It was a clear, crisp winter's day in London. Streams of people flowed through the narrow winding streets, descending on a central London square. As the crowds spilled into the green open spaces of the square, the friendly and welcoming atmosphere hit them all. The crowd was there together, fighting for the same causes and recognising the other marchers who believed in the same principles as they do.
This was the Women's March in London, which took place on 21 January 2017. The march was taking place in protest of the inauguration of the US President, Donald J Trump, and his plans to cut vital funding to maternal health services, like Planned Parenthood, as well as his extreme views on abortion.
It was an inspiring day, spent in the company of amazing activists. And it made me want to do more.
A sea of pink hats on march participants in Washington on Saturday (Photo: Ruth Fremso for The New York Times)
If you don't normally do politics, you're part of the problem
I'll be the first to admit that I am not an active activist and this was one of the first marches that I'd ever been on.
I grew up in a politically apathetic family. Middle class and comfortable. Why would I need to protest and campaign if my family and I were ok?
But that's not how the modern world works. Showing your support for a cause - even if it doesn't directly affect you - is important. The people campaigning are often those in less a position of power than those they're campaigning against.
I also feel that I'm an inexperienced activist. In my work I'm much more of a curator of other people's voice. What do I have to give to help activists around the world?
Giving activists everywhere solidarity and inspiration
Today's activists are building on social movements and lessons learned from history - people like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther Muhammad Ali, Emeline Pankhurst, Gandhi. And thats not to mention the thousands of lesser known activists that played a vital part for their causes.
Even recent history - from the Arab Spring through to the Occupy movement - activism has always been a part of history and is present everywhere.
Sadly, freedom and rights don't come easily. They are always changing in response to demands. Recent events have made that more apparent, especially in the Women's March where so many causes were coming together: reproductive health, gender equity, anti xenophobia, racism and islamaphobia.
Solidarity gives activists and causes strength, protection and a bigger voice. This is what makes communities of acivists so powerful.
It turns out, we all have plenty to give.
As an individual, if you do not find a cause that you particularly relate to or don't want to commit to a large movement, there are plenty of things you can do to become an active citizen in your community around the issues you care about:
- Sign petitions - every signature counts
- Join marches and demonstrations - find like-minded people who care about similar issues
- Donate to causes you care about - many established organisisations, like Planned Parenthood, are facing drastic cuts from government funding
- Contact your MP - Let them know you care and find out their position on issues close to you
Even if you think you can't help or feel that all hope is lost around some of the issues you care about, there are plenty of victories and other signs out there that activism works:
- Over 450,000 people took action demanding Obama halt construction at Standing Rock
- Gina Miller successfully took the UK government to court over Brexit, with the Supreme court ruling that the UK parliament must have vote to trigger article 50 to start the Brexit process
- Activists including the Open Rights Group helped deal a major blow to the UK's controversial Snooper's Charter when the EU Supreme Court deemed it as illegal
But successful activism takes hard work and dedication. It's these stories that I want to help uncover, to help aspiring activists understand just what it takes for a victory - however big or small.
The Women’s March was the beginning, not the end. What happens next will be decided by what we do. Movements do not come to us fully formed and organized. They are built by actual people, with all their political questions, weaknesses and strengths.- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Department of African American studies at Princeton
What kind of political questions should we be asking? How do we understand the weaknesses of our cause? How can we build strength behind our movement and how do we best use that power?
Amazingly accessible activism
That's where Fantastic Activist comes in.
The idea is to create a community devoted to promoting amazingly accessible activism, featuring interviews with leading activists and founders of social movements who are changing the world.
The primary focus of the community will be around interviews with activists, to find out what makes them tick, what really made their fight take off, what keeps the fire burining in them to keep advocating for their cause long into the dark, cold nights.
The community will also be a place to share ideas and inspiration, what's working in campaigns and what's not.
For the people we interview, we will keep anonymity and sensitivity for those activists who need it.
When I put this idea out to my own community, I got a few further ideas back.
For example, one close friend said that the issue for her personally is staying level headed and working out strategies on what we can do as an individual, organisation/professionals and collective group:
"Within the funder community there is a real shift towards funding movement building for this very reason, because leaving the work to the advocacy organisations/Big INGOs/UN Agencies isn't nearly enough. As an individual I am really struggling in what more I can do... and I'm already doing what I can (petitions, marching, donations, talking to my various MPs/Govt reps directly, policy work, influencing funding in the Philanthropic sector etc)."
Other ideas include a list of cause-related groups. As a friend mentioned when I first raised the idea of this site, there are movements springing-up all over the place. We could create a simple domain and social media presence to track and direct people to relevant types of movement. Trump-focused groups are what a lot of people are thinking about now, but we could also cover other issues as well. This list is a nice idea, but secondary to the interviews and community that will grow here.
When I put the word out about the idea of Fantastic Activist, a few people stepped forward to be the initial interviews to appear on the site.
Here are the first set of Fantastic Activist interviews:
- BARAC - Black activists against rising cuts
- Ctrl Alt Right Delete - strategies and tactics to fight back against the alt-right
- Vevolution - vegan events and education
- Sunday Assembly - a secular congregation that celebrates life
I’m delighted that they represent a diverse, wide-range of issues, which is something that should be reflected in the site.
Want to take part in an interview about your cause?
If you want to take part, just head to the submission page and read the guidelines. Feel free to point others there as well.
Keep updated with Fantastic Activist
Want to continue the conversation? Take a look at the Fantastic Activist community.