you’re activist-ing with.
- c. Become overwhelmed and retreat under a table with various comforting things; consider living in a blanket fort for the rest of your life and not interacting with the rest of the world because it’s just too much I mean really.
- d. Find sustainable ways of educating yourself that don’t necessarily drain those you want to work with/advocate for; admit you have faults and you exist in a world where inequality happens all over the place and has serious impacts and like it or not you’re a part of this system.
If your answer to this question was a. or b., I want you to sit down and think about your life and your choices for a little bit. Then I want you to come back and continue reading. If you answered c., that’s okay and you might want to check out our extensive section on self-care and/or figure out that blanket fort situation. After you’ve retreated to your blanket fort for a bit, if you feel up to it, please come back and continue reading. If you answered d., high five! We are on the same page.
It’s okay to feel like c. is your answer sometimes, or all of the time. Activism is difficult work and we’re glad you’re here.
Self-education can be an incredibly important part of being a responsible activist. It can also be important to make sure that the folks around you know that you’re always learning things; that way they know to hold you accountable when you say or do things that you shouldn’t! Much of activism and organizing has to do with group dynamics and initiatives. However, a whole lot of it has to do with you as an individual, your own politics, and how you interact with others in your activism.
One of the most important and most anxiety-inducing aspects of activism is that you are going to mess up. You are going to do something wrong or say something terrible and you might realize what you did was a problem right then or you might not realize it until much later at which point you get that terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach and want to return to the blanket fort.
The important part is not that feeling and how it impacts you. The important part is that you handle it by taking accountability for your actions and the impacts they have on those around you. Then it’s important to work to not do it again.
It’s a-okay to retreat to your blanket fort somewhere between point a. and point b. Taking care of yourself in this area of activism is also important, especially because if you don’t take care of yourself it might be difficult to continue to engage. Check out our excellent self-care section for more on that.
Some Resources for Self-Education
Blogs can be a good way to learn from folks without necessarily needing to interact with them in person or drain them by asking for information they might have already stated. Some people have chosen blogs as a way to send out information when they are upset about a thing so that they can disseminate that information to many people rather than interacting with people one on one. Be sure to respect needs for privacy; some folks might go into details about their life that they’d rather not have you using for your own self-education, and that needs to be respected.
**Not all of the following are personal blogs; many of them are collaborations and/or social networking sites based in a shared identity group or similar** interests.
- Autistic Self Advocacy Network
- The Bechdel Test
- Bitch Magazine
- Black Girl Dangerous
- Disability Studies Quarterly
- Indian Country Today Media Network
- Latin@ Counter Cultures Blog
- Examining Mixed Race Identity
As with many places on the Internet, tumblr can be what you make of it. Sometimes blogs on tumblr can be incredibly helpful, and sometimes they can be the worst. Please use your discretion when searching.
Follow social justice related hashtags on twitter in order to expose yourself to new ideas or ideas you are familiar with that are being articulated in different ways. Twitter can be a great tool to find succinct conversations around current and circulating issues
Examples: #girlslikeus, #NotYourAsianSidekick, #socialgood,
#equalityforall, #cause, #4change
Resources Local to Your Area
Sometimes college students have access to funding to bring people to different peer groups to speak. Check these out! On your own, look over the resources they offer and things they have listed on their website. Check out various workshops and conferences in your area, especially if you have access to a college campus. If you have time to make the commitment, consider volunteering. Volunteerism can be a great way to become further invested in social justice work and access training and information regarding certain identities or social problems.
Though many of these options require a time commitment and can be difficult to access if you have a full-time work schedule, some things can be scheduled on weekends or might post information related to topics of interest online. As you’re able, consider Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other social networking and media sites. Though it can be a bit overwhelming at first and might not work for everyone, streamlining your interests can be a great way to gain knowledge in a particular area.
Bringing resources to your space
Keep in mind that some of the resources you encounter on your own might be applicable to the larger group! Activist groups can frequently benefit from challenging some of the assumptions they carry as well as the dynamics that happen in the group that may or may not lead to silencing of some people or experiences along the lines of oppression. Some resources related to inner group dynamics and overall frameworks can be brought in, though speakers and other resources might require fundraising. Keep in mind conversations that can be easily facilitated in your group; different ideas for these conversations can be found on the Internet.
Work to maintain awareness of the ways you yourself exist in relation to the group. Keep in mind the amount you speak compared to other people, and the ways that might operate in relation to your identity and/or the identities of anyone you might find yourself speaking over. Are there any voices the group might not be hearing from? Is the location of your group accessible to people in wheelchairs and/or people with other accessibility needs? Consider speaking to those in charge about what you notice or bringing it up to the group as a whole as you are able.
Dara Burwell, a resource local to the Denver/Boulder area (find her work and contact information at http://www.transformativealliances.com), listed the following resources as being incredibly helpful to self-education work. Transformative Alliances is a strong example of a resource that can be used to help larger activist groups discuss dynamics around both internalized oppression and internalized dominance and the ways those are manifested both inside activism and outside of it.