Activism is beautiful, complicated, and powerful. It can also feel inaccessible and daunting. As activists, we can and should break down the barriers that make activism and protesting feel inaccessible. It is up to us to make space for new faces and support them on their journey. We have to recognize that there isn’t one path to becoming an activist. It might start with a feeling, and it could progress into strongly worded emails or taking to the streets. It could come from childhood trauma, or maybe you discover it while traveling. For me, it started in my craft room.
I attended a handful of rallies and marches with my friends in the 2010s. But in 2017, something changed within me. I walked into my craft room to find an outlet for my growing frustration with the state of our country. I powered on my die cutter, pulled out my glue, glitter, and poster board stockpile, and released a whole lot of negative energy. I took my handcrafted signs and attended a small local rally at a busy intersection in my city. I shared my extra signs, beamed at the compliments, and learned some chants.
That protest was organized by a friend, and after about 30 minutes, he handed me the megaphone. I almost drowned in my feelings of fear and inadequacy. I was overwhelmed and intimidated, afraid of so much: of my own imposter syndrome, of making myself a target, and of activism gatekeepers.
I don’t actually remember what I said in those 30 seconds. It didn’t receive loud cheers or a round of applause. Instead, I received supportive smiles, encouraging whispers, and hugs. I was proud, but I knew instantly that I am not the woman behind the megaphone—nor do I want to be. It took me a long time to realize it’s okay to not be that person, and it took me even longer to realize it doesn’t make me any less of an activist.
There are people in the activism community who will read this story and say “that’s not activism” because we weren’t civilly disobedient. And while civil disobedience is a form of activism, it’s not the only form. Activism, like most things in life, is a spectrum. No one gets to define my activism.
Prior to joining Strike For Our Rights (SFOR), my activism included attending rallies and marches (with my beautifully handcrafted signs to share), combating misinformation online, calling my representatives, helping people get registered to vote, and driving them to the polls. And, again, I was told I was not an activist because I wasn’t taking to the streets.
Now I am part of a volunteer organization planning a massive form of protest: a general strike of 3.5% of the population. My activism now takes the form of hosting meetings, setting up onboarding processes, educating people, and recruiting volunteers through Instagram comments. And despite my efforts, I still constantly face criticism. Gatekeepers want to label my work and my passion as nothing because I don’t have the ability to participate in civil disobedience. But I am not the woman behind the megaphone.
As activists, we have to be better. We must lower the barriers to entry for protest and expressing dissent.We should encourage and empower those who want to participate. We should lead with love and compassion, and take the time to hear those around us. We need to focus our efforts on punching upwards, not taking callous, passive-aggressive swings at each other. That’s what they want.They want to keep us distracted and infighting among ourselves.
That is why we need to make space for all forms of protest: because we have power when we make room at the table for everyone. And, when we lead with love, there is a chance we will inspire those around us to get even more involved.