Humanist Guide to Activism

Acting on the climate crisis is something that we must all undertake in our personal lives, but also in our political and social spheres to affect real change! Beginning activism often can seem overwhelming. It’s hard to know where or how to join a movement but the good thing is there’s more than one way to start!

When you think about activism, you may think about protesting in person or speaking at an event for a cause. These are both great ways to be an activist, but they are also on the large scale. Activism does not have to be that big of a task. Activism starts small and can even start in your own home with conversations and postings on social media. 

Here, we provide you with some ways that you can get involved with activism, both small and large!

This guide will help you understand the term activism and put it into practice. We’ll cover:

  1. The differences between the closely related, and often confused, terms: activism, allyship, and advocacy
  2. Ways to be an activist from home and where to start
  3. Ways to be an activist your community and expand your activism
  4. How to lobby for climate change with representatives

What is Activism, Advocacy, and Allyship?

Activism, advocacy, and allyship are three closely related terms that often intersect, but are not the same. Being an advocate involves being aware of a problem, educating yourself and others on it, and speaking up about it. Being an ally involves acknowledging your own privileges, transferring your privilege to others, and standing up for the cause. Activism is a combination of both advocacy and allyship, it means that you are using both advocacy and allyship to act on a problem and create political and social change.

Here, we breakdown how to get involved with climate activism and what you can do. Check out our Guide to Advocacy and Allyship to further understand how to be an effective activist.

Where Do I Start?

Get informed! The first step to being an effective climate activist is to educate yourself on climate science and the needs of your community. Understanding the scientific basis of climate change, the basics of climate policy, and how both of these concepts are affecting communities will help you know what to lobby for and help you feel more confident when lobbying. Our guides on decoding climate policy and the 2018 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change will help you build this background knowledge before you move forward!

After you have a good understanding of climate change and how it is affecting your community, you are probably motivated to act! There are many ways to be an activist from your own home. One of those ways is communication. You have just spent time researching and education yourself, now it is time to spread that knowledge! One of the most effective ways to combat climate change is talking about it, so just sharing your knowledge is an amazing way to get started with activism. 

If you are young, reading this, and thinking what can I do? There are great ways students can be activists too! Greta Thunberg started the Global Climate Strike. There are strikes happening all over the world. Find it in your city here.

A great way to get your voice heard is social media. Your voice reaches far and wide with this tool and is a great way to make your community aware of your priority for climate action! You can use our social media templates found here or make your own post about why climate action is important to you.

Another great way to act on climate, is to volunteer. You can give your time to a group already in place, organize a community event, or even motivate clubs you are already a part of to get involved. There are no specific guidelines to activism. Again, if you are taking steps, even when small, you are helping make a difference!

How Do I Expand?

Now that you have a good grasp on climate change and activism, you may want to expand, join, and even create larger movements. Engaging in sustained actions is extremely important to movements. You can start creating your own movement in your local community or you can use your voice and join larger movements. These movements can include protests in the streets or outside buildings, showing up to town hall meetings, or helping convince your school or town to divest from fossil fuels.

How to Lobby Your Representatives

Lobbying is an important tool for grassroots organizations to get their voices heard by their representatives and to hold them accountable. You can use lobbying to educate your representative about climate change, encourage them to support you, and potentially change their minds if they’re in opposition. Lobbying can consist of letter-writing, in-person visits, emails, or phone calls to a representative.

Lobbying is a complex act, and even more complex to do on your own. Collaboration is beneficial for both you and others when beginning to lobby. There are many organizations at the local, national, and international level that are working to enact progressive policies that help our environment. These grassroots organizations have a great sense of the intricate pathways and are currently working towards goals that will better our world. That’s why it is important to support organizations already in place, whether that be with your time or resources. 

Citizens Climate Lobby has chapters throughout the world and across the United States. Join a local chapter or engage in their national work to support climate action.

Strive for Collaboration

Lots of environmental organizations already exist and have been acting on climate change for a long time. Connecting with a pre-existing organization can benefit you since they probably have extensive knowledge of environmental issues in the area, and it can benefit them since you’ll be able to offer allyship.

Collaboration involves sharing a common goal, respecting each others’ work and mission, and not overstepping boundaries. You shouldn’t try to tell them how to run their organization and they should not do the same to you. Collaboration works best when it surrounds a common goal between organizations, like holding an event together or lobbying for the same piece of legislation. Approaching legislators with other organizations lobbying for the same goal is much more powerful than one group lobbying by itself or every group lobbying for slightly different things. That means that collaboration might mean compromise or cooperation to come up with a common mission. 

Finding other organizations to work with is also important because it builds a more inclusive movement and can add diversity to your campaign. Inclusivity and diversity work hand in hand to deliver stronger asks, smarter movements, and, in the end, better solutions to climate change for all. So when you’re looking for other organizations that are also engaged in the climate fight, ask yourself how they are different from your group or similar. Do they have slightly different focuses or strengths? Do they represent a different group of people or viewpoint than your group? It’s likely that finding partners and allies in various different organizations will broaden your viewpoint and strengthen your movement. Reach out to them to see if they’d be willing to partner with you to help you reach your goals, or ask how you could help them attain their goals!

Key Tips to remember when using your voice for activism

  • Communicate, but also listen. It’s important to use your voice, but it is also important to listen to others! You have your own experiences and knowledge with climate, and so do others. Work together and listen to others voices to create the most inclusive space and experience. You will learn more and be more effective by taking this step!
  • Remember to remove yourself from the story. It’s important to keep climate change and action at the center of the movement. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and take center stage. It is important that the climate action you initiated can continue with or without you.
  • It’s ok to make mistakes. Climate change is an ongoing phenomenon, and climate activism will also change as time goes on. Learn with others, from others, and be willing to make mistakes. It is all a learning process. 

If you haven’t already, check out our Guide to Advocacy and Allyship toolkit. It helps you have background knowledge on how to be an effective and respectful advocate and ally!