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Left Justified: 12 steps on how to be an activist

July 1, 1993

If you have a yearning in your heart to make life better on this planet, to right some wrong or support some effort large or small, then you are an activist. Instead of feeling frustrated in front of the television set, here’s some ways that I’ve learned to get things done.

1. Speak out about an issue. Don’t remain silent, but don’t scare people away. Try to express your concern in a positive manner. The world doesn’t want you to act, and the rich want you to shop, so God bless the social justice activist! But if you are concerned about the environment, pollution, war, poverty, or the high price of living (or anything else), then speak your mind! Teddy Roosevelt said “do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”

2. Find like-minded friends. These won’t be your real friends (in fact, your real friends will think you’re crazy). Pass a petition and sign people up. Folks who give their name and address may give time, energy and money

3. Find the official(s) in charge. Everything’s got somebody in charge, often a chain of command, and you have to find out to whom to address your concerns. Don’t demonize them, for often they are as concerned as you. It’s not a conspiracy that the world is the way it is. It’s just the way it is and it can be changed.

4. A good organizer keeps track of supporters’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and whatever else comes down the pike. Build that list. Share the work, by sharing your concern. Delegation of work means you trust people to help. That trust will help you get things done.

5. Find people who are working on the same issue. And there’s always people working on the same issue who’ve probably won a few battles, and can tell you a few stories. It’s nice not having to reinvent the wheel.

6. Use resources like libraries and the Internet to educate yourself and find national organizations that will support you.

7. Bring in speakers—outside agitators and experts who will enlighten and educate the community as well as the officials. This is a good organizing tool, but don’t bust the bank. Find experts who won’t demand high fees, but who can share information.

8. Use the media. Make a list of every outlet and try to get personal with the reporters. They are all overworked and appreciate it when someone writes an articulate story for them to use. Don’t be afraid of radio talk shows and television cameras. Find spokespeople.

9. Money is no object, but you have to ask for it. Really, this is the richest country in the world, and people will give to a cause if they trust you. So learn how to beg. Find folks who will keep track of the cash. If you need more than $8,000 a year, find a lawyer and set up a tax-exempt organization, or find an existing group that will take on your cause.

10. Get a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order and learn its spirit. Your meetings will devolve into squabbles or be driven off track unless you learn how to conduct them. Share responsibilities.

11. Celebrate your victories. Use any excuse to have a party, sing some songs, listen to poetry and reflect; all the while, charge admission or pass the hat. Try not to treat people on the other side as “the enemy.”

12. Never say no to somebody else’s issue. In fact, encourage people to get up from their television sets and make the world a better place.

There’s lots of issues. No one thing will bring about redemption, but a whole lot of little steps get us closer to paradise. Good luck!

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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