12 Ways You Can Be an Activist Without Going to a Protest
A few people asked me how I was doing after the August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. (Not as many people as you’d think, but that’s OK because I’m not entirely sure I have an accurate answer.) The events in Charlottesville were nothing new—this kind of hate isn’t new in our country—but now we have social media to illuminate events like this faster and more efficiently. I wasn’t surprised when I scrolled through Twitter on the day of the rally, but the photos of angry, racist, homophobic, anti-semitic men made my stomach churn and my eyes sting.
But still, I couldn’t fully engage. Besides retweeting some posts about important nuances and others about celebrating diversity, I stayed silent on Twitter. What did I spend that weekend doing? Well, I celebrated a friend’s birthday with Dunkin Donuts hash browns and cinnamon rolls. I sang the entire "Hamilton" cast album (plus the title song from "In The Heights") at a bar with friends I haven’t seen in years. I binge-watched two TV shows. I went to the gym. I made a dinner that looked straight off of Pinterest.
I practiced self-care, and I didn’t feel guilty at all. In fact, I consider it a form of activism.
When you’re a woman of color, every day, every moment, you’re fully engaged with white supremacy. Since that weekend, I had dinner with a friend who is also a black woman, and my guard went up when five white men sat at the table next to us. Since that weekend, a white man called me beautiful while I was walking by myself, and I wondered if he was going to follow and harass me. Since that weekend, I ducked under an awning to escape the rain with two friends, and a white man walking behind us exclaimed “Jesus!” under his breath, and I instinctively turned around to face him, fearing he’d attack me from behind.
When you’re a woman of color, every day, every moment, you’re fully engaged with white supremacy.
No, the events of that weekend were nothing new, but they’ve heightened my fears and tensed my shoulders—which I didn’t know could happen more than it did on November 9, 2016. And the longer President Trump is in power, the more emboldened and confident white supremacists will feel.
There was a protest at Trump Tower in New York City on August 14. I didn’t attend. While I believe wholeheartedly in protests, acts of resistance, and raising your voice, I have never felt comfortable at physical demonstrations. I often feel guilty about this—especially, when facing the question that’s all over Twitter right now: What would I have done during the Civil Rights Movement? Honestly, I’m not sure how many marches I would have attended. But I still would have taken action.
Activism comes in all shapes and sizes.
If we all have the same goal, why not use our skills and passions to create our own specific type activism? Create a surround experience of activism, if you will—through events, civic engagement, donations, dialogue, art, and digital platforms.
Wondering where to start? Here are 12 different ideas/types of activism you can engage in besides attending a physical demonstration:
1. Attend a Town Hall
If safety is a concern for you when attending rallies, town hall events can provide a more formal format that allows you to speak your truth to local politicians in a structured way. Head to Town Hall Project and enter your zip code to find the next one near you.
2. Engage Civically
●︎ Call Your Senator: They say calling is the most effective way to influence your representative. It’s a great way to have your voice heard if you can aren’t physically able to attend any event. If intense dread comes over you when you even just THINK about talking on the phone, here’s your very own “Shy Person’s Guide to Calling Representatives.” And 5calls.org can provide scripts for you, specified to the causes you’re calling about.
●︎ Sign Petitions: If you don’t like interacting with folks on the streets with clipboards and a cause, there are plenty of ways to get involved online. One of the most popular is Change.org, where you can start your own petition or browse currently running petitions you can sign.
●︎ Vote: I mean, you better be voting.
3. Donate Money
If you have extra funds, you can find a charity or not-for-profit that supports a cause you are passionate about and make a donation. Some organizations allow you to sign up for a monthly donation or a membership. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—which works to defend individual rights and liberties—even recommends you throw a fundraising house party. They have a complete party planning toolkit you can use to get started.
4. Support Those on The Ground
Do you have loved ones headed out to rallies and protests? If you want to help those who are out working on-the-ground, you can collect supplies and items that are necessary for on-the-ground work, like mobile chargers, water, pre-packaged non-perishable snacks, and bandages.
5. Educate and Read
Arming yourself with facts is never a bad idea. USA.gov will help you learn facts and laws that will help you better navigate the world we’re living in. In terms of reading political news, of course, everyone has their own preference, but you could start with: CNN, NPR, Politico, or the Washington Post.
6. Call Out the Behavior of Racists
This one is particularly for white readers: People of color and folks from other marginalized communities are tired. They’re constantly aware, constantly having to engage, and constantly having to educate—and this is all without the privilege, access, and resources that you probably possess. YOU have the power to at least start dialogue. You have the responsibility to at least start dialogue.
When you’re in a position of privilege, where your very existence doesn’t threaten your own life, you must call out inappropriate behavior.
I’m not saying you’ll be able to convince your racist relative on Facebook or the cute, yet slightly homophobic Starbucks barista to get their act together full-stop. But when you’re in a position of privilege, where your very existence doesn’t threaten your own life, you must call out inappropriate behavior. You must speak up at the table on behalf of those who may not be at that the table, or people who are at the table but don’t feel safe enough to do so.
Pro-tips when speaking out:
●︎ Don’t say: “Well, ALL lives matter” Why? If all lives really did matter, we wouldn’t feel the need to exclaim that black lives matter at the top of our lungs.
●︎ Don’t say: “I don’t see color” Why? Okay, so you claim to not discriminate, but you’re erasing the struggles and the history of that entire group. You’re sort of saying that a person of color’s experiences don’t matter because you are blind to them. And, spoiler alert, a lot of people DO see color, so you’re dismissing a lot of racial issues that have taken place.
●︎ Don’t say: “I don’t care if you’re black, brown, blue, or polka-dotted” Why? Again, this is erasure of people of color AND this time with some objectification thrown in.
7. Listen to and Empathize With People of Color
Again, for my white readers: Sometimes you just need to listen and not make it about you. Don’t explain a time you felt similar. Don’t ask your token marginalized friend what you should be doing to be a better ally. Listen. Research on your own time. Practice radical empathy. And then listen some more.
8. Practice Self-Care
It IS OK to step away from Twitter. I repeat, it is OKAY to step away from Twitter. This does not make you any less of a social justice warrior. Take a break. Disconnect. Take a bath. Journal. Listen to music. Get a massage. Go for a walk. Go to bed early. Meditate. Eat two scoops of ice cream at 11 a.m. Do things that will help you feel reenergized.
9. Be Joyful and Hopeful
This one is particularly for readers of color: It may seem counter-intuitive, but being hopeful and joyful IS an act of resistance! The last thing these supremacists want you to be is happy. Dance. Read (or re-read) and enjoy this Twitter thread of carefree black kids. Laugh. Spread the good word about black excellence—maybe share some of your favorite examples on social media. No one can bring you down.
10. Support Marginalized-Owned Business
Be aware of what companies and businesses you are supporting. By supporting businesses owned by people from a marginalized community, you’re not only increasing their revenue, but it’s possible the influx of business would create new jobs. Plus, it allows the business’ employees a chance to not rely on “the man” for livelihood.
11. Pick up the Digital Pen
The internet is a minefield—it can be tricky to navigate how to show your support through social media. One simple way is reporting trolls who are deliberately harassing and threatening other users. We’re all aware of Twitter’s slow-to-no response on the matter, but flagging can never hurt.
You can also try to lower trolls’ popularity in Facebook comments. Facebook’s algorithm automatically brings the comments with most engagements (likes and comments) to the top of the comment thread. That means if a troll has the most comments and reactions (even if they are disagreements and the “angry” button), it gets boosted visibility. Instead, report the user and reply to or like a positive comment so it is instead boosted to the top.
Now more than ever, the art we create, the words we write, the stories we tell, matter. I knew after the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile shootings, I had to use my access and resources to make a change. After realizing that there were different forms of activism, I realized I wanted to amplify voices that aren’t usually heard. So, I started “call and response,” a podcast that explores the intersection of blackness and performing arts through interviews with performers, creatives, designers, producers, and administrators. Black people AND performing arts? Two things that I imagine are on the top of Trump’s “got-to-go” list.
Find What Works For You
These are just 12 suggestions, and activism truly comes in many different forms. The goal: Find what works for you—and, most importantly, take action.