The Clean Water Blog

What is an activist?

I recently had the privilege of speaking to the Savvy Women’s Alliance a great group of women focused on non-toxic living.  They asked me to focus on an unusual (for me) topic: “What is an activist? How do I become one?”  Such good questions! In case you’re wondering too, here’s what I told them:

When you think of an activist you might conjure up images of people hanging banners, chaining themselves to trees or living in tents as part of Occupy. All of these are activism, but lots of activists have never done any of these things. To me, activism means using your influence to change something that needs to be changed.  You do that all the time, right?

Now, I do think that the change has to influence more people than just your immediate family.  Organizing your kids to the clean up the living room may be a major feat, but I don’t think it’s exactly activism.  Organizing your neighbors to clean up the street—now that’s activism!

How do you become an activist? Here are three steps to get you going.  First – pick something that you want to see changed.  If you want ideas – Clean Water Action has plenty!  How about getting toxic flame retardants out of children’s products or replacing fossil fuels with clean energy?

Second, whatever you decide to do, DON’T DO IT ALONE! Trying to get something changed by yourself is usually not very effective, and it’s sure not very enjoyable.  Activism can be lots of fun, and it can be a great way to connect with other people. So find some like minded folks who are already working on the issue you care about, or who would like to!

The third step is to think about whoever needs to be convinced to make the change – often elected officials.  We’re all more likely to do something if someone we know and respect asks us to do it. Right?  Well, elected officials are the same way; if they get to know and respect you they are more likely to do something that you ask them to do!  So build relationships. 

Let’s talk about state legislators.  Do you know who yours are?  If not, now is a GREAT time to find out. Before you continue, go to www.wheredoivotema.com (if you live outside of Massachusetts this website won’t help you but I’m sure a quick search will get you to the right place) and look up the names of your state Representative and Senator.  Congratulations! You’ve taken an important step towards becoming an activist.

So, now that you know their names, start talking to them!  You could write a personal letter, attend their office hours (usually at a public place in the district), introduce yourself at a community event, schedule a meeting at their office in Boston, or (if you think they’re doing a good job) go to their fundraiser or volunteer on their election campaign. Whatever you do, get to know them and let them know what you care about!

So don’t be intimidated! Identify the thing that you want to change, find some people who agree with you, and start building relationships with those whose support you need to achieve your goal.  You too can be an activist!