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Let's Be Honest, Episode 45: Activism

Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable and the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment!

Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!

Activism, the definition

According to the Collins dictionary, the short definition of activism is the process of campaigning in public or working for an organization in order to bring about political or social change.

How about the long one?

The majority of people usually consider activism as a collective action from individuals to promote and enhance the greater good by making sociopolitical and economical changes from the grassroots. From Anjali Appadurai's perspective (climate justice activist), her definition of activism is the practice of addressing an issue by challenging those in power. For Brian Martin, it is an action on behalf of a cause that goes beyond what is conventional or routine. He cites "the boundary between activism and conventional politics is fuzzy and depends on the circumstances".

The forms of activism range from writting letters to a newspaper, petitions, distribution of leaflets to running a campaign, patronage businesses and strikes, street marches or hunger strikes.

Activism can also be expressed through art and literature more aestheticaly but also through computer hacking (hacktivism) or economic activism. Nowadays, social media have made activists life easier since it facilitates the civic engagement and makes the updating faster. [1]

Activism, the four roles

According to the Bill Moyer´s Movement Action Plan, every social movement should obtain four crucial roles that will lead to success. This will result to less antagonism and promote cooperation among different groups of activists and organizations.

1.The Citizen

The normal citizen is someone that understands and supports the positive national values such as democracy and justice. He is grounded in the centre of society and consitutes the source of legitimate political power. Martin Luther King and Mandela served well this role.

2. The Reformer

The reformer uses official mainstream institutions to encourage the movement's goals by a variety of means, lobbying, lawsuits etc. Moreover, he watchdogs successes to assure enforcement and protect against backlash.

3. The Rebel

He is the protest, saying NO to the violation of values. He protests directly but nonviolently and targets the powerholders along with their institutions. He brings issues in public knowledge and follows strategy and mindful tactics.

4. The Change Agent

He is the one with the long-term tactics and the structures. He organises the people's power by creating participatory democracy for the common good, educates and involves the interested citizens. Furthermore, he includes the pre-existing mass-based grassroots organisations and networks. [2]

Activist & Advocate

Activists act towards solving a sociopolitical issue. They oftenly are the forefront of a movement and sometimes it is necessary to compromise your own energy in order to seek justice and evoke change.

Advocates speak and learn about the sociopolitical issues. They bring attention to an injustice, aiding the activists in their fight.

Although different, both are needed to create systemic change. Without the one, the other cannot function. As Eva Lewis (founder of Youth for Black Lives) highlighted:

"To be an activist is to speak. To be an advocate is to listen. Society cannot move forward without both." [3]

Activism, the challenges

As noble volunteering and activism can be, disadvantages come along with them as everything else in the world is. Undoubtedly, activism offers the greater feeling of satisfaction, usefulness, worth, trust and so much more but sometimes all this effort and long hours of work that you put in, can result in a tremendous burn out. It is not rare that activists suffer from severe stress, exhaustion and depression. When you face daily the poorness and catastrophy that the planet endures, it is expected to feel an emotional burdain. Traumas are also very common especially to people that have former experiences of trauma.

Less time for self care and a balanced and social life is also a fact. They have limited time to do the things that make them happy and keep them healthy and sane so this absolutely affects their perfomance and psychological state.

Of course, practical challenges also exist. It has been proven very difficult for the well planned community programs to reach the audience that is intended and the people who need the most help. Sometimes, the lack of education, financial means and the desire to participate in such helpful acts can form unapproachable obstacles. [4]

Activism, powerful social movements

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter hashtag was firstly established in 2013 by activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, primarily in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. Later, it was enhanced with the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in May 2020 and since then the movement has been empowered and is considered a global human rights movement. It's main goal is to end violence and systemic racism towards Black people and people of colour. #BlackLivesMatter is trending on social media and especially on Twitter. The movement holds great power withinh people's hurts that is being expressed also through digital platforms.

Me too Movement

One more hashtag that became popular in 2006 by the American activist Tarana Burke. Tarana wanted to empower women and end the silence that surrounded sexual assault, rape and harassment. She wanted women to speak up, claim their rights and punish the responsible adults. As every women, she wanted to see action and consequences for the criminals. Years later, in 2017 the hashtag went viral with Harvey Weinstein and nowadays the movement has grown and welcomes both women and men without discriminations and also aims to support marginalised people and communtities.

LGBTQ+ Rights Movement

Brenda Howard, a pride bisexual and polyamorous woman from NYC, organized the first Pride parade in 1970. She tried to establish the word Pride among her LGBTQ community. Howard lobbied successfully for gay rights in NYC and chaired the Gay Activists Alliance. Since today, she is still known as the 'Mother of Pride'.

One more waypoint in the LGBTQ+ movement was the election of Harvey Milk, first openly gay person, to a public office. While Milk was preparing his run as a city supervisor, he sought the support of the gay political sphere but was met with a cold rejection. However, the LGBTQ community showed it's sincere support since every member was tired of the constant discrimination and underestimation they received. Although Milk lost the elections that year, he was elected city supervisor in 1977 and attracted the public attention as the first openly gay man to be in a power position. [5]

Activicts - Icons

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Mr. King's famous quote: 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'

Born in Atlanta, USA, Martin Luther King was a civil rights leader who campaigned for black people's rights. He had a vision of an equal America, free from racial discrimination.

King was inspired by the Indian freedom activist, Mahatma Gandhi and fought for ending the segregation in the former American society. He demonstrated how local discrimination was a stain on the USA. When in 1963 he highlighted how segregated Alabama was, he captured major attention by the television lenses, projecting images of police brutality. His 'I have a dream' speech is considered as one of the greatest pieces of oratory of all time. In 1964, the US Congress outlawed segregation in public spaces.

Of course, it is widely known that change doesn't come without a cost. Martin Luther King was arrested and spied on and eventually in 1968 he was assassinated in Memphis by a right gunman. Nevertheless, the inspiration and changes that King provoked were far from stopped. Today, his name is still reffered when an important evolution is made towards equality and rights and his memory is celebrated each year as a federal holiday. Movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and March for Our Lives all draw on and continue his fundamental message of nonviolence and equality. [6]

Susan B. Anthony

Born in Massachussets, USA in 1820, Mrs. Anthony became a world-famous social reformer and women's rights activist. She campaigned for equal rights for both women and African-American minorities and also fought against slavery. She played an extremely vital role in the women's suffrage movement that changed the whole course of the history. She led one of the two national suffrage organizations, which later became the National American Woman Suffrage Association and played an instrumental role in the publish of The Revolution, a women's rights newspaper. Addittionally, Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were collecting signatures to petition Congress for the right to vote, encouraging politicians to consider an amendment to the Constitution. In 1919, the 19th Amendment or else known as Susan B. Anthony Amendment was officially passed. [7]

Author: Alexandra Bakalianou

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