You don't have to hold up signs or have Instagrammable moments to be an activist.
This post further expands upon my summer post, Hashtags Aren't Conversations; Memes Aren't Activism and November's On Silence, Quiet and Self-Care. Based upon what I've been seeing my my social media feeds, popular current activism includes some of the following:
Making snide or mean-spirited remarks about the other "side" either directly or passive-aggressively via memes.
Marching in public with signs.
People who have previously marched in public with signs questioning the validity and motives of people who are marching with signs for the first time.
People who marched in public with signs questioning the validity and motives of people who did not march in public with signs.
Staying "informed" which seems to mean glued to toxic social media and the news.
Copying and pasting instructions on how to call representatives.
From the cover of my 1970s copy of Our Bodies, Our Selves
I've been an activist for a large part of my life, and presently it doesn't look like any of the above. In the early 1980s I did march in protests. I formed a feminist "consciousness raising" group on my college campus in the mid 1980s. I orchestrated a campaign to protest oil interests that were infringing upon the Native Americans. I wrote articles and editorials published in local media.
For the past twenty years I shifted a lot of focus and energy towards local issues. I'm not sure why local issues don't get the same cred which brings to mind a bumper sticker that was omnipresent in my college town: "Think globally, act locally."
The following examples of how I am active locally may be boring for you, so the tl;dr in advance is that you don't have to be "out there" to get out there and make changes. Yes, you will need to interact with people, some of whom are in positions of authority who may try to intimidate you into silence. Oftentimes it's not pretty or glamorous work. You won't receive lots of "likes." Yet I've also met a lot of wonderful people along the way. Activism shouldn't be judged by visibility or volume.
Now, onto the tl;dr of examples of my own brand of activism:
While living in a rental house in the early 2000s I lobbied my town to place three new stop signs in my neighborhood after I witnessed a dog getting hit by a car due to speeding which was an ongoing problem. There was resistance because neighbors were going to lose parking spaces near the signs. I held my ground and dealt with the discomfort and the stop signs were installed.
In 2010 I was the lead complainant against my utility company alleging that the new "Smart Meters" they were forcefully installing on people's homes could potentially be a fire hazard on older homes like my own. That was based upon news stories I had read where there were documented fires related to the meters and each was in an old house. As it turned out, the issue was largely due to unsafe meter exchanges on homes with old wiring which could spark a fire if not done carefully.
I spent hundreds of hours on research and testimony (and I was terrified of public speaking yet did it anyway) but the end result made it worthwhile. As the direct result of my complaint, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) asked the utility to take steps to address some of the safety concerns I raised about the vendor which I learned was using unlicensed technicians: Among things they required the utility to audit the work of the smart meter installation technicians, provide weekly incident reports to the PUC and obtain a letter of agreement from the meter installation company guaranteeing the technicians do not receive quotas for the numbers of meters installed. The utility agreed to all the demands from the PUC. Also, elderly and low-income people were going to be forced to pay to upgrade their wiring that was working safely with the old meters, but the utility agreed to pick up that cost. Finally, my complaint along with another facilitated Maine becoming the first state that permitted people to opt-out of smart meter installations.
Last year there was some construction blasting being done near my home and I had not been notified in advance. Suddenly there was a loud boom and my house shook which was the first of many blasts all week. That is not cool for people with PTSD and other issues. At the time I had Timmy out on the floor and we both kind of freaked out. I contacted the town to complain and that's when I learned that my town did not have a local blasting ordinance in place that would include, among things, detailed notification requirements, specific permissible times for blasting and pre-blast survey specifics. I lobbied my town council to make that happen and helped architect the new ordinance in cooperation with the Fire Chief. After the necessary committee meetings and public hearings, all of which I attended, the new ordinance was passed and put into the books.
Right now, my car is at the body shop getting fixed from my car accident. I looked into using public transportation and learned that in my town there are no bus stop signs at a busy location. Instead people are supposed to flag down the buses at a very dangerous intersection! While that doesn't impact me much since this is temporary, I feel strongly enough to lobby my town to get those signs up. Imagine being elderly or disabled? I just fired off my first email to my town council.
My book American Women Didn't Get Fat in the 1950s details my passion for women's health and my protest against current-day advice. In my blog I challenge many conventional beliefs. I shared my long-term recovery and struggle with PTSD related nightmares publicly in my blog in an effort to help remove the stigmatization of those issues.
If you're still reading, I'd love to hear from you: Do you consider yourself an activist? If so, what kinds of actions do you take to make your town, country or world a better place for all? Let's inspire each other!