When you think of the word activist, what image pops into your head? Do you think of a person who takes immense physical and emotional risks in defense of a noble cause? Or do you think of a person who combines eloquent speech with vitriolic enthusiasm and extreme tactics? These descriptions reflect our society’s ingrained thoughts about activists. Like our thinking about leaders, they are seen as the people out front and in your face. Activist movements are understood to a great extent through the lens of the people who are leading them. But in reality, activism — like leadership — is about the collective.
Unfortunately, many activists themselves buy into this myth that only the contributions of activists who are the most visible, and most vocal, are truly legitimate and valuable. This leaves a lot of people, and their talent, in the margins of activist movements. It also makes for too much posturing, hypocrisy, and abuse of power.
We need to move more inclusive movements where all people have the opportunity to participate according to their ability and will without fear of judgment and exclusion.
If you care about our world, you don’t need to wait for an invitation to get involved. While there are some people who take up a lot of space in the acti-verse, there are a lot of opportunities for you to make a difference.
When making the claim, I am an activist, you are stating that your intellect and emotion has been activated in response to an injustice (or multiple injustices). ‘Activist’ is not a title merely for the elusive and exclusive few. At the same time, the title of activist should not be used lightly. With it comes the responsibility to make a meaningful and significant contribution to the best of our ability.
The pathways through which we are able to express our activated response and take aligned action can be very narrow and, at times, nebulous. The purpose of this essay is to create new pathways so that activists of all flavors can visualize and actualize possibilities for participation. To do this, I will describe some archetypes of activism. You may see yourself in one or several of these types. By identifying your type or types, you can deepen and expand your contributions to progressive activist work.
The Visionary: You see a better world that others cannot yet comprehend or think is out of reach. You inspire people with your ability to conceptualize and describe possibilities, even if you don’t quite know how to make it all happen.
The Mastermind: You are a master planner who knows how all of the moving parts fit together. Your understanding of how people and systems interact fuels your ability to develop strategy.
The Evangelist: You like to spread the word. A social media aficionado, you have the ability to engage people through posts, likes, shares, and forwards. This passion for sharing ideas and information may also carry over into the ‘real world’ through phone calls and conversations.
The Artist: You have a deep appreciation for aesthetics and you use these values to challenge perceptions of reality. You are able to share new ways of understanding the world through creative movement and visualization.
The Mobilizer: You like to make new friends and build your network. Your action orientation compels you to connect people to each other and to ideals and activities that result in significant experiences.
The Harmonizer: You just want everyone to get along peacefully. Because you are always seeking new ways to integrate ideas and to be more inclusive, you ensure that activist work reflects its own ideals.
The Catalyst: You question why everything is done the way it is done and are always seeking to change both the process and outcome. You spark change through both ideas and actions.
All of these archetypes are important in progressive social movements — and there are others as well. Regardless of your skills and personality, you can be an activist and make a difference. Today. Right Now.