A while back I talked about the importance of activism to making a difference for climate justice, and I promised I would address the topic of how to engage in activism if marching on the streets holding signs isn’t your thing. Today seems like a good day to tackle that subject. There are lots of options, but the one I want to look at most closely is direct action support.
For those who don’t know, I used to be in the Army. Now the Army’s purpose is to make war, and to do that they train a large volume of Soldiers specifically in the art of making war. They train cavalry to operate tanks and field artillery to operate rocket launchers and, of course, the infantry to march in guns blazing for the face to face (ish) stuff, etc., etc., and it’s those Soldiers we think about the most when we think about the Army. It’s not unreasonable to think about them first, they carry out the primary mission of the Army, so surely they make up the bulk of the force, right?
No. The majority of Soldiers in the Army are in non combat positions. Yeah, yeah, these days wars don’t have front lines and we all have to expect and be ready for combat at any moment, but in reality most of us Soldiers had comparatively little training in the art of war next to those combat troops. What were we trained in? We were trained in all the boring and supportive tasks that make it possible for the combat troops to carry out their mission.
The combat troops would not have been able to use their skills and training in making war if it had not been for the army of support Soldiers backing them up. They needed the cooks to feed them, and the supply guys to clothe them and give them needed equipment, and medics to treat their illnesses and injuries to keep them in peak physical condition. They needed medics to keep them healthy and treat their injuries, and finance guys to make sure they were getting paid. They needed chaplains to provide them with spiritual support, and MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) for entertainment so they didn’t lose themselves in misery, and even public affairs representatives to provide them with command information and tell their story to the world to get them support from civilians (that was my job). They needed these and many other vital support services to carry out their mission of making war.
Activism is much like the Army. We’ve got those people on the front lines, the ones occupying spaces, the ones risking arrest, the ones marching in the street and making speeches in city council meetings. We need those people desperately, as many as we can get. But we also desperately need people who support those activists.
We need people bringing them food and water in their occupation zones and marches. We need people donating blankets and art supplies and tools for their protests. We need people who can offer legal, medical, and technical advice and assistance. We need people taking pictures and filming our actions, and we need people sharing those photos and videos, talking about what happened, and spreading the word about what activists have done. We need people to help create art, memes, press releases, blogs, and letters to editors. We need networkers, people who can put activists together with other people who can help. We need people to let activists sleep on their couches a few nights while they are in town for a demonstration. We need people who can carpool with activists. We need people who can donate items to our silent auctions and bake things for our bake sales. We need people to teach classes and workshops. We need people to run our social media campaigns and design our printed materials. We need people who can help us organize and file and streamline. We need support activists.
If you are interested in getting involved in activism, but don’t feel like you are cut out to do the high profile work of protesting, marching, occupying, blockading, public speaking, etc., you might find that getting involved in more supporting roles is an awesome use of your skills and better matches your interests.
Of course there are ways of engaging in activism all by yourself, without connecting with an organization or group, and we’ll tackle that subject in another post, but I would encourage you to try out getting at least a little involved in a group. Becoming part of an activism group is a good way to plug into a community and make friends. It gives you a sense of belonging and allows you to better see the positive impact your work is having. Activism can be tough, discouraging work, but a community of activists who share your values can make it easier and even fun. It’s a great way to make friends and meet new people also.
I have felt so connected and rewarded by getting active in the local climate activism community. I feel more confident about myself and good about my accomplishments. And I have made friends and networked with people who might help me advance my career one day. I started out thinking I was more a support activist, like I was a support Soldier, but I have found myself taking more prominent and leadership type roles on occasion, and it has been great. It won’t always be on the front lines, but knowing I can when I want is great for me, and the rest of the time I know I’m making a huge impact by being support to those doing the big stuff. You could get involved in a support capacity, and find you eventually want to move to those more visible roles, or you could stay in a supportive role the whole time, but either way, you will be making a huge difference to the cause.
Think about joining a local community of activists and finding out what you can do to help. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, of course, but odds are there will be a variety of things you can do to help out that don’t involve radical public actions. If environmentalism is your thing, look into local chapters of 350.org, Greenpeace, or Citizens Climate Lobby, but there are a lot more groups out there, some may be specific to your area. Odds are that once you start learning about one organization, you will start learning about other active groups in your area because they all tend to work together. Get out there and get involved!
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