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What does it take to be an activist in 2019?

I’m surrounded by people who are “doers”. People who care about the state of the world; whether that’s rural education in India, farming practices in Africa, climate change and circularity or the way that businesses conduct themselves across complex supply chains, they all imagine a better and different way of being and are doing their utmost to make that possible.

Back when I was a student, activism as a term was associated with sit-ins or chaining yourself to something in order to make your point. Tie-dye clothing and sandals were generally considered the uniform of that particular tribe.

Though a tactic still deployed by many (uniform more optional these days), and Greta’s been doing her best to galvanise support for climate protests around the world, making a point is no longer enough. Combining direct action with smart advocacy has led to some traction. Getting in front of the folks at the World Economic Forum, the UN and meeting heads of state around the world has led the teenager to influence, or at the very least, start conversations, at policy and corporate levels. When speaking at a recent event, the new Secretary General of Amnesty International spoke of the changes that the organisation will need to make in the way that it engages members as well as stakeholders (including business) on human rights and climate change issues if we can hope to achieve the level of change that is needed. For a while now, the organisation (like others) has switched its approach from picketing at corporate AGMs to getting tactical and buying shares in the companies that it wants to influence so that it gets a seat, maybe not at the table, but definitely in the room.

It comes down to determining where influence is needed and where power ultimately lies.

I’ve spent the last couple of months holding that very question; the problems are many, the need is great and resources are finite – where do I put my efforts?

I attended an event in the last month that seemed to sort that out for me. Four incredible young people talked about how they feel compelled to take action on climate change. There are no choices for this generation, it’s their future that we have disregarded, and they have armed themselves not just with the information, but with the methods and tools to do something about it. From those spreading awareness and galvanising activity through Extinction Rebellion to those that are channelling the power of technology to out-smart the nay-sayers with disruptions that can’t be ignored, this is the generation that isn’t scared to shout loud and do more.

And boy can they articulate themselves. Whilst the “grown-ups” have denied, ignored and prioritised profit over planet, the young people that I’ve met are clear of our role in the cause of climate change and frankly, don’t have the time to waste on that and are far too busy getting on with the task at hand. Despite the despair, the fear and deep anxiety that the state of the world/ planet presents them with, the path is clear; do something or be damned to be the one to choose who sinks or swims. I’ve been filled with mixed feelings when I’ve met these young people; intense sadness because I feel like we’ve failed them, screwed them out of a healthy planet as we’ve tried to make consumers of us all, and then immense pride, because they’re bright enough to see the scam for what it is and they’re rebelling against it, just smarter and better than those that came before.

So, all this said and done, what does it take to be an activist in 2019? Here are a “top three” of the things I’ve been thinking about recently:

  1. I say it so often it feels like a cliché, but breaking down the silos – recognise what they are and tear them down; intergenerational thinking, cross sector collaboration, smart financing (so much of it isn’t), intersectionality – to be an activist and get stuff done, think across, up and down and beyond all lines that have traditionally divided us.

  2. Think smart – where’s the money? That’s usually where the power is unfortunately, so tap into the ways that you can influence that – sell the change that you want to create by making it a no-brainer. It’s the “press it where it hurts” approach at its most tactical.

  3. Moving from “me to we” – unless we see the interconnectedness of the issues that we care about, we’re unlikely to make the systemic change that is required whether climate, human rights, education or healthcare provisions. Complex supply chains will ultimately fail.

Not being an activist is where the problem lies in 2019.

For me, my path is clear – I get to work with these creative, inspiring and unrelenting forces and help them to create the most effective change they can. It’s definitely worth getting out of bed for and luckily for me, doesn’t require the same fashion choices of before.

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