For People Who Want to "Do" Something But Don't Know Where to Start

(a preview of an upcoming zine project)


The key is focusing less on the power that we don’t have, and more on the power that we do:

Listen. Read books. Take classes. Follow activists and organizations on social media. Challenge yourself to think more critically and more tactically, to ask more questions, and to never stop learning. Engage in critical self-reflection; be humble and willing to grow. Take care of your physical and mental health too. This all builds our capacity to do the work, and while nothing here is enough to change the world by itself, it is an important step. ACTION EXAMPLES:
  • Do some research about activist organizations in your area, and then make a point to get looped in: sign up for email lists, follow them on social media, and pay attention to the work already happening.
  • If you’re a student, set up a meeting with your advisor to explore pathways into change-making career fields.
  • Using existing resources: educators and activists often put together online "syllabi" like the Ferguson Syllabus, Standing Rock Syllabus, Syllabus for White Self Education, etc. (find links to all of these and more here).
  • Commit, while also taking the time to breathe, to find joy, and to organize your life in whatever way works for you, in order to ensure that that commitment is sustainable.

Power is a platform: no politician or millionaire has access to your friends, family, co-workers, and networks like you do. So start conversations. Post compelling articles on social media. Write blog posts or letters-to-the-editor. Show up (if you are able) to rallies, vigils, teach-ins, meetings, or other events in order to plug in and build community. Also, be mindful of your own identities; for example, don’t expect someone who is oppressed in a way that you are not to “teach” you everything. Proactively bring this work into spaces where it isn’t already happening. ACTION EXAMPLES:
  • Start a book club or study group addressing the issues that you are passionate about.
  • Media matters; not everyone can “show up” in the same ways. Cultivate a more intentional social media practice, signal-boosting activists whose voices need to be heard, as opposed to just memes or opinions. More of my specific thoughts on this here.
  • Communicate with your elected leaders to keep the pressure on; in-person meetings, phone calls, and personalized letters are best. Emails, tweets, and petitions are less effective but can still be useful tools.
  • Remember that “ally” isn’t something you are; it’s something you do. Think about your own identities, and how they might impact your ability to disrupt the status quo. Don’t let harmful talk/actions slide. Challenge people.

Change doesn’t happen because “things just inevitably get better,” or because we vote for the right people and they “save” us. Real, sustainable, progressive change is always the product of organized movements: everyday people joining up in community groups, student organizations, unions, cyphers, living rooms, and beyond, working together to figure out what we have, what we need, and how we can make it happen. ACTION EXAMPLES:
  • Find (through internet searches, conversations, etc.) an organization working on the issues you care about and get involved—that might mean sending an email inquiry, attending a meeting, working with friends to start a local chapter of a national organization, or even starting something brand new.
  • If you are able, set up a monthly donation to an activist group, or find other ways to support existing work.
  • Vote—but also understand voting as one small part of a much larger movement-building process; organizing can also be about tactical voting campaigns and holding politicians accountable after they’re elected.
  • Some people go into careers that are explicitly about social justice. Other people have to figure out how to infuse social justice principles into the work that they’re already doing. Cultivate a sense of the structure of your school, workplace, or community. What could be different? What rules, policies, or elements of the culture could be changed? With whom can you work to make it happen?
  • March, protest, and resist in whatever ways might be effective, while also working together to create plans for next steps, to provide alternatives to the status quo. Find local ways to apply pressure to national/international issues. Tearing down oppressive systems is necessary; so is building something better.

TAKEAWAY: We need all three levels. One or two, without the other one, are not enough. Luckily, they’re all connected: we can strive to be better individuals, while building relationships with each other, while we work on challenging systems and shifting culture. The point here is that we already have the power that we need to win; what remains is the work.

A big part of this document is attempting to demystify how change happens. Power is not magic. It is not some commodity that only other people have. We all have power, and organizing together is one of the best ways to bring that power to bear. That being said, all of this comes with a few caveats:
  • Some people have more time, energy, or resources than others. After all, just surviving is a kind of activism too. So it’s important to think critically about our own identities, levels of access, privileges, etc., as we begin to figure out how we can plug into this process and make our work sustainable.
  • Take some time to think about why you want to get involved. Trying to “save” other people or act out some altruistic hero fantasy will never be as effective or sustainable as figuring out where your own self-interest intersects with activist work.
  • No organization is perfect, and no organization alone can do everything. But they are important starting points.
The handout/zine version of this has a big list of organizations. You can find the same list on this website. Alternatively, if you live somewhere that isn't the Twin Cities, feel free to steal this text and add relevant organizations based in your community.

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