Meaningful activism means taking the time to learn about the issues you care about
Sinead Grewcock // Contributor
Talia Rouck // Illustrator
For our activism to have an impact, we need to allow ourselves time to learn, listen and digest new information. Often, before we can comprehend an issue, our news feeds are flooded with infographics demanding engagement for Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, disability rights, climate change and other civil rights infringements within Canada, America and across the world.
If news of violence, abuse, or injustice filtered into our feeds feel irrelevant, we should pause to examine our privilege and learn more instead of sharing a post and moving on. Reading, listening, and starting conversations with ourselves and loved ones are more important than rapidly sharing posts. This can create meaningful change within closed circles of privilege, make it less likely for us to experience activism fatigue, and ensure our activism isn’t merely performative. Showing up for protests, speaking up when witnessing discrimination, changing hiring practices and policies, calling out racism in entertainment, challenging friends and families on their biases and redistributing wealth to charities and social movements when possible are some ways we can continue to advocate. Remember: it’s a movement, not a moment.
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
— Elie Wiesel
The ongoing discrimination, violence, police brutality and systemic oppression carried out by white supremacy against Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour is not new. The prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement in June amid a pandemic made social media a battleground for addressing racism and prejudice within your workplace, family, friends and self. It came due to Black communities’ efforts in responding to police brutality—namely, the graphic viral videos and evidence following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.
George Floyd’s murder displayed how many white communities had ignored the ongoing trauma and violence that BIPOC communities had been voicing for years. For many, it took the viral graphic evidence to speak up and take action against racialized violence, abuse and inequality. However, many reacted by sharing the video of George Floyd’s death, causing more harm and trauma to Black communities. Information on how to help hold his murderers accountable would have better served him without exploiting his death.
Following their murders, a call to action came to post a black square for “Blackout Tuesday” to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and uplift Black voices. People flooded social media with black squares as they aimed to prove their allyship, clogging the #Blacklivesmatter hashtag, therefore silencing Black voices reporting from the front lines of protests. Acting before understanding the issue stunted folks’ ability to think critically, empathize properly with the circumstance, and caused more harm than it helped.
We may not notice our own aggressions or microaggressions that are racially discriminatory or oppressive towards groups of class, race, religion, gender, ability or sexuality. Researching and finding leadership when uncertain can be an essential step in our ongoing learning. Remember to be respectful in these spaces and not demand more labour than has been offered—and to compensate when possible. Activist Rachel Cargle has said, “I don’t want your love and light if it doesn’t come with solidarity and action,” pointing to the need to be more than an observer of activism, but to be participating within the movements you support.
Activism fatigue can negatively affect our mood and ability to learn. I’d best compare it to the feeling of caring for a friend who’s gone through a breakup. Although time has been well spent supporting your friend, the emotional labour and compassion never leave you with a skip in your step. Activism fatigue works similarly, demanding your attention for every news update, notification, graphic image, catchy video, or text from a friend sharing a “must watch” TikTok. To recharge energy, we must discover what makes us feel at peace with ourselves and others, and that could be some form of silence, meditation, self-care practice or social setting. The goal is to engage with our emotions, allow ourselves to rest, and soothe anxiety so that when we effectively advocate for human rights and equality without impeding on who and what we are advocating for.
Our activism efforts should be ongoing as many people do not have the option to step away. It is also crucial for white folk to engage in education about our privilege and not lay the burden upon people of colour to do this work for them. For activists, we must remain engaged whilst caring for our mental health and well-being to meaningfully work for change to improve our own lives and others.