What exactly does it mean to be an activist?
I don’t believe there is any hard and fast definition or expectation. What I am describing here is a lifestyle of activism, largely because that is what it has always been for me. But anyone can be an activist, no matter your cause or the frequency in which you petition that cause.
In the wise words of Alice Walker, I believe “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet”. I’ve never seen it as a hobby, or even an option.
Wikipedia describes activism as follows.
Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change, or stasis. Various forms of activism range from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing businesses, rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, and hunger strikes. Research is beginning to explore how activist groups in the United States and Canada are using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.
That’s a fairly accurate synopsis of the fundamentals. However, I would add a few principles and practices.
I believe in leading by example, and as an activist, you have positioned yourself as a leader. Therefore it is imperative that you be strategic. You can’t afford to be cavalier.
You must play chess, constantly thinking five steps ahead of the game. You must be well versed in our history and current events. And you must be mindful, balanced and centered.
If you want to truly contribute to sustainable change, the journey must start from within. The more whole and enlightened we are, the more effective we can be as activists. After decades of being an activist, I’ve realized the importance of life balance and taking care of myself, (HT to my wife and parents for this constant reminder).
In the times that I have neglected this practice, I’ve spiraled almost uncontrollably down into the darkness that injustice fosters. My rage has taken over and devastated so many of my well intentioned efforts. If my mind, emotions and higher self are not aligned, I loose the most crucial aspect of my ability to be effective.
As with most things in life, I believe in a holistic approach. The following is an account of my personal journey as a lifetime activist. My hope is that some element of it may inspire you and better equip you to make the difference you wish to see in the world.
Since childhood, I’ve been deeply concerned about the plight of the oppressed. I’ve always rooted for the underdog. And I’ve always believed love should be the central focus of our society. I’ve lived all over the United States and then in East Africa for the past nine years.
I’ve experienced countless cultures from within. I’ve witness more than a lifetime of profound beauty and devastating evil (absence of love).
As a social/political activist, I’ve worked in human rights, rule of law, policy reform, branding, marketing, gender and racial equality and myriad other practices. All of these experiences have taught me much about humanity and the agreements that govern the masses.
I’ve spent the last six years specifically dedicated to the studies of mindfulness, energy, the higher self, morphic resonance, world history, balance, alignment, mysticism, quantum physics, precognition, astrology, astronomy, cosmology, theoretical physics, theology and many other related scientific and spiritual studies. Each of these has afforded me a greater understanding of humanity.
I care deeply about humanity and the planet that hosts us. I am hyper aware, deliberate and calculated. This is not a focus or a practice or a hobby; it’s who I am.
Of all of my efforts to make a positive impact in this human experience, I’ve come to a few fundamental understandings that I now hold as core beliefs. Here are three primary practices that I believe to be paramount to successful activism.
As it turns out, they also tend to lead to a happier life, which I believe to be equally important.
Mindfulness & Alignment
I believe we should deliberately journey towards self actualization and form a seamless blend between our human existence and our higher self. We should constantly adapt to an ever changing world and be on a trajectory of exponential evolution* of our mind, body and soul. We should seek to align ourselves with the Source/Creator/God.
I can attribute much of the outstandingly positive aspects of my life to an acute awareness of my surroundings and connectedness to those around me. I notice everything. I am sure some of this nature is innate, but much of it has been tuned through decades of deliberate discipline. I wrote a blog called “Sweet Discipline” that further details this belief. I believe mindfulness of others, yourself, your surroundings and of how you respond to the world is imperative to successful activism, and a happy life.
The more aligned and mindful I become, the more equipped I am to positively impact humanity.
*There is a distinct difference between change and evolution. Change can be good or bad. Evolution intrinsically implies that something or someone is moving towards a more refined, efficient and aligned state.
Part of being mindful is being informed. You must study relentlessly. As you gain more knowledge of the history that got us here, and the present contributors to where we are now, you are more equipped to address them appropriately.
It's important to be deliberate and calculated in your actions. Be mindful of what you say, how you say it and how it will affect those around you. Over time, this helps you to respond, rather than react. This is crucial. If you make one wrong move, you may lose momentum or gain a negative impression. This can be devastating to a campaign.
I believe in the principles of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The ultimate goal is to win the battle without a fight. Understand your opponent’s motivations and desires and use their momentum to your advantage, rather than letting them use it to the detriment of your cause. Plant a seed in their mind. Convince them, rather than fight them. Leverage your resources and connections. Create a plan.
The most skilled warriors have the ability to devise a strategy where both sides benefit and peace is achieved.
Be patient and calculated, weighing out each move. Always remember, this is all game. Play it wisely.
*As an example, nonviolent resistance will always be more effective than rioting. Part of being strategic is mastering your anger and channeling that energy appropriately.
Ultimately, I believe we are to strive to exemplify love in all we do. As we become more of an example of love, we have the opportunity to amplify it by inspiring others to live it and use it as a tool for positive change.
In every mission, my goal is to figure out a way to let love prevail over whatever injustice I’m trying to overcome. This is particularly difficult when you are passionately fighting for something you believe in. Don’t give in your rage. They will use it against you.
In the wise words of Lenny Kravitz, “Let Love Rule”. In your life, and through your activism.
As a parent, my goal is to exemplify love to my children and inspire them to do the same. My deepest belief is that this may actually be my greatest contribution to humanity. More on that in an upcoming blog…
I believe we must collaborate and unify our efforts in order to make the biggest impact. As individuals, we are limited. But together, anything is possible.
As an activist, I am driven towards contributing to a more egalitarian society. However, before you chalk that up to utopic thinking, let me be clear that I do not necessarily believe we will achieve a true egalitarian society. I do, however, believe the journey and process of striving for it can make us better humans.
Even when we fall short of the goal, we’re remarkably wiser and closer to the goal than if we’d never attempted.
I believe activism should be rooted in an effort to amplify love. It doesn’t matter if I’m fighting for human rights, ecological responsibility or economic and political reform; it’s all from a desire to inspire humans to adopt habits that exemplify and amplify love, kindness, connection, and interdependence.
If you want to make a positive impact in the world, I believe these studies and practices can help you facilitate that journey, no matter your specific cause. If nothing else, they might make you (genuinely) happier, and I think that’s just as worthy an effort.
Excellent article Jared.
The perspective of ‘playing chess’ as an activist is an important and unique one. Far too often, I see people patronizing certain businesses or avoiding others with little sense of the grander picture of it, or their long term goals.
By thinking of our activism as something long term and something strategic, I think it makes it infinitely more powerful.
What are some other ways folks have played ‘chess’ as activists?
Thanks Josh! After spending over 15 years as an ardent activist, I’ve come to realize that true activism, is in fact true humanity. And it’s a game of patience and kindness. I believe the most profound changes and movements have been the result of copious amounts of patience. Gandhi, MLK, William Wilberforce and Mother Teresa are certainly great examples of that.
Che Guevara was an ardent strategist, hence all of his successes. Scott Harrison of Charity:Water did the math and figured out how to build a platform for people to bring clean water to areas that need it most. The platform he built is brilliant, largely due to the fact that he thought it through to such a degree that now it only needs people to jump in and allow it to work. He’s done the hard work, which is what most people fail to do on their own. He made it easy. That is “playing chess”. And his work is brilliant. (He’s also a good friend and he introduced me to my wife, so I might be a bit biased…but he’s still brilliant.)