On this Day 20 of 21 Days for World Hunger, I am sharing some thoughts and suggestions for activist wannabes and some online tools that I found to be read-worthy and useful in supporting you to advocate for those causes that are personally compelling.
All of the photos on today’s article are from Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Some are questioning as to whether the motives of Stewart’s rally is a fun comedic event to unite folks or a step toward political activism. You decide.
Support for Activist Wannabes
While this series is focused specifically on world hunger, activism, as I previously wrote in Psychology of Activism, takes on innumerable forms. So with any form of activism, the place to start is with the beginning regarding support for someone who wants to become an activist. And in that I mean: have you identified the causes that drive your inspiration? Your cause is a mission of sorts. If it’s clearly articulated, you improve your chances of serving that cause. If you have clearly identified that cause, do you have a plan of action to support it? For some, the simplest place to start after identifying your cause is to find a local group or club to join. Being with like-minded folks can help propel your drive to the next level and help keep that inner fire burning.
Another thought I’d like to share is about opposition and aggression. While activists get to enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded peers, they also put themselves out there in a way that may draw unwanted negative attention. Take for example some of the negative, er harsh rather, comments my fellow writers have received on articles from this series and attacking comments I received from Alternet (I addressed many of these in a Conducive Chronicle article) during my last 21 Days for World Hunger. Many aggressive comments stem from a place of anger and are wrought in judgment. These are empty, useless and counterproductive in my opinion. Some folks use their aggression to silence as a means to feel powerful because these individuals have no other way of articulating their feelings. In essence, they are appearing powerful because they are in fact feeling powerless. Sad.
If you react in kind (as in the same, not as in a kind way) to someone else’s aggression, chances are you will not move forward with your mission. Remember that someone else’s unconstructive or aggressive reaction is more about that person than it is about you. Breathe through it and do the best you can to open up dialogue rather than shut it down. Find a way to help the aggressor articulate his or her thoughts constructively. It’s imperative, in my opinion, that you remain nonviolent in your thoughts, words and actions. This requires your taking the higher road even when another may be tromping on you, figuratively speaking. Or maybe I’m not figuratively speaking given the recent and very ugly events of Rand Paul supporters stomping on the head of Lauren Valle this past Monday at the Kentucky Senatorial debate. The violent behavior of those Rand Paul supporters, to me, is indicative of their intense anger, their inability to cope diplomatically with that anger, and their overall ignorance of how to communicate in a way that actually helps accomplish goals. But perhaps they don’t care to open up dialogue. Perhaps they are so caught up in the one-sided approach to their cause they are not able to see that other options could also be viable.
As a result of the Rand Paul supporters head-stomping incident, anger has risen (understandably so) on the left, which will likely fuel more anger on the right, which will likely continue to perpetuate a multi-faceted problem that I clearly see in this country: Some folks are too caught up in their ego-mania, are so very quick to react without thinking, and are seriously lacking both critical thinking and listening skills. (And yes, I was thinking of the Rand Paul supporters when I wrote that last sentence.) The combination of those factors will get us nowhere fast. Anger begets anger. Peace begets peace. And sadly, more people than not are opposed to that notion, which I believe is one of the reasons we, as a society, continue to get the same unproductive results.
Suggestions to open up dialogue
As an activist, you will have many opportunities to interact with different people. And while the like-minded people feel warm and fuzzy, the not-so-like-minded people are a valuable audience, a potential resource and possibly offer a good learning experience. I’d like to share some suggestions on how to deal with a person who is behaving aggressively. Please keep in mind, these tips are most useful in a one-on-one situation. If a group of people is about to gang up on you and stomp on your head, get away. Fast.
Be present. Breathe and keep yourself grounded. Maintain calming self-talk if you find yourself getting overwhelmed. Avoid taking anything personally – especially caustic barbs. If you have the opportunity to speak with the other person, clarify what was said to assure understanding (even if you don’t like or agree with that clarification) and ask if s/he is willing to hear your thoughts and to dialogue. If the answer is no, then you know not to waste your time. Move on. But before you move on, do a quick check-in and ask if he or she is willing to talk at a later time. End the discussion with your being open to talk at a later time when that individual feels prepared to hear your points as well.
If someone is yelling at you, let them get it out. Venting takes a good 30 – 60 seconds from my experience as a conflict resolution professional. If a vent continues on past that 60 seconds, it is likely to turn into a rant. At that point walk away, because nothing will be accomplished with a ranter. But don’t walk away as a statement of passive aggressiveness. Instead say (using the appropriate words that fit your style of course), “I’m walking away now because of the way you’re communicating with me. I don’t like it, and I’m not able to listen to you. If you are interested in talking without the volume or the offensive words, I’m open to it too. You tell me when you’re ready.”
If you have an opportunity to dialogue, I statements will come in quite handy. An I statement is about taking your own inventory (as in sharing thoughts, experience, feelings and facts) and not about taking the inventory of the other person (your opinions, judgments or assumptions of that person). One (facetious) example, “I noticed you were trying to knock me to the ground and stomp on my head. That’s shocking and unacceptable to me. I’m open to chatting with you about X issue, but I know that will only happen when I feel comfortable that you can talk with me without aggression. Would you be willing to remove your sneakers and give it a try?”
- Consider other perspectives
The perspectives of a person with opposing thoughts just may add some value and could certainly help you better understand his or her situation. Granted, many people when behaving aggressively consider their opinions to be the world’s truth, and this can be tough to digest. Sift through the noise of that other person’s words and try to find the key points. Is there something to gain from their perspective? If so, share with them the value you’ve gained from their input. This can help you align with that person and it increases your chances of having further dialogue. In my opinion, the majority of folks in the US are gravely lacking critical thinking (as in seeing the gray area instead of just the black and white) and solid communication skills. To me, the two go hand in hand. By exercising your critical thinking and communication skills, you will more readily facilitate a more fruitful dialogue – even if the other person is lacking in those skills.
- Keep the focus on your intention, have courageous compassion
The first part of that suggestion is fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll leave it at that. I see courageous compassion as holding compassion for another person who is not endearing you to be compassionate. Maintaining compassion in the face of opposition, while challenging, puts you in the driver’s seat. Courageous compassion is about feeling your own power without the need to overpower another.
Tools and Support for Activists
Hopefully some of the tools listed on the following sites can be of service to you.
- Tools for Activists
This site offers a load of resources for individuals and groups on topics such as organizing, managing and hell-raising.
- Activism training materials and resources
- , a Pennsylvania-based research, organizing and networking center for grassroots environmental social justice movements, offers several activism training materials and resources. These include but are not limited to an activist toolbox, campus activism, nonviolent strategies and actions, and holding the government accountable.
- Using Social Media for Activism
- Nick Judd wrote a piece on
- about using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter as a way to build lists and to drive interest.
I’m captivated by an online petition I signed a couple days ago. It’s not the first Avaaz petition I’ve signed, yet it’s one I’m following closely out of curiosity. Only two or three days ago, about 420,000 had signed a petition to save the one third of Earth’s species who face extinction. I pop on there periodically to watch the numbers increase. At this moment, 642, 436 people have signed and one can look at the right and watch the numbers increase in real time. People from all over the world are uniting and joining together to protect the diversity that lives on 20% of our oceans and lands. At this very moment, Brazil, New Zealand, Mexico, the US, Australia, Argentina and France are being represented by signers claiming their voice for the voiceless. This is a reminder to me of the power of social media and the outreach it has to unite the like-minded in one global community. Cool.
Tomorrow I close this journey showcasing interviews with my fellow 21 Days for World Hunger activist writers, Natasha Burge, Elizabeth Maginnis, Amy Considine and Jessica Hullinger on their experiences during this journey and their personal views on activism.
My World Hunger Diet Experience
I have very little to report today. It’s Saturday. I’m working. I’m hungry. I am still eating less than 1,000 calories a day in order to mimic a diet typical of the world’s hungry. I do believe I’ve crossed a line. In a good way. I’m not nearly as irritable as I’ve been the past three days, and I only thought about food once or twice. I had some kale again. This time I held out until 4:00. Given this late afternoon ‘snack’, I had my one meal about 8:00 pm. I don’t think I will ever tire of bean and rice burritos, yet this evening I had spinach salad and chili with rice. I patiently awaited my meal and savored each tasty bite in an attempt to make it last as long as possible.
There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.
The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.
21 Days for World Hunger
Consider purchasing a World Hunger: Be the Solution Tee. Proceeds from the shirt will go to Navdanya, the Small Planet Institute Fund the International Fund for Africa. All tees are sweat free and available in organic cotton. To see the selection of World Hunger tees at Conducive’s Humanitarian & Human Rights Tee store, click here.