The Kaleidoscope of Activism (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Below is a catalogue of activist methodologies, defined and listed according to aims, vulnerabilities, recommendations, and real-world examples. This categorization may help you to develop some ideas about how to advance your movement, and to locate your efforts within the many types of activism.

JOURNALISTIC ACTIVISM

Methodologies: Write and report arguments and facts, counter mainstream media biases, provide counter-arguments and perspectives.

Aim: Information dissemination, testimony, balance, exposing marginalized or silenced voices and narratives.

Vulnerabilities: Waning readership, production costs, information access limits, potentially dangerous.

Recommendations: Explore creative information delivery formats and free/low-cost platforms that are broadly accessible.

Examples: Mother Jones, Confronti Magazine (Italy), Village Voice.

HUMANITARIAN ACTIVISM

Methodologies: Community service projects, building restoration, gardening, street-paving, hands-on practical responses to a problem.

Aim: Meet immediate community needs.

Vulnerabilities: Projecting or imposing those needs from the outside; failing to empower the affected party. Classic “white savior” trap.

Recommendations: Ensure the affected community needs, requests, and is fully complicit with and participatory in aid efforts.

Examples: Bread for the World (USA), Rebuilding Together New Orleans.

ARTISTIC/CREATIVE ACTIVISM

Methodologies: Make posters, graffiti, write protest songs, do an “arts night” centered around the theme, theater, flash mobs, art and music therapy.

Aim: Celebrating life and having fun together; cathartic self-expression; creating beauty; using hearts and bodies as learning mechanisms alongside the brain.

Vulnerabilities: Largely experiential/subjective, limited sphere of influence.

Recommendations: Recognize artistic activism as a component of holistic action and strive to supplement it with other concrete outreach plans.

Examples: Hugo Chavez’s Chicano protest theater; Adbusters; Musicians Without Borders, Interfaith Amigos, art and music therapy.

POLITICAL ACTIVISM

Methodologies: Petitions, marches, rallies, sit-ins, lobbying, running for office, public speeches, accompanying immigrants or minors.

Aim: Force a shift in legislature, public policy, political processes, and/or institutional structures. 

Vulnerabilities: Long-term, arduous and slow processes can lead to activist burnout, need people working on the inside, the institutions are unable/unwilling to accept citizen input, state/police action can be incited against political activists.

Recommendations: Connect movement to other types of activism in order to maintain hope, energy, community, and fresh connection to mission. May have to accept a degree of leadership and ordinance structures that seem similar to opposed structures.

Examples: American civil rights movement, Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Interfaith Worker Justice.

ONLINE ACTIVISM

Methodologies: Petitions, public forums, online organizing, electronic advocacy, social media, podcasts, delivery of local information to a large audience, fundraising, global community building, information gathering and dissemination, education, blogs, networking, free speech platform, hacking.

Aim: Engage the internet as a low-cost, populist, decentralized, independent, high-speed, forward-looking communicative exchange forum with a global reach. Develop a discussion and a community in the public sphere, and also reach beyond your immediate locality.

Vulnerabilities: Slacktivism, illusory efficacy, resource overload, an abundance of weak resources that make finding effective channels difficult.

Recommendations: Supplement online work with local community gathering and personal connection, reach out to established sites, forums and resources to develop partnerships.

Examples: Anonymous, change.org, movements.org, crowdvoice.org, action.org.

PERSONAL/PSYCHOLOGICAL ACTIVISM

Methodologies: Devotion to personal trauma healing, resilience, forgiveness, and self-understanding. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, Quaker clarity committees, spiritual practice, self-care and well-being practices, trauma recovery processes.

Aim: “Be the change you wish to see” á la Gandhi, and free personal pains and traumas from acting as obstacles to group progress; instead of reacting to the past, occupying present conditions with flexibility and confidence.

Vulnerabilities: Self-absorption, rational self-justification, self-righteousness, self-aggrandizing; hyper-local sphere of operation.

Recommendations: Remain in relationship with others and allow community to buffer egocentrism and to provide feedback on personal actions. Constant cultivation of epistemological humility, and accepting awareness of the reality of personal flaws and failures. Find middle way between internal moral center and accepting valuable external feedback about your impact on surrounding community.

Examples: Quaker clarity committees, Holy Land Trust (Palestine), CONNECT NYC.

ACADEMIC/DISCURSIVE ACTIVISM

Methodologies: Panel discussions, lectures, educating people about the topic on practical and theoretical levels, workshops, discussion groups, seminars.

Aim: Education, expansion of knowledge base and perspective, balanced information-gathering, removing reactive emotion and egos from fact-seeking, analyze deep-seated roots, causes and histories.

Vulnerabilities: Can be hyper-specialized and elitist; historically inegalitarian with regard to gender and social class balance; entrenched academic systems can reinforce status quo. Education and discourse are foundational yet partial components of social transformation.

Recommendations: Supplement with other forms of public sphere activism; develop pedagogical methodologies to reach multiple social classes and learning styles; strive for demographic, race, and gender balance and inclusion of marginalized social groups; challenge hegemonic Western-centric conceptions; explore non-traditional approaches to topics; encourage educators to cultivate reflexivity and understand their biases and investments.

Examples: Pontifical Council on Interreligious Relations, Pluralism Project, Faith and Politics Institute, the field of “theologies of religions.”

SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS ACTIVISM

Methodologies: Meditations, poems, reflections, services, singing, prayers, envisioning change, interfaith services.

Aim: Connect to the spiritual aspects of peace and justice work, draw inspiration from traditional texts, locate ideals within traditions, refresh and recharge from sometimes draining activist work.

Vulnerabilities: Isolation, inaction, hyper-local impact, see dangers for Personal/Psychological Activism.

Recommendations: Supplement spiritual activism with other immersive and impacting community practices.

Examples: UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, Week of Prayer for World Peace, Assisi World Day of Prayer, various houses of worship and spiritual practice.

COMMUNITARIAN/RELATIONAL ACTIVISM

Methodologies: Developing community solidarity with social events and encounters. Formats include dialogue, storytelling, travel seminars, shared meals and celebrations.

Aim: To encourage friendships, and incite re-humanization and normalization processes that disconfirm negative stereotypes. Exposure to multiple interpretations and perspectives.

Vulnerabilities: Encountering “the other” can be challenging on psychological and existential level; limited transformational impact; expectations to understand and be understood may be too high.

Recommendations: Participants should be prepared and supported to apply themselves to conflicts, misinterpretations, personal de-centering, and disagreements with a fundamental commitment to full presence and nonviolence. As Rilke wrote, “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them.” Participants should embrace with devout agnosticism the impossibility of fully entering the other’s experience, and the limits of language to fully convey sentiment and experience. Refresh the social encounter with low-pressure opportunities to connect and share the space, to bring out the best qualities of participants, and to develop positive impressions of each other.

Examples: Interfaith Youth Corps, World Interfaith Harmony Week, University of Pennsylvania Race Dialogue Project.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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