I like including the word “activist” in my Twitter/Disqus/general Internet tagline/profile/thing, but then I started thinking it wasn’t quite fair. Am I really an activist if I often don’t have the time or energy to make it to events? Am I really an activist just because I sign petitions on Change.org, tweet and retweet important social justice and political messages, and try to stay abreast of news as much as I can? Am I an activist if I personally support causes but don’t do much about them outside of my apartment? I don’t know.
I come from a family with a tradition of standing up, of going to protests and rallies, and writing letters to the editor that actually get published. My uncle wrote a book on political scapegoating. My grandfather grew up in the first cooperative housing in the Bronx. My grandmother has an amazing political button collection for the Spanish Civil War, the labor movement, and more. My parents did not buy grapes when that meant you weren’t supporting underpaid laborers, and we don’t buy Welch’s juice because he was an anti-Semite. We do our things, little and small, to do right by the workers of the world, the underserved and underheard, and society as a whole.
I’m not necessarily someone you want in your louder activism. I know that I can help a lot of causes simply by being another body to be counted at a large event, and believing in the cause is the requisite, not making a speech. But I am also shy (no, really) and yet have a volatile temper, so it’s not always best for me to be out in public. Being around lots of people for lots of time gives me mini anxiety attacks that lead to a switch in my manic-depressiveness to whatever one I wasn’t currently in, usually meaning I stay home and in bed for a long time because I’m exhausted and kind of freaked out. That’s why I’m not the number one superactivist. But should I maybe try to forcibly rid myself of that tendency, even if it seems hardwired into me (not like you can force out a mental illness, after all)? I’m not sure. You tell me.
This one time (actually, a few times), I wrote about social justice and how it differs among the three branches of the Abrahamic faiths. So I guess if I have to be honest, I’m not so much an “activist” in that I go out and scream and shout and stand up (which I do think is really, really important) but instead a social justice-minded person, who thinks she does some good by volunteering at social justice or social service agencies, who wants to do research related to such things, and who likes to teach and get word out to encourage people to do the same. Does that count? I’ll call it tiny activism, and I’ll say it’s equally as important as “regular” activism. It just works for different contexts and efforts.
For awhile I was involved with an effort to turn Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save into a full-fledged non-profit, which I thought was an amazing way to be the kind of activist I am best at being. I had to quit just because of time constraints with new hours and projects at work and school, but that’s something I think is perfect for tiny activists, because it mostly requires making a personal commitment to your finances. And, in the materials I developed, at least, it’s about starting conversations, discussing, writing letters, and encouraging others to do the same. It’s quiet, it doesn’t require marching, and yet it can really create a ripple effect that has a huge impact on global poverty rates, so long as people take the ideas and put them into action, at least personally, instead of leaving it as just a conversation. There’s a fine line in tiny activism (okay, any activism) between preaching to the choir and preaching to the unconverted.
I’m also happily participating in PLG@Simmons in a more active way this year, as Community Outreach Coordinator, and I think I have the potential to make some more ripples in causes that way, which is tiny in the sense that it’s not loud, but still meaningful. I hope. Is it always enough? No. Some things require physical presence, loudness, and overcoming shyness. I need to work on that. But it’s what I can do comfortably, and I think that’s ultimately a really great quality in any sort of activism, because it leads to sustained engagement.