In today’s episode, we’re talking all about how to be an effective activist. For many people, participating in the Black Lives Matter movement is their first time getting involved in a social movement. Where to even start?
In this episode, we share a variety of ways that you can be an effective activist, because there’s no one singular way. These are all tools and strategies that we’ve gleaned from our many years as activists.
Also be sure to scroll down for an absolutely epic list of resources on how to get involved and learn more.
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What You’ll Learn:
- how to be an effective activist
- how to have difficult conversations about race
- when to have these kinds of conversations
- how to best educate yourself
- all about social media as a source for education and resources
- how to consider the source of where you’re getting your information
- the importance of self-care and protecting yourself when engaging in activism
- how to put your money where your mouth is
Listen + Have Conversations
It’s important that in order to be an ally in a movement that you’re willing to have those uncomfortable conversations, especially when the consequences for you speaking out are going to be much less. If you’re in a privileged position to be able to speak out, you don’t have to worry about the same kind of retribution that historically oppressed people have experienced.
Educate yourself on the history of oppression and current oppression. Like we’ve said, there are so many resources out there: podcasts, blogs, books, social media, Netflix series, documentaries, etc.
Be an Advocate Using Effective Communication
Protest is absolutely effective for change, including the very many different types of protests that we’re seeing. We’ll include links because there’s a great expert who talks about that. He’s an historian and expert on protest and he’s on a podcast if you want to hear about the hard facts about how effective it is and what history has shown us and taught us. But it can definitely not be effective if you’re burning yourself out.
Change Your Lifestyle and Consumption Habits
You gotta put your money where your mouth is. Are you supporting black-owned businesses? Do you even know any? That might not be something that you ever necessarily thought about before. I actually came across a really cool website the other day called the Official Black Wall Street and it’s a directory for the US but for black-owned businesses.
Make sure to check out who’s been getting enough money and who hasn’t. Some of the organizations have been like, “we’ve gotten plenty of money, please donate to these other ones.” So again, all this stuff takes research. There’s no easy quick route, but so many people have laid down the groundwork and the path ahead of you. They’re making it easier than ever before to be supportive.
Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health + Self-Care
Don’t neglect your mental health and self-care. I know I had to remember this. Veren had to very nicely remind me of this point. Don’t just be on your phone all the time looking at these things and feeling helpless. Dedicate some time, each week or each day in a small way.
And don’t forget to vote!
Resources + Links Mentioned
- Black Lives Matter
- Alternative Travelers Instagram – click BLM highlight for more resources
- This Book List is Anti-Racist: on Bookshop.org, where you can purchase to support independent bookstores instead of Amazon! List curated by black, female owned bookstore in Indiana, who you will be supporting by purchasing through these links
- Resources for Race, Equity, Anti-Racism, and Inclusion: includes links to organizations, articles on race, black owned bookstores, more book recs, educational resources
- A Detailed List of Anti-Racism Resources by Katie Couric
- George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper | The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah
- Democracy Now: Independent Global News
- Do Violent Protests Work? with Daniel Gillion – Factually podcast (click to listen or wherever you get your podcasts)
- Questions to ask yourself before sharing images of police brutality
- The Broken Policing System on The Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj
- The Official Black Wall Street: Discover Amazing Black-Owned Businesses
- How 2 weeks of protests have changed America
- A criminal justice expert’s guide to donating effectively right now
- Why You Should Donate Directly to Black People — And How
- Powerarchy: Understanding the Psychology of Oppression for Social Transformation by Melanie Joy
- 31 Black Activists, Thinkers, and Writers You Should Follow on Instagram
- 25 Black Vegan Instagrammers You Need to Follow ASAP
- Find Your Representatives
These transcripts have been automatically generated and then edited by us, so please excuse any typos, missed capitalization, weird phrasing, etc. Humans talk very differently than they write, as we’ve learned! There are just topics that just lend themselves better to conversations rather than blog posts, but we also want the podcast to be accessible to all.
Hit the green “plus” button below or hit download to access the full transcript.
Sam: Welcome back to the Alternative Travelers podcast. So we took a little break last week to reflect on how we wanted to address the Black Lives Matter movement here in the US. I was sharing a lot of resources and stuff on Instagram and I saved them all on there if you want to go back and look at those.
I just felt like it was really time to listen and hear first before responding. What we realized is that we can talk from our experience and expertise and share how people can help and support the movement.There are just so many voices out there and so many different things and I know a lot of people are like, “oh my god, what can I do? I'm so overwhelmed.”
Veren: Yeah, so what Sam's referring to is our expertise in vegan activism. There is such a thing as effective activism and this goes across the board for any social movement or cause. There are many forms of activism. There's not one right way to be an activist. There are different strategies and techniques. A lot of them are effective, but some of them aren't effective.
There's unfortunately a big disparity between what's effective and what's not effective. Fun fact that a lot of people don't know is that veganism isn't just for white people. There are very strong vegan movements centered on people of color and there's a reason for that.
There's a huge overlap. There's a big intersection between veganism, racism, and the psychology of oppression, but we're going to save that particular topic for another episode. We're just going to talk today about effective activism, things that you can do to be an effective activist.
Sam: I think there have been a lot of people who have been turning to social media for whom this is the first time they've ever been involved in a movement. Maybe the first time going to a protest or the first time really thinking about activism. Generally people think collectively of activists as fringe people. Activists kind of have this connotation of like “those intense people” but I think now as the Black Lives Matter movement is reaching critical mass - because of certain events and deaths - more people are getting involved.
We wanted to talk from what we know, as opposed to just reacting and saying, “oh my gosh, we have to participate somehow so we're just gonna throw up a list of the best books that you should read about racism.”
The reality is that there so many other people, so many other black voices - influencers, podcasters, bloggers, content creators, activists, whatever - those people are already creating those resources and we would prefer to point you in the direction of those people. We will do that in the show notes for this episode, where we're gonna have a massive amount of resources.
So we're not gonna go into a list of the books you should read, because that information is already out there, it's already been created and we're gonna point you in that direction. What we wanted to do is just talk about what we know, which is like Veren said, vegan activism. The same methods and principles and ideas from vegan activism is applicable to any kind of activism and something we've thought about a lot. Although we want to be very very clear that we're in no way equating black lives with animal lives, that has unfortunately really happened from many vegans right now and that's just really not okay. What we're saying is you could take the same ideas and principles and tools and methods from any kind of movement and apply them to whatever the cause is.
Veren: Yeah, a particular thing that comes to mind when I hear about what happened with George Floyd is that a lot of - I've been watching interviews with experts or like lawyers, etc., all the people that would be you'd want to hear their opinions about these things - these experts bring up this example that if that was a dog instead of George Floyd, how many people would have come to that dog's help?
And so the reason there is such a huge overlap between veganism, racism, and basically all forms of discrimination, which are all essentially forms of oppression is that there's a huge overlap into psychology of oppression, the dehumanizing of people, and again that's something we'll go more into another episode. But just recognize that there is a lot of legitimacy in understanding how these are all related and that effective activism is something that can work across the board.
It's something that you can keep in mind. There are things that you can do that are helpful and you know maybe struck a chord with you and you've seen that happen with others and then we've also seen activists who've done things that don't strike a chord with anyone and it is an effective it doesn't make people feel like a part of that cause or like they need to listen.
And then there's activism that can absolutely you know, if you overdo it it can be detrimental to you which doesn't really help the cause. So we're gonna talk about all these kinds of things. It's gonna be a shorter than usual episode today.
Sam: Yeah, we want to give you the tools and then have you take action. There is a lot of consumption of media right now and we just didn't want to add another list. We'll link those things in the show notes but we wanted to really give you some things to think about all the different ways that you can be a part of the movement and contribute in whatever way works best for you.
So number one is kind of like what we're doing right now: listening and having conversations with others.
Veren: Yeah, so this doesn't mean approaching just random black people and being like, “tell me everything you feel on this.” Each person is not a monolith, not every person is gonna share the same attitudes and beliefs.
What this means is just have these difficult, potentially very awkward conversations with people. An example of this might be just bringing up current events, hearing other people talk about it, and just joining the conversation. A more particular example that might come to mind for some is that you're sitting with someone and they make a comment that maybe seems callous or shows some kind of lack of understanding or lack of empathy.
It's important that in order to be an ally in a movement that you're willing to have those uncomfortable conversations, especially when the consequences for you speaking out are going to be much less. If you're in a privileged position to be able to speak out, you don't have to worry about the same kind of retribution that historically oppressed people have experienced.
So a specific example: you might be talking to a relative or a family member, and they make a comment that you're like “hmm, I don't know about,” and you're thinking in your head. You should just talk about it. Ask them what that means and what that's about when they make a joke, especially if people make a bad racist joke. Often you want to be like, “What do you mean by that?”
You don't need to immediately just be like “racism is bad!” Ask them to expound on their position, challenge them on that, because just initiating the conversation is the first step.
Sam: Yeah, and understanding that you're not gonna necessarily “get it right every time.” You might think about things more and in retrospect notice times when you could have said something, but maybe didn't because you felt uncomfortable.
If that happens, it’s fine. I mean, it's not fine, but at the same time don't beat yourself up about it and learn from it. We can't be perfect every single moment of the day and it's a process. It's not like you wake up one day and you're like, “okay, I'm gonna be an ally from this day forth and I'm gonna call out racism every single time I hear anything.”
First, you have to recognize when those moments are happening and recognize those comments. More and more, you will start having those conversations and just make them a part of your life and who you are. I've had some conversations recently, talking to people about why “all lives matter” is problematic and it's certainly uncomfortable. It definitely can be easy, especially if you're a non-confrontational person, to just shy away from it, so I completely understand that. But yeah, it is a process to just have conversations.
Even before that, listening to black activists, hearing what they have to say, and learning from them so that you can understand and recognize those kinds of moments. It’s not a linear process necessarily and there are a lot of things that kind of go into it. And again, like Veren said,don't expect or ask people of color to do this work for you. I've seen a lot of black activists on social media being really overwhelmed by white people direct messaging them asking, “what can I do?” And that is on you! There are so many resources out there, you don't need to put a bigger burden on people of color than they already have.
Veren: Yeah, I can give a couple of personal examples of me faltering and not being able to address a racist comment that I found personally offensive, and then I can give an example of when we had a very productive conversation about racism and its history. So the first example - and I'll leave the person anonymous - was just talking about their life, they have a very interesting life, and just casually referred to some people as “spics.” I'm of Puerto Rican heritage that I find personally offensive. That would be the applicable racial slur for me.
But in that instance, in that moment, it was really really really hard to try to talk to that person about it. Sometimes I think, “Oh how could I have addressed that better?” Maybe if it came up again, I could just say, “hey I find that offensive, people find that offensive. You shouldn't just casually drop that, whether you mean harm or not.” So that's like an example. It can happen. It's not gonna always be perfect.
Let’s get into another example that was really good and really productive. The person was very open. You have to watch and read people. We were having a conversation about European politics and it was basically about the issues of immigrants and refugees. We were talking about the history of exploitation that's led to a lot of people of color coming from other continents and moving into European continents. The person we were talking to was like, “Well, what does that have to do with me? I'm not personally racist.”
Then we had the conversation about how that person and everyone else is benefiting from that history of exploitation. Now, a lot of the Western world is experiencing this reverse flow of people, all these people moving over because their countries got ransacked by these other countries. So while you may have not personally done that - this man was white and he was super responsive and receptive about it - while it wasn't him who did that, he benefited from that passive exploitation.
This was a conversation that we were all able to have and he was open about it. He heard it and started to understand. So that kind of change in thinking, next time he's in a position to influence someone else's thinking, we can create a chain of thinking and influence someone else who's in a position of power.
That is how change starts. So sometimes, it can go pretty smoothly. Just have these conversations. It does help to do lots of listening beforehand so that you feel informed about these issues which is going to lead to our next point.
Sam: Yeah, I'm thinking about it now that this should have been point number one. But that's okay. Yeah, so educate yourself on the history of oppression and current oppression. Like we've said, there are so many resources out there: podcasts, blogs, books, social media, Netflix series, documentaries, there are so many.
I think it's also super important to find people that you personally connect with. There are so many voices in the world and you're not going to connect with the way that everyone presents an issue. So look for the people that you resonate with how they talk about something.
Obviously we're part of the vegan community and so I follow different social media accounts by vegans of color. So that's a connection to something else that I'm passionate about. So whatever it is, don't just go on social media and mass follow, every person of color you come across because everyone is so different and has a different way of talking about things.
I think that's really important to point out so again, we'll leave some resources of people that we personally resonate with, but you might not resonate with those people. The info is out there, and part of this work is doing that research. Just spend some time educating yourself. I also want to say that I know I've mentioned social media a lot. A lot of these conversations are happening on social media, and it can be a great place to learn things. But I don't think it should be the only place you learn things or even the primary place that you learn things. It can be way too easy to just scroll and scroll and never really take something in.. You're just jumping from account to account and you feel like you're doing things. Veren had to call me out on being too much on social media recently.
Veren: The thing is that social media can be a great source to hear directly from people who aren't being given a voice in the media. I personally really like the independent news source Democracy Now because they'll interview protesters. It doesn't always have to be an expert, people have valuable perspectives and opinions to share.
But it's just so important that when you educate yourself on these things, that you consider the validity and sometimes how certain people's perspectives have more validity than others. It'd be like a man trying to talk about women's issues versus a woman talking about women's issues. It doesn't mean the man can't have opinions, but his opinions can be wrong. You need to give more weight to the opinions of the people who are being affected by things, the ones that are being oppressed.
So it’s important that you pay attention to the source when you're educating yourself and don't overdo it. You don't need to just listen to everybody. Listen to the people that you connect with, listen to people that are you're going to absorb that information from. This kind of leads to our next point, that what you're doing needs to be effective.
In order to be an advocate, you need to be effectively communicating. An example on social media: people can say things like, “if you don't believe this, then you should unfollow me now.” That kind of stuff can be problematic because the people that might need to be listening to that person are going to unfollow them because they feel attacked personally. And that's not necessarily effective.
I'll give it a specific example within the vegan community. A lot of vegan activism forces traumatic imagery on people without their consent. If someone says, “hey, do you want to see what it's really like in a factory farm?' And the person goes, “yeah sure, send me a video.” You've just gotten consent and you can give that to them.
I think these kinds of things are important to see at times. I mean, we wouldn't have this visceral reaction about George Floyd if people didn't see that video. But that is a traumatic thing to see and it's a complex issue, especially when it comes to dealing with human beings.
So if you're just shocking people or they don't want to look and they turn away, that's not really being helpful. So that can be an example of non-effective communication, whereas instead having a conversation where you hear the person out and listen to their point of view, that can be effective. The truth is a lot of us aren't raised with the tools to being effective communicators.
This is something that you might have to learn. I definitely did growing up. I had to learn how to effectively communicate and express myself and articulate opinions, substantiated opinions, etc.
Sam: Yeah, I think Veren brings up such a good point. And we've listened to some interviews, where some experts call it almost like violence porn. You can feel like you're doing something by witnessing these violent images and videos. And you are, but at some point you have received that message and you need to take action. Watching more violent videos isn't going to help. It's just going to overwhelm you and maybe put you into a state of in-action.
I know for example, like again we always bring this back to veganism, but that is our area of expertise. But I personally cannot handle watching all the animal cruelty videos. I have watched very few of them. I have seen one video of the little chicks being ground up in the machines because they were byproducts of egg production. I haven't watched a lot. I'm getting upset just even talking about it right now. I don't need to watch those videos. I'm already vegan.
For some vegans, they like to and want to watch those things because it reminds them of why they're continuing to be vegan. But for me, I don't need to watch them anymore. So I think that's also really important to remember. In the last couple weeks, I've been definitely watching way too many violent videos. The straw that broke the camel's back was watching the elderly protester in Buffalo, which is where we currently are now actually, and watching him being thrown to the ground have his head cracked open and he started bleeding. Personally, I have experienced head trauma and so that was really traumatic for me to see.
So you’ve got to protect yourself because if you're not taking care of yourself, you're not going to be effective for anyone. That was gonna be a later point, but I think it warrants talking about here when we're talking about how to be an advocate and an ally.
Veren: You have to stay strong yourself, because if you just fall to pieces, you're gonna just feel too overwhelmed to do anything. This leads to our next point, which is protest is absolutely effective but it's absolutely possible to burnout from activism. Protest is absolutely effective for change, including the very many different types of protests that we're seeing. We'll include links because there's a great expert who talks about that. He’s an historian and expert on protest and he's on a podcast if you want to hear about the hard facts about how effective it is and what history has shown us and taught us.
It absolutely is but it can definitely not be effective if you're burning yourself out. Imagine all those people out there protesting, if they were getting burned out all the time. I'd hope that it's not the same people every day. There probably are some people who are going out there and making sure this stuff keeps going on, but if you're gonna get heavily involved in protests, recognize that it is a lot of work. Especially all the police brutality that's going on, don't go back out there if you've been getting injured or hurt or whatever. Be safe. No one's asking you to throw yourself in the line of fire.
Yes, achieving equality will mean sacrificing some of our own privilege absolutely. But that doesn't mean that you have to be going out and sacrificing your safety purposely to get a point across. A lot of these people who are standing up against oppression and brutality, I'm pretty sure if they were given an option, “hey do you want to get pushed over and your head broken open or not?” They probably wouldn't have chosen that. So it's super super important that you take care of yourself and not feel guilty. Maybe you're not up to protesting one day or you have other health matters or just self-care things that you need to take care of.
Sam: Yeah, protests can be super effective and we've been to a lot of protests over the years for animal rights and now we've participated in some Black Lives Matter protests here in Buffalo, but again, it is still a pandemic, so just remember to prioritize your safety. There are so many ways that you can be involved.
Protest is one of those ways and definitely get out there if you feel safe doing so. The energy of protest is great for mobilizing people. You feel part of a movement and that energizes people to go ahead and continue to work towards change. It's just one part of all of these mechanisms that are working together to create change. Veren was just sharing with me this morning some headlines about how there's gonna be a push for police reform and the federal level, right?
Veren: Yeah, in the Senate. Yeah, so protest is again another way. But within your own life, you can create change.
Sam: Yeah, we're mentioning having these conversations and educating yourself, and another way is to look at and change your lifestyle and consumption habits. So at first you might be like, “what does that have to do with black lives matter?” But it absolutely does. You gotta put your money where your mouth is. Are you supporting black-owned businesses? Do you even know any? That might not be something that you ever necessarily thought about before.
I actually came across a really cool website the other day called the Official Black Wall Street and it's a directory for the US - I believe it's only for the US - but for black-owned businesses. You can search by state, so that's a really awesome place to start. It's not a fully comprehensive resource but yeah, just look at where your money is going and what it is supporting.
Veren: Again we're gonna use the veganism example. We've both had a long history of protest. I've been protesting since college. I had a great professor wake me up politically and encourage me to go to certain things. I learned that was a fun energizing way to get involved in things but for a lot of us in positions of privilege, it can be extremely valuable to protest another way, which is through lifestyle consumption. So I'll give the example of veganism. If you don't want to support animal cruelty, you don't eat the animal products.
The same thing goes with supporting black businesses, it can go with businesses that are not treating their workers fairly. A great example - and here's the overlap again - is the meat packing industry. In the meatpacking industry, more than half of their workers are usually people of color, immigrants, people that come through refugee relocation programs. Nobody wants to do these jobs, so guess what? You would actually be helping the cause if you don't support those terrible businesses. If you started to eat more plant-based foods, it would encourage those businesses to grow. I'm sure a lot of these workers would prefer to work in a place chopping up tofu instead of chopping up pieces of animals.
So it's important to understand and not underestimate the power of your lifestyle and consumption. Sam gave an example supporting black businesses, that's a great one. Just look at where your money's going.
Amazon right now is being terrible to its workers and I bet you a huge chunk of them are people of color, immigrants, etc. A lot of these people have to do these jobs because they need to put food on the table. They’d rather do something else, but if they’re undocumented, they're basically they have way less rights and are treated as second-class citizens so this stuff is very important. We're gonna provide more links, but we're just pushing that idea out there with a couple examples. It's not just protest, lifestyle consumption plays a huge part which leads to our next point.
Sam: yeah, I just wanted to add real quick before we move on. You kind of mentioned it briefly: not supporting companies that are not having fair labor practices. But also not supporting companies that are known to be advocating for white supremacy and are actively racist. There are a lot of lists out there, so don't support these companies who might be donating to white supremacist organizations or have all live matter stance or whatever it is.
I know we're talking about changing your lifestyle consumption, which in some ways can seem like the hardest part. But there are so many resources out there and you don't have to do it alone. Again, this is part of creating more change in your life on a daily basis, not just going to a protest one time and like being, “I supported the Black lives matter movement, I check that off. I posted the black square on Instagram, so I'm done. I can feel better and move on.” That's not what this is about. So that's why we again wanted to do this episode and just talk about all the different ways that you can create change.
Yeah, so moving on to our next point. If it's available to you and within your means, you can donate. There are so many organizations and funds and different things that you can donate to. I think it's important to donate to whatever you feel strongly about within this movement. If you feel strongly that education for people of color and lower income communities, if that's really important to you, then donate to causes that are trying to support that. There are so many facets to this. You can donate to bail funds in your local area to get out people who have been arrested because they were protesting. Maybe you don't want to protest yourself, but you can absolutely donate to a bail fund. You could donate directly to Black Lives Matter, there are just so many places that you can put your dollars to good use.
Veren: Yeah and also make sure to check out who's been getting enough money and who hasn't. Some of the organizations have been like, “we've gotten plenty of money, please donate to these other ones.” So again, all this stuff takes research. There's no easy quick route, but so many people have laid down the groundwork and the path ahead of you. They're making it easier than ever before to be supportive.
Money is such a huge part of this. Put your money where your mouth is. Donating can be that direct way to do it.
Sam: Yeah, it's a quick and easy way to get involved. Sso to our last point, and we've already been interlacing this into this whole conversation because it is so important, but just to leave you here: don't neglect your mental health and self-care. I know I had to remember this, Veren had to very nicely remind me of this point. Don't just be on your phone all the time looking at these things and feeling helpless.
Dedicate some time, each week or each day in a small way. Such as, I’m going to listen to a podcast on this today. I'm gonna have a conversation today. I'm going to really sit down and reevaluate where I'm spending my money. Whatever it is, make this an ongoing process. Activism burnout is so real. I know we’ve mentioned her on the podcast before, but Melanie Joy is a psychologist who has actually written a book called “The Psychology of Oppression.” She talks about these ideas a lot in her work, how activists can burn out. and she coined a phrase called secondary STSD.
Veren: I'm not sure if she coined it, but it's a very real thing.
Sam: Well, I know she's talked about it a lot and so she has talked about if you look at too many animal cruelty videos, you're literally having trauma from watching those videos. It's the same thing from watching all these horrific videos of police brutality and deaths literally videotaped. Watching those things is necessary sometimes to understand what's going on. But again it is important to remember to take care of yourself as well and not just be watching these videos on repeat.Watch things, listen to things, understand, and then take action and take care of yourself.
Veren: I think again a point to reiterate, or maybe I haven't said already, is that again all these things we witness, we choose to consume through the media. This is still a choice, we are consenting, we were still making a decision to watch these things. There's so many terrible things going all over the world - and this is not to lessen anyone else's plight - but you can't solve everything. You can definitely spread yourself thin, thinking that you need to fix everything, and the truth is that while there are so many of us in America that are super privileged, that does not mean we're at the top of the totem pole in terms of power.
Even the whole rich class of the world couldn't just solve things. That’s a bigger topic, to not go into this episode, but my point being is that you can absolutely use your privilege to help others and uplift others, but don't feel burdened to have to solve everything. There's only so much you can do. This is where the whole activism burnout can absolutely happen.
I've read about what's going on in Yemen, and how 80% of the population there relies on foreign aid. You can definitely help donate to that for sure. Maybe you're just gonna have to make a choice and if you were choosing between that and something in Palestine and something in the US, guess what? There are probably three or four other terrible things that you don't know about that you could be making a choice between. So recognize that you just happen to see those things. It is not on you to solve everything. But what's effective is that you zero in and focus on the stuff that you can absolutely make a difference in.
Sam: Yeah, I mean, I think that's a pretty good place to end things unless you have some other things to add?
Veren: Yeah, also don’t forget to vote and contact your local representatives to make your voice heard.
Sam: Thank you for listening and again, please check out the show notes for this episode because there will be a lot of resources there for you to take action.