How to Become an Activist

Three Parts:Finding Your MotivationMaking Your Voice HeardBecoming a Leader

Activists are people who see the need for change and devote their time to doing something about it. They are driven by passion and a vision for a better future. Activism comes naturally to some, while for others, it's thrust upon them when they experience situations that hurt them or those they love. Whatever your reason for wanting to become an activist, you have the ability to do so no matter your age, your means, or your background. It's people like you, people who believe they have the power to make a difference, who end up changing the world for the better. See Step 1 to learn more about becoming an activist.

Part 1
Finding Your Motivation

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    Figure out what you're passionate about. Passion often comes from a sudden realization that changes your life forever. Once the realization hits you, it is what will stoke the embers of your activism, even at the lowest points when you sometimes feel like giving up.
    • Once you're aware of something in the world that you believe needs fixing, changing, or overhauling, that awareness will dog you constantly and cause you to see the need everywhere, bringing a sense of responsibility with it. For example, you might find out that a company in your town is polluting your local river, and decide you're going to do something to help stop the pollution.
    • Activists are passionate enough to believe they can make change happen if they work hard enough to find a solution. While many people might become stalled when faced with the question, "How much good can one individual do?" activists believe that one dedicated and persistent person can make a difference.[1]
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    Research existing efforts. Your cause might already have some action going on at the local, regional, national, or international level. Find out what exists now and where you fit in. See if you can liaise with existing efforts and consider how you'll join in or bolster existing efforts independently. Ask yourself these questions:
    • Do you want to volunteer with or join the board of an existing group?
    • Do you want to find a paid job with an activist organization? Sites like,, and post job opportunities related to important causes.
    • If you're working at the local level, does a national organization have resources you can use? Often, you can use resources from a larger organization for things like information, legal research, fliers, strategy suggestions, and mentoring.
    • Where you find no existing efforts, avoid seeing this as a mammoth task of insurmountable proportions. Instead, break it down into small pieces. Aim to get other like-minded people on board. This is easier now that we can rely upon Twitter, Facebook, forums, blogs, websites, and the like, to get the ball rolling.
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    Figure out what you can do for your cause. Whether your cause is animal rights, politics, the environment, the education system, the local community garden, or the global economic system, it's important to have specific ideas about how you can contribute. Figure out which skills and resources you can devote to the cause, and how much time you want to dedicate.
    • While it's great to think big, it's also important to think small and gradual. Incremental change can be as important, and often more enduring, than massive change that happens quickly and disrupts people in a major way. Think through all the possibilities for slowly unleashing change through your school, workplace, community, town, region, country, or the world.
    • Decide whether you're a radical activist or a reformer activist. The radical activist is someone who needs to continue pushing for fundamental change and will use such means as protests, boycotts, alternative summits, etc., and generally tends to be wary of those people who sit in the institutions they want changed. A reformist is happy to work with those in the institutions they'd like to see changed, using to tools of democracy to work within the existing structure to force social or political progress.[2]
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    Educate yourself about activism. One of the most inspiring and helpful means for getting more deeply involved in activism is to read broadly in the field of activism. In particular, seek out books written by prominent activists who share wisdom derived from personal experience. The books mentioned in this article are a good start. Then, read widely within the cause itself, to both understand the issues clearly but also to learn about the tactics, ideas, experiences, wins and losses, and other useful information from those who have already been active in this cause.
    • Read books on how to use and work with the media. This type of book is invaluable for increasing your understanding as to how media works and also to avoid being naive about the agenda of media representatives. The point of activism is to educate, raise awareness, and make people passionate about an issue. Though you can do some of this on your own, especially through the internet, the media is an invaluable tool when used well. Get in touch with folks who know how to craft press releases, write an editorial, and contact the press.
    • Know the legislative, administrative, and judicial processes of your country and/or region. Knowing how to effect change to laws and how to make the most of the legislative system is important for every activist.
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    Choose your method of activism. While activism can take hundreds of forms, approach this as being about utilizing your own talents and resources as best you can. You are in the best position to decide how you can achieve your goals as an activist, along with the time frame, and whether or not you go it alone. Consider the following:
    • Do you want to work solo? Being an individual activist is easier now than ever, as you can use forums, videos, photos, websites, blogs, social networking, and even advertising to get across your messaging. On the downside, being the only person working on the issue can be lonely, and it's a lot of work. Sometimes it may cause you to question whether you're on the right track or whether it's worth pursuing.
    • Do you want to work with others? You could join an existing group or start your own and request for collaborators. One of the advantages of being part of a group is the extended power, resources, networks, and passion involved. It's also an excellent opportunity to practice your conflict resolution skills and to learn how to work with others, skills that aren't always easy to perfect! You may also want to collaborate loosely without putting together a permanent structure, for example by inviting collaborators to post on a group blog or get together a biannual zine.
    • Would you like to contribute to your cause through writing, teaching, speaking, planning events, or art? Or perhaps you're great with website building, blogging, or podcasts? Assess your talents realistically, along with the time and resources you have available.
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    Be willing to put in the work without immediate rewards. In many cases activists work for years on a project without seeing the major change they want to bring about. Laws, social norms and other factors can make it very difficult to enact immediate change. It is wise to understand the possibility that during your lifetime you could be paving the way for eventual change, but you may not get to watch it actually occurring. Understanding this can help alleviate a sense of frustration, doom, and resentment about your cause.

Part 2
Making Your Voice Heard

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    Speak up about your opinions. Activism starts with the everyday conversations you have with friends, your family, and new people you meet. When you're passionate about something, it's hard to stop talking about it, so express yourself freely and engage people in serious conversations about your cause. Aim to educate people and help them get involved.
    • Be bold. Don't hesitate to walk up to the girl reading a magazine in the coffee shop–she might be looking for the group you're starting.
    • With that said, don't force your opinions on people who are averse to hearing them. After you've made your point, people might need time to digest what they've learned. Don't expect everyone to hop on board with your cause right away.
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    Pass out fliers. Create a flier containing essential information about your cause, the name of your organization, the time and date you meet, and anything else you want people to know. Hang the fliers around school, the neighborhood (but first check to see if there are city codes about where public info is allowed; you don't want to risk a fine), community bulletin boards, inside coffee shops or cafes.
    • In addition to fliers, you could pass out buttons, postcards, bumper stickers, or other materials to help spread the word about what you're doing.
    • As you pass out your materials, be willing to answer people's questions and get into discussions about your cause.
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    Set up an information table.[3] See if you can rent a table, either in school, university, or somewhere local, like outside of the supermarket or in the park. Have a sign-up list, information about your organization and colorful posters to attract people. Having free stuff to hand out, like stickers or bumper stickers, isn't a bad idea either. Be ready to educate people who stop and want to learn more about your cause.
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    Practice armchair activism. This term refers to activism you can do from the comfort of your home; all you need is your computer. Post messages on Facebook and blogs with information about your cause as a way to educate your friends. You can use social media, for example Instagram. You can post a photo then your friends can share and spread the word. Get active on Twitter and participate in conversations relevant to your passion.
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    Sponsor a speaker in your community. Get in touch with someone of note who is working for the same cause. An author, a professor, the head of a nonprofit or an activist musician are all good choices. Make plans to host the speaker at a local community event space, then publicize the event using fliers and messages on Facebook.
    • A local school or university, a bookstore, a concert venue or a community center are all good places to host a speaker.
    • Be sure to have literature to hand out at the event, and provide a sign-up sheet to get people's email addresses so you can let them know about the next event you organize.
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    Expect to encounter dissent. Change worries most people and can cause them to react in ways that are not always considerate or constructive. It's not uncommon for an activist promoting a cause to deal with varying levels of negativity. The important thing is to brace yourself and stay strong in the face of people who disagree with you.
    • If you experience dissent from people within the cause, it is good to self-question and try to examine their reasons more closely. See if they actually have a point and seek to re-examine your approach in the light of their dissent. This doesn't mean that you need to change your approach unless you find it wanting, but it does mean that keeping an open mind will ultimately make your cause stronger and more watertight.
    • Dissent from outside the cause is to be expected. You're challenging the status quo. You will go through many experiences, including having people question your knowledge/authority/facts/respect and even your sanity on occasion. Keep calm and keep a level head. Some of the dissent will be obvious stalling, spin, and covering-up tactics. Other times it will be more subtle, malicious, and harmful. Know when to respond and when to keep quiet, and know when to bring your lawyer in. If you feel threatened in any way, get the police involved.

Part 3
Becoming a Leader

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    Organize people. Once you've learned the ropes of being an activist, you might want to start your own group and become an organizer. You will need to gather committed people together and create a solid plan of action. Decide from the beginning what your goal is: Do you want to stage a variety of actions to achieve a particular achievable goal, and then disband when it's achieved? Do you want to form a permanent group that works on different projects surrounding a particular topic? Or do you only want to work together for a single action, for example to coordinate a protest or fundraising effort?
    • Put your goals in writing and sketch out a basic plan that highlights what you need, what you want to achieve, and some of the big steps that are obviously going to be necessary to achieve your goals.
    • Consider creating a website or a Facebook page to keep track of your group's goals and members.
    • If you want the group to stay together for a long time, you'll need a good name.
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    Hold meetings. Having regular meetings will enable you to track your goals and coordinate everyone's efforts towards the common project. Set meeting dates well in advance and publicize them widely. Make sure you have a location reserved in advance, whether it's a physical place or a virtual meeting technology like conference calls or a chat room. Possible meeting locations include classrooms, the public library, someone's house, the park, municipal/community building, teen center, community center, coffee shop/cafe, church hall, etc.
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    Create subcommittees to distribute the work. If many people are involved in your group or have signed on as temporary volunteers, it may be helpful to form subcommittees. These can be useful for large groups that are doing multiple projects or staging multiple actions with the same goal. Here are some examples of subcommittees that you might need for a single large action like a benefit concert, charity race, or protest march:
    • Public Relations: This subcommittee does all of the canvassing, especially right before the event. They also handle any ads that appear in campus or local papers or on radio or television. They book tables for table sitting and help create banners and posters to hang around the area. They also serve as a press contact to drum up media attention surrounding the event.
    • Outreach: This subcommittee liaises with other organizations, local businesses, and anyone that might be able to support the event through advertising, funding, in-kind donations of space or food, etc.
    • Logistics: This subcommittee takes care of all practical matters such as scheduling, booking performers, finding needed equipment and services, getting necessary permits, arranging for parking, taking care of food, etc.
    • Financial: This subcommittee keeps track of the event budget and makes sure everything runs smoothly where money is concerned. Tasks include creating a budget, paying performers and service providers, setting any event prices, arranging for donations, and identifying pre-event fundraising needs.
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    Learn how to message effectively. One thing that distresses time-poor, financially-tight, and already overworked people is being told that whatever they're doing is wrong and dreadful. This kind of messaging is bound to make people bite the messenger and turn right away from the message. As such, while maintaining your passion, also maintain a sense of courtesy, respect and a basic understanding of motivational psychology. In a nutshell, nobody likes being told that how they're living is wrong and surely you don't either. Instead, focus on enlightening people about societal and individual practices that have outlived their usefulness and provide alternatives that are realistic and obtainable.
    • Have an affirmative vision, one that shows what you are for, not just what you're against.
    • Remember that fear is at the heart of much resistance. Fear of job loss and lifestyle downgrading are two particular fears that drive much resistance to activist messaging. If you're not offering alternatives that are viable, doable, and respecting of the people who may be impacted, don't be surprised if they resent your call for change.
    • Create a whole vision rather than a piecemeal one. How do you envisage a future in which the changes your advocating for have happened? Paint that vision for everyone and let them imagine themselves in it.
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    Make plans for the future. A good activist thinks into the future, imagining life after the goals have been met. What happens next? Will the change you bring about need constant maintenance to prop it up? Or will it be self-sustainable and liable to grow hardy and strong once in place? Thinking about this in advance may well change your tactics if you're concerned that just creating change isn't enough.
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    Don't work yourself into the ground. Activists commonly experience burnout, especially when loads of passionate work don't translate into tangible change. When you're tired, worn out, and at your wit's end, that's when activism can turn negative. Take good care of yourself to prevent this from happening, since you won't be as powerful if you're feeling exhausted and bitter.
    • Get plenty of rest. Take breaks from your activism and refresh your thoughts about where it's headed.
    • If you find yourself feeling bitter about other people's lack of passion, take this as a warning sign to pull back and reassess your direction and purpose.
    • Expect down times. Sometimes it will feel as if all your efforts have come to naught, or that things are stagnating. Anything to do with progress meets such plateaus; knowing to expect them and learning how to ride them out is important. Break through the stagnant times by making new associations and recombining your existing approaches with new ones.


  • Be creative! Activism doesn't have to involve large events. Even if you're working out of your garage you can still make a difference! Bloggers can be activists through their writing, teachers can be activists by encouraging students to challenge their beliefs, artists can leave guerrilla activist art around town, computer-savvy folks can arrange an e-zine, etc.
  • When working with others, consider the needs of the group. Be willing to compromise on the details, if not on your core values.
  • Learn how to raise money. Though of course you can do activism on your own dime, there are few kinds of activism that don't require any money whatsoever. Artists need supplies, bloggers need hosting plans, lone protesters need signs. Some forms of activism might even attract grant money, if you know how to write a proposal.
  • Strong organization from the top down (or the bottom up) will ensure that everything runs smoothly. Don't forget to document your steps, adjust your plans as time goes by, and communicate frequently.
  • Consider using merchandise for additional fundraising if your activism takes the form of a large event. You can have t-shirts made, do a bake sale, or sell related books on the issue you're addressing.
  • Be considerate of other people's opinions.
  • Don't give up, even if really hard obstacles stand in your way. Believe in what you are fighting for and believe that you can make a difference.


  • Be aware of the consequences if you plan to engage in activities of civil disobedience. Carry a lawyer's business card if you believe that you may be arrested. In the USA, the ACLU makes pocket cards for this purpose.
  • Watch out for discrimination within activist circles. Unfortunately, it is all too common that individuals fighting for one issue will act from a position of privilege on another. Examples of this include sexism in a gay rights group and racism among white feminists.Never allow racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, etc. to develop unchecked in a group. Keep the needs of others in mind, and listen with an open mind to concerns you hadn't considered. Make your events accessible and read up on how to create a safe space if you're not familiar with this concept.

Things You'll Need

  • Background information on the cause
  • Activism books
  • Resources (time, money, goods)
  • Internet access (local libraries usually have access if you don't)

You will need lots of different things!

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Social Activism