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The Daily Tar Heel

Opinion: How to be an effective advocate

In 2017, equal human rights shouldn’t be up for debate.

But, bizarrely, too many people still seem to lack compassion for others, so we need more activists, or as the internet calls them, “social justice warriors”.

We need you to fight for every cause with courage, resilience, wisdom and respect. Being a good activist is complicated, stressful, and often seemingly fruitless. But there are ways you can do so while also making your life easier. So to guide you, here are some tips I’ve picked up over the past few years.

Take it seriously — there is no off-season. As you go forward, understand the gravity of your words and actions, do your research thoroughly and come prepared to even the smallest fights.

Skip the insults. I’ll be honest, this part can definitely be a challenge for me. Few things feel better than letting loose on a self-righteous person of your choice whom you aggressively disagree with (i.e. Gary the Pit Preacher). But even fewer things are less productive.

Condescension doesn’t open minds and shame only breeds bitterness. If your goal is to change someone’s beliefs, you’d best seek to understand rather than demonize, because you may find the uprooting of hate to be somewhat difficult if you don’t first find those roots.

Along those lines, choose your battles. Don’t continuously start debates with those who have screamed their refusal to see reason from the Pit when there are better ways you can expend your energy. There are bigger fish to fry. Like, great white shark-sized fish.

Make sure you resist the soap box. When you’ve been in the game long enough to forget to consider that people don’t always know all the lingo and how avoid all the problematic phrases, it suddenly becomes all too easy to step up and preach. This is ultimately beneficial to nobody, and can lead to dividing people even further. So correct mistakes and teach when you can, but remember that we all start somewhere, and do not drive away people who want to help.

When you are an ally and not the actual systematically disadvantaged member of society in question, remember that your first job is to listen. Make space for their art, read their literature, hear their criticisms, and leverage your privilege to offer them a better venue for sharing their own stories. Your voice is important and at times vital — but it must not drown out those for whom you profess to fight.

That being said, acknowledge your own shortcomings. Perhaps you’re a strong proponent of LGBTQ rights, but you neglect the rights of people of color, immigrants, indigenous, disabled, homeless or otherwise disadvantaged people. Maybe you write articles about feminism and rape culture, but you don’t get involved with the Take Back the Night or the It’s On Us marches across campus. Maybe you talk a lot, but you never volunteer time or donate money to help those in need.

Get involved to become the most effective and intersectional activist you can be. Do whatever you can do to help.

Self-care is crucial to the longevity of your activism career. Embedding yourself too deeply in the constant uphill battle for equal rights can lead to depression, anxiety, emotional exhaustion and exasperation. All of these feelings at once can so depleting that you lose your drive altogether.

When you feel like you might lose your freaking mind, remember to enjoy the good friends, places and dogs that surround you. Lean on your siblings-in-arms, reward yourself for all the work that you do in every aspect of your life, and take pride in the power you wield as a force for positive change. Every act you do, no matter how small, is making this frustrating world at least a slightly better place.

So go get ‘em.

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