The Little Big Acts of Activism

Real allies advocate for change in all ways, always.

I am shookt with everything that has been happening. Things are so crazy that I could only resort to millennial-speak since “overwhelming” doesn’t quite cut it.

I know everybody feels the weight of it, too. But what has particularly bothered me on top of the issues — around the world and in my home country — is the pressure that stems from the urge to say something.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor”, people chanted.

But I wasn’t neutral, nor apathetic. So why couldn’t I bring myself to just jump into the hashtag storm, change my profile picture, and click away to share all those infographics and news bits?

I realized that the discomfort came from admitting to myself that I didn’t have a good grasp of these issues. What right did I have to move these causes forward? If I rage on against the system, use the hashtag in every single one of my posts (related or not), and make damn sure everybody knew which side I was on, does that make me an activist?

Recently, The Forge’s Daily Tip advised:

Advocating for change should be an ongoing commitment, even when the marches and social media posts stop.

People put themselves out there and join the movement at the heat of the moment. But the struggle started way before someone finally sounded the alarm, and it will endure even after the world drops another bomb and the hashtag is replaced with another.

I didn’t want to be a performative ally, or worse, a slacktivist. Activism shouldn’t be a heat-of-the-moment thing. Wouldn’t it be better if we fostered something less fleeting? Not the kind that relied so much on the convenience of social media and ran around the same social circles. Or the kind that clicked on a petition or donated money only to disconnect with the issue a few seconds later.

My radical hope for myself and the community is to manifest a more deep-seated and lasting spirit of activism — a smarter, more grounded, and the possibly softer kind that’s no less proactive than the fiery and theatrical demonstrations of it — so that we can become more effective long-term allies.

Here’s how we can do that in five little, big ways.

Immerse Yourself in the Issue

Hashtags create short-term noise and accessibility around issues, but they don’t always encourage users to solve or deep-dive into them. Could this be why some people’s engagement and proactiveness are just as short-lived?

In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari says that in this post-truth world where fiction and stories empower propaganda and brainwashing, we need to fight for objectivity. He advises, “if some issue seems exceptionally important to you, make the effort to read the scientific literature.”

In this day and age where we consume heaps of real and fake information everyday, clarity is power. We don’t need more of it. We need to absorb and process it better.

Thus, the simple, but not necessarily easy step 1 is to deeply engage with the topic. Dig into the backstory.

Instead of a series binge, watch a documentary on the issue or something related to it (Note that not everything is on Netflix). Instead of relying on information shared by your peers, read books, journals, publications, and columnists from the past and the present. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through your feed, talk to someone more informed about the issue — an advocate, lawyer, or expert. Expose yourself to and converse with people directly affected by the issue.

Talk to those whose views differ from yours, too. Why someone else thinks differently should strike your curiosity just as much as the issue itself. Isn’t it worth asking, “What am I missing here?” This doesn’t mean you need to embrace their opinion. There’s a difference between that and having an understanding of where they’re coming from.

If you’re still building the courage to stand up to people, that’s fine. Strengthening your knowledge on the issue helps build confidence that you know what you’re talking about. When the time comes for you to step up, you’ve anchored your opinion and can objectively point out the gaps in theirs.

Stop the Name-calling

Social media has become such a hurtful platform where people mistake the right to free speech with the entitlement to ridicule others.

Nowhere else in the world is this more pronounced than in the country best known for social networking — the Philippines. In the 2016 elections, the terms Dutertards and Dilawan were coined to brand the political parties. People who showed staunch support for incumbent Pres. Duterte were called “Dutertards”, a wordplay on Duterte retards. These people, in turn, branded the opposition as “Dilawan”, mocking the yellow ribbon that symbolized the heroic Aquino legacy, and by extension, the Aquino administration.

Four years have passed and this has become part of the Filipino’s everyday language — online and offline.

What began as a play on words for extremists has become a shorthand for anybody who expresses an opinion that is different from theirs. And the worst part is people think it’s okay. Maybe because they think they don’t mean it so seriously. Maybe because the witty labels just roll off the tongue. Maybe because calling someone out from the comforts of your smartphone somehow renders it harmless.

This name-calling is anything but lightweight.

They do not at all paint political ideologies in a constructive light. They box people in, and that goes both ways — the name-caller and the called-out — , fueling resentment and condescension in a nation already suffering such acute divisiveness.

We don’t need more angry, polarized people. We need better-informed people, which brings me to my next point.

Less Outrage, More Context

On the other side of the harsh, outright name-calling is the passive-aggressive reacting. We’ve seen it on our feeds: Someone sharing a piece of information that works them up so much only to accompany it with a sarcastic, taunting yet indirect remark or worse — nothing but a string of angry emojis.

We get it. We know where you stand. We feel your utter disappointment and outrage over the systemic injustices in the world.

I’ve nothing against amplifying your stand or sharing things that you feel need to be heard. But will your online berating, emojis, and sarcasm incite a change of heart in other people? Wouldn’t it be so much more productive to add some kind of value to the discussion?

Show that you have a stake on your take. Take it a baby step further. Give real news more context. Call out fake news and link a fact-check. Add an excerpt from a journal or official document, best practices from other countries, or maybe even a personal anecdote. Say something that could hopefully make others think twice about their previously-held beliefs. A seed of doubt in someone’s mind can go a long way.

Remember that arguments are never resolved with raised, demeaning voices. Channel your rage and passion to shed light on issues even in the littlest ways.

Get Proactive and Personal

While other countries are organizing around the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Filipinos are protesting #ActivismIsNotTerrorism. People are calling to junk the loosely-crafted Anti-Terror Bill 2020 which, in its current form, gives unjustified military power, undercuts the judicial system, and can open a Pandora’s box for stifled free speech & activism.

Now, people are engaging in an email protest where we reach out directly to government officials to junk the bill. We’re armed not with banners or megaphones, but with a google document containing a letter template, complete directory of gov’t representatives’ email addresses, and links to their official social media accounts.

I’m particularly proud of my email because I took pains to be specific with my concerns and my stand (The subject was “On the Anti-Terror Bill: I Read Everything, Please Hear Me Out”). Maybe they’ll read it, maybe they won’t. But if you truly believe in a cause, any effort is worth the effort. And it’s worth encouraging others to do the same.

There are plenty of other ways to make your contribution more personal. At a time when we feel frustrated with the government for not being able to effectively and adequately provide economic support to those in need, any kind of help, big or small, matters.

Raise funds for organizations. Support SMEs and buy local products from microbusinesses. Support the less celebrated front-liners and tip a little more generously to your delivery guy. Or offer food or snacks to garbage collectors.

The action shouldn’t only be left in the streets.

Start Now

Because as cliche as this might sound: change doesn’t happen overnight.

I am writing this with the realization that the 2022 Philippine election starts now. Collecting information starts now. Changing the discussion starts now. Reaching out, thinking of ways to engage with the electorate, crafting ideas on how to pass on information to the right people in the right ways — It all starts now.

At its core, activism is campaigning. So the goal is to put ourselves in the best position to help influence others when it matters most — election season. An effective, long-term ally has the potential to make the collective voice not just louder, but stronger.

Challenge yourself to become a better-informed citizen, a more effective communicator, a more thoughtful activist. Advocate for change not because it’s all over your feed, but because you’ve invested in it, not just with money, but with your time, mental energy, voice, and skills.

So as early as now, let’s make activism part of the agenda: Do your homework and dive deep into the issues. Engage in ways that do not further stir up divisiveness. Add value to the discussion. Act on your beliefs in little, big actions every day. And act now.

Fun-sized Filipina. Recovering Type A | I’ll send you my greatest hits here:

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