Welcome back to part two of my series on the GALA Youth Summit. For this week, I’ll be talking about what it means to be an activist in the modern world. The idea for this post was inspired by a discussion earlier this week with members of the Parents, Families & Friends of the South African Queer (PFSAQ).
Like most things, there is no single, one-size-fits-all description of what an activist should or shouldn’t be. However, there are a few steps that can be taken to help your cause have as much attention as possible.
The first is that successful activists must have a clear goal in mind. If you want your struggle to have a decent enough impact, you must have some idea of what it is you actually want to achieve. This will allow you to focus your efforts, thereby maximising your impact.
This isn’t to say that you can’t be interested in several different issues. You must just be careful that you don’t spread yourself too thin. As they saying goes, a jack of all trades is a master of none.
The next step is to use all means at your disposal. You don’t have to be taking part in protest marches everyday to be an activist. You can raise awareness for your cause in a variety of ways, whether it’s blogs like this one, art and music, or whatever else comes to mind. The important thing is that you are educating other people.
At the same time, you must beware of the dangers of slacktivism. These are activities that are designed to make the person taking part feel good while having minimal – if any – actual impact. A recent example was the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which blatantly ignored the realities of the situation in Nigeria in favour of a cheap opportunity to look concerned.
Finally, and this is the part that most people have trouble with, you must be willing to suffer for your cause if necessary. Now, I’m not advocating that you deliberately put yourself in harm’s way – if you can resolve an issue non-violently, then that is obviously the best option.
However, sometimes that is simply not possible. For example, some of my colleagues at this youth summit come from countries where homosexuality is not only illegal, but subject to police harassment and public violence. For them, it is simply not possible to find a peaceful way to achieve equality.
I’ve met people who have been arrested, harassed and even assaulted simply because they fought for the rights of women and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Sadly, this is the kind of thing we must anticipate as activists. If we hope to ever have a truly meaningful impact, we must be willing to put ourselves at risk when the occasion calls for it.
To paraphrase a famous saying, if activism was easy then everyone would do it. Being an activist is sometimes one of the hardest things to do, but if it means that we bring the world closer to true equality then it is worth it.
See you all next week.