What do we want? Change. When do we want it? Now.
No one can seem to stop talking about the current “political climate.” If there was a Phrase of the Year award, it’d go to those few words. There’s always a “political climate,” but the fact that it’s a buzzword right now must mean the political climate is worth noting. Currently, those words seem to carry a negative connotation. They’re often followed by adjectives like “controversial” or “divided.” But, the citizens of this nation still are opting to talk about the problems instead of doing something about them.
That’s where social movements come in. It seems there are more movements, especially those started by young people — AOC, millennials, the Parkland High School survivors — than ever before. Recent legislation tackling polarizing topics such as abortion and climate change have angered people on both sides of the aisle. There’s an apparent need and pull toward activism in this political climate.
So, people go to social media. They post rant videos, retweet photos of trash strewn on the beach and share articles about what the U.S. could be doing better. Of course, social media is a form of activism, and without it, it’d be much more difficult to spread awareness about these pressing issues. However, activism can’t stop there.
In fact, what most people see as being an activist might be more accurately defined as being an ally. ShoutOut!, a feminist collective at JMU, writes about the difference between being an ally, an advocate and an activist. The majority of people see these titles as a spectrum: ally being the most passive and activist being the most, well, active. While an ally shows support in association with a person or group, an advocate will show public support for a specific cause or policy. Even more involved, an activist, according to ShoutOut!, is someone who uses “vigorous campaigning to bring out political or social change.”
In a recent viral video by RepresentUs, co-founder and CEO Josh Silver and actress Jennifer Lawrence outlined the underlying issues in the nation’s political system. Lawrence reported that no matter how much support there is among the American people for a law, there’s a stagnant 30% chance that Congress will pass that law. A Princeton University study quoted in the video concluded that “the preferences of the average American appear to have a minuscule, near zero, statistically non-significant impact on public policy.”
If the opinions and desires of U.S. citizens don’t matter to lawmakers, none of this social media frenzy will change anything. What it can do though, is spark people into action. Action always has the power to create change, no matter how small the act might appear. There are innumerable ways to contribute more than just a tweet to an important cause. Some might even require less effort than scrolling through Facebook for hours.
One such act is donating. It can be hard to budget as a college student with so many expenses already. But, sacrificing just two Starbucks drinks per month could mean sending $10 toward a charity that’s doing a lot of good for the community, the nation or the world. Especially for people who feel a little more financially stable, donating can be a quick and easy way to support causes in need. Money makes the world go round, and it can help organizations fulfill their missions.
If money is tight, go out and do something. Pick up trash at a local park, volunteer with local organizations like the SPCA or a women’s health clinic or choose to live a sustainable lifestyle. It can be as simple as bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store or carefully separating trash at the dining hall.
Activism doesn’t have to be time-consuming, costly or difficult. There’s no longer time to count on a few people to change the world. Instead, make the conscious decision to change a few daily choices or volunteer once a month to start creating an impact today.
Ryann Sheehy is a junior theater and media arts and design major. Contact Ryann at firstname.lastname@example.org.