The following is an extract from The Little Book of Activism by Karen Edwards which will be published on June 10.
Name: Ruby Bridges (1954–present)
Activism: Anti-racism education
In November 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first African American child to attend elementary school in the Deep South. On arrival at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Bridges – who was surrounded by US marshals for her own safety – was met by an angry crowd shouting and throwing objects at her.
Despite a court order stating that all schools should be integrated, Bridges spent a year learning alone. Other children had been removed by their parents because of her presence – and only one teacher, Barbara Henry, agreed to teach her. Despite this, Bridges bravely attended school every day with the support of her understandably anxious parents.
Today, Bridges still lives in New Orleans, and advocates for equality and tolerance. She speaks extensively about combatting racism through education. “Each and every one of us is born with a clean heart,” she says. “We owe it to our children to help them keep their clean start.”
The key to becoming an effective activist is to truly understand the topic you are campaigning about. After all, if you hope to educate others on the subject, it is best to have a wealth of factual information, statistics and examples to back up your reasoning.
Read widely – from books to verified news sources – listen to podcasts and watch documentaries and films on the topic you are supporting. If in doubt: research, research, research. Talk to people who have experienced the issue in question – even if you already have a personal understanding. Listening to different perspectives will help to build a well-rounded idea of the subject from various viewpoints and highlight the areas that need prioritising for action.
If you speak with confidence, people will listen and value the factual information you are sharing. However, you don’t have to know everything about the issue straightaway, especially as causes evolve with time. Be open about your desire to learn, understand and listen – and practise all of these things.
Activism by doing – also known as conscious activism – is a wonderful way of leading by example. If you are hoping to introduce positive social reform into everyday life, there is nothing more powerful than showing people how to make changes successfully.
It allows others to see potential changes in a real-world setting that could easily be a part of their routine or household. Conscious activism is particularly useful when advocating for lifestyle-based change – such as eating more sustainably, abolishing single-use plastics or speaking up against prejudice.
Consider documenting the adaptations you make on a personal blog or social media to showcase the effectiveness of your work. Explain your decisions to those around you and share your sources of information, such as books, articles or YouTube videos, so that others can benefit from them, too. This will inspire people to adopt similar measures, and they will realize that supporting a cause is achievable and worthwhile.
Activism for introverts
Not all of us were born to be confident speech-givers or run rallies, so how does someone with a quieter personality become an effective activist? The truth is, you don’t have to be loud to be influential – and you certainly don’t need to lead movements to make a difference. In fact, many of the people you are trying to reach are likely to be introverts, too (around a half of us are).
In her inspiring 2016 TED Talk entitled “Activism Needs Introverts”, British craftivist Sarah Corbett highlights how the shy ones among us can be brilliant at more intimate activism and are valuable in carrying out behind-the-scenes work.
Taking part in craft and artivism projects, pamphleteering, petitioning, micro-donations, clicktivism and (quiet) boycotting are all great ways to commit to a cause without having to put yourself in a confrontational situation. Social media posts are a resourceful way to show your support without having to shout too loudly. You might be pleasantly surprised by how successful gentle activism can be at reaching wide audiences.
Understand the value of allyship
To become an ally is to stand in solidarity with those affected by a specific social issue without judgement. This might mean seeking out the voices of those who are disadvantaged to understand their experiences and then sharing those experiences to actively challenge misinformed attitudes.
Allyship means more than making generalised statements against the problem – it means using your privilege (the fact that you don’t suffer as a result of the issue) to call out injustice when you see it. Allies are welcome, needed and valued.
When stepping into an ally role, make sure to be sensitive and to listen, while avoiding projecting your personal thoughts onto others. Remember that less advantaged people have been campaigning for their own rights for centuries – it is often built into their heritage and story – and understand that the feeling of continuous injustice over generations can be exhausting. By stepping into this role and standing in unity, know that you are saying, “It’s OK, I’ve got your back and I can carry your torch for a while.”
The Little Book of Activism by Karen Edwards (Summersdale, £6.99), buy it here.