How to be a Community Activist

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Communications Coordinator

Community activism can take all kinds of forms. All who care about the wellbeing of their communities and want to make a difference can be community activists.  Start by joining the ACLU of Texas Community Action Network (CAN).

Sure, there are famous activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or Gandhi, whose lives were dedicated to a cause.  But remember, King marched the streets of Montgomery long before he led the March on Washington.  He started his fight for civil rights at home, in his own community.  Perhaps more importantly, there were brave people that stood behind King and Gandhi, countless unnamed people who supported them in every city and town. Countless unnamed people, who may have never been in the limelight, were just as crucial to bringing about change.  Social change takes time and it takes dedication.  Because it can be a frustratingly slow process, making change happen requires the involvement of everyday people who may not even consider themselves “activists.”

Many of our members and supporters sign up for ACLU of Texas action alerts, where each week, in less than a minute and from their computers, they support our work.  (Yes, this does make a difference – and even a bigger difference if you also ask your friends and family to do the same).  But, these members have been coming to us and telling us that want to do more.  They want to get out in their communities, educate and involve their friends and neighbors, improve their local governments and schools, change hearts and minds, and make a difference that they can feel.  That is the heart of community activism.

Changing ideas into action takes time and thought.  The ACLU of Texas offers various ways to get more involved – to become a community activist.

–          Our conference on community activism on November 5, in Houston, will assist those of you who want to make a difference in your community.  Successful activists will speak about what goes into a campaign, and how to effectively spread your message and educate your community members.

–          Our new Community Action Network (CAN) is a way for you to connect more closely with our four priority campaigns: Youth Rights, Religious Freedom, Criminal Law Reform, and Immigrants’ Rights.  Through the CAN, the ACLU of Texas will train you and support you as you make a difference in your community.  We will match your skills and interests with our work on these important issue areas.

–          In the upcoming months we will be launching our Community Watchdog Toolkit, an online source with helpful information on how to advocate for change in areas beyond our four strategic campaigns.  Stay tuned!

But in the meantime, here are a few general ways to be a community activist:

–          Write a letter to the editor of your local paper.  It is easy to “mail” it online through the newspaper’s website. That is a great way to bring attention an issue you think your community ought to know about.

–          Speak with friends, family, and neighbors.  Find like-minded people by checking community calendars, public libraries, coffee shops, college campuses, and neighborhood centers for speakers and events.  Attend these events, show your support, and meet people who care about the same things as you.

–          Go door to door and register people to vote.

–          Hold elected officials accountable. Call and write your representatives when they disappoint you.   Talk other people into doing the same.  And, be sure to thank your elected officials when they do the right thing.

–          Start a book club with a social justice theme or host a movie night to bring attention to an issue.

–          Do you have money, but no time?  Donate to a group (yes, the ACLU of Texas would be preferable) whose work you support.

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