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Citizenship

Activism 101 in the 21st century

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Most people have a very specific vision of what it means to be an activist. They may envision protests, sit-ins, or demonstrations. This “old school” version of activism is being transformed and enhanced by technology, globalization, and the ever-increasing accessibility of information.

While the term “slacktivism” was originally coined with a negative connotation to describe easy actions like tweeting about a social cause, which might have little direct impact alone, there is great value to the fact that everyday people can now become 21st century activists. This has largely been achieved with the help of technology.  With all the tools available to us, sometimes the hardest part is simply getting started.

This activism guide can help you take the first step (and then the next one...and then the next one...)  

1) Pick your cause

Yes, this is very obvious, but very important. There are so many issues that could use our support, and in the internet age we are lucky to have so much information at our fingertips. Find the cause that speaks to you and inspires you to take action. This can seem overwhelming, but it is important to realize that so many of today’s causes (be it ending hunger and extreme poverty, the environment, human rights, or education) are all interconnected. Pick a starting point and as you become more involved with the subject the connections will become obvious. Think of your initial cause as a jumping off point which will open a world of possible activism opportunities!

2) Connect with others

One of the key features of both traditional and 21st century activism is mobilization of a group in support of a cause. Sites like Facebook, Meetup, and Twitter are great for bringing people with similar interests together, and whether these connections stay completely online, involve mobilizing an in-person discussion group, or even coordinating a protest, there is great value in connecting and sharing with others who are also interested in the cause. These connections can bring new and unexpected ideas, and there is power in numbers.  

3) Put your opinions out there

Technology has clearly changed the game when it comes to 21st century activism. The activist’s toolkit now includes many forms of online interaction and anyone with a computer can become a journalist of sorts through online blogging. Blogging and writing are great ways to get your voice heard, and most journalism programs now include online media as part of their curriculum. Content that goes viral has the power to focus the world’s attention, whether through a shared image or a hashtag. Stay on top of what is trending and don’t be afraid to add your voice! Even if people disagree with your opinions, these are great opportunities to have respectful dialogue and you might even benefit from a little criticism that helps you to critically examine your opinions.

4) Engage at the level you can

A common misconception about engaging in activism is that it’s too time consuming, but it’s important to realize that you can participate at the level you have time for and are comfortable with. If you are a new activist, why not start out by researching some organizations which are involved in the cause that you are interested in. Increase your engagement by entering the dialogue via twitter or signing a petition. As you learn more about your cause, you may want to engage in person with others who are interested, volunteer your time, or engage politically. Your level of activism and your timeline for engagement is up to you - but it always starts with taking the first step!

5) Be creative!

One of the major goals of activism is to raise awareness  about an issue. Whether you are bringing attention to  an issue or lobbying for structural change, this increased awareness  is often the catalyst for change. Successful grassroots campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS often capitalize on a simple idea that goes viral. Although many people criticized the challenge, there is no denying that it brought in a huge amount of money for the cause, as well as increased awareness about the disease. Creative on-the-ground protests are also alive and well!


21st century activism is an exciting evolution of the traditional methods of the past. We have so many opportunities to get involved and there is truly a cause for everyone. Even for those with no background in activism, there is a point of entry for everyone. I challenge all global citizens to find their cause and start their activism journey.

Looking for something to get you started today? Check out Live Below the Line, a powerful, five day challenge to live below the poverty line. Participants are asked to spend no more than $1.75 (Canada) or $1.50 (US) a day on food and drink while raising funds for an organization fighting extreme poverty.  Join me and sign up today!