Make small-scale activism sexy again

By Tess Halpern

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The way I see it, there are two forms of activism.

The first form is obvious. It’s in your face; it’s loud and its strength is undeniable. This large-scale activism—the marches, the protests, the demonstrations and so on—receives enormous amounts of media attention and can start controversial dialogues, as it is intended to do.

I was lucky enough to witness such a movement this January when I participated in the Women’s March in New York City, and although I am not typically one to so outwardly express emotion, I struggled to hold back tears as I walked along the sidewalk. I passed thousands and thousands of strangers who were feeling exactly what I was at that moment. That degree of passion in so many individuals, brought together by a common goal, is extremely powerful, and if you can ever protest or march for a cause that you feel strongly about, I urge you to do so.

But while this type of activism is the one that is discussed, photographed, turned into Hollywood productions decades later and, in short, remembered, the other, less flashy type of activism is just as important, if not more so. But that doesn’t mean it gets the credit that it deserves.

In fact, I was hardly aware that there even was another side to activism before I watched a Samantha Bee segment that gave a “practical guide to resistance.”

In this clip, Ashley Nicole Black interviews five “veterans of the Civil Rights Movement,” asking their opinions about modern-day resistance and their advice for current activists, who look to them as role models.

And while this interview takes a humorous approach to the serious issue of activism, it does bring light to a very important, and often forgotten, fact: activism isn’t always sexy.

Sure, these five activists participated in the March on Washington, went on Freedom Rides, organized boycotts and otherwise acted to shatter the status quo and bring about real change in powerful and exciting ways, but they also had to “hand out fliers, call meetings, file stuff, fix up a bulletin board,” and do other boring, day-to-day tasks.

As millennials, we want the picture from the protest for our Instagram and we want the 10-second clip from the emotional speech for our Snapchat, but the mundane is not our specialty.

After all, going door-to-door trying to convince Black citizens to register to vote like these Civil Rights veterans did, only convincing an average of five people to register every six months, doesn’t make for impressive Twitter updates.

But those small, mundane tasks are in fact the heart of any activist movement, and without those small victories, you can’t have the large ones.

How can you expect to have a March on Washington if you don’t have people making signs or organizing transportation for people? How do you expect your representative to hear your complaint if you don’t call them consistently? How do you expect your petition to make change if you don’t raise awareness and ask strangers for signatures?

There isn’t going to be a march every day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be active every day.

Daily Action is an organization that makes the mundane task of calling representatives about pertinent issues so simple that no one can resist. After signing up for alerts and becoming one of the 250,000 subscribers that Daily Action already has, you will receive one text message every workday about an issue that Daily Action has determined is relevant to you, based on your location. This text will give you the information that you need to contact the proper representative or official, making small-scale activism as easy as the push of a button.

As Luvaghn Brown put it, “Every revolution succeeds because of the foot-soldiers and the sergeants.” Small-scale activism may not have a lot of gravitas, but if done consistently and persistently, it can result in large-scale change. Anyone can be an activist for a cause they’re interested in, and signing up for a program like Daily Action or calling your representative is an easy way to start.

After all, just because posting on social media probably won’t bring about change, doesn’t mean your cellphone can’t.

Tess Halpern is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]