Becoming a More Effective Activist

There is an epic struggle underway, and nobody should sit on the sidelines. To save ourselves, and to prevent the wholesale extinction of other species, people everywhere must become actively engaged. The right attitude is embodied in Marshall McLuhan's call to arms, "There are no passengers on spaceship Earth. We are all crew."

But being an effective activist requires more than passion alone. It requires skills, a whole bunch of them in fact. It also requires "soft" skills, which are not really trainable, so not really skills as such. We will discuss these as abilities. They are more like talents that need to be nurtured, An effective activist requires skills…much as one would imagine nurturing any capacity that is way more art than science. And being an effective advocate, especially when reaching out to people who may not share your views, requires understandings and attitudes that make possible interactions that are positive, friendly, and productive. These same understandings and attitudes can give you the critically important ability to avoid getting sucked into painful and counterproductive conflicts.

In addition to the articles and resource pages linked in the paragraphs below, aspects of being an effective activist have been discussed in other sections of Democracy & the 2024 Election. The Strengthening Our Democracy Now section includes the articles Many Ways to Be a Pro-Democracy Activist and Making Your Efforts Count the Most. It also includes a resource page Building Community & Building Trust. The Protecting Our Homes & Communities section includes the articles Community Understanding Increases Success, Knowing Your Skills & Your Limits, and Finding the Best Ways to Make a Difference. The Building Up Cooperation Unlocks Hope section includes the articles Priorities for Your Personal Engagement and Making Your Own Efforts Count as well as the resource page Organizations Building Unity & Cooperation. All these pages have something to contribute to how you can be a more effective activist.

Strengthening Your Skills

Skills are at least partially trainable, testable, and measurable. While skill levels may vary due to natural differences in ability, almost anyone can become relatively better at the types of skills covered in this article. These include verbal and written communication, active listening, conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation, trust building, group leadership, group process facilitation, and more. A key set of skills involves improving our ability to manage our own emotions, harnessing them to help us and preventing them from undermining our success. More >>

Nurturing Abilities That Build Success

The abilities described in this article are more difficult to teach, or may be teachable only if approached like an art, teaching by practice, by imitation, and by cultivation of the powers of observation. Abilities include voicing your views in positive terms as much as possible, avoiding giving pointless and unnecessary offense, recognizing unfair arguments and fallacies and not using them, recognizing and diffusing unproductive or counterproductive conflicts, recognizing hidden agreement that may be overlooked in the heat of argument, seeing yourself through the eyes of others and as a result being much smarter about how you present yourself, emotional self-control and self-understanding, being self-aware so you can actually apply in real time what you might otherwise grasp only after reflection, and building your credibility and influence. More >>

From Self-Understanding to a New Attitude

A good attitude is always helpful in persuasive communication, but when attempting to communicate across America's divide, the right attitude isn't just helpful, it is essential. For example, if you are working to expand support for climate action into groups that don't support it now - convincing another fraction of conservatives that climate change is a real and serious problem - you'll have a difficult time getting past preemptive dismissal unless you get your tone of voice right. That requires getting your attitude right, and that in turn requires understanding ourselves much better than we do now. At present, we seem to be caught up in a reciprocally reinforcing negative spiral, feeding off each other's hostility, in a race to totally destroy whatever social capital our country has left. More >>

Resources for Becoming a More Effective Activist

The first set of resource pages below includes organizations, books, and articles on becoming a more effective pro-democracy and voting activist. The second set of resource pages focuses on becoming a more effective activist by using transaction skills: conflict resolution, negotiation, trust building, group facilitation, and effective communication.

Effective at Pro-Democracy & Voting Activism: Organizations

Effective at Pro-Democracy & Voting Activism: Books

Effective at Pro-Democracy & Voting Activism: Articles

Effective in Using Transaction Skills: Organizations

Effective in Using Transaction Skills: Books

Effective in Using Transaction Skills: Articles

Published: August 2020
Revised: August 2023

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