We Can’t All Be Social Justice Warriors – Does Another Role Fit Better?

A sign that says "Fight today for a better tomorrow" amidst several people at a protest.
Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

I describe myself as a Social Justice Bard, rather than a Warrior.

I write blogs and books about causes that are important to me. I share and uplift the stories of others, especially those taking direct action or directly experiencing injustice. I sign up for email lists like Anti-Racism Daily to educate myself and unpack my privilege and bias. I support Black artists and activists on Patreon and contribute to bail funds and other fundraisers to give money directly to BIPOC in need or uplifting activism.

This is how I show up.

It could be better. I could get over my distaste for the phone and call my senators instead of sending emails. I could volunteer to text bank or send letters and postcards to mobilize voters and activists. The list of things I could be doing is infinite.

But here’s the truth: We all need to show up, imperfectly, doing what we can, to make the changes we want to see.

I’m not as physically able as others to be marching in the streets or knocking on doors in my neighborhood. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue team up to burn me out for days after strenuous activity, made worse by extreme temperatures.

So I write. I retweet. I sign. I share. I give. I pay.

Hand-wringing over not doing enough keeps you in guilt and centering your feelings of inadequacy over actually showing up and doing the work.

Do what you can, and be intentional with your bandwidth to do more direct action toward the causes you believe in as you are able.

How 2020 Changed Activism

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted for the masses social inequities that BIPOC and leftist organizers have been talking about forever. We’ve seen how a lack of available healthcare impacted the working class, how minimum wage workers were deemed “essential” without long-term pay increases, how the working class, immunocompromised, and elderly were sacrificed for the sake of the “economy,” and how disparities in healthcare access for Black people led to higher risk of COVID complications without acknowledging the racist biases present in our hospitals and medical community.

In May, the death of George Floyd sparked a renewed swell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, with protests around the entire world in support of Black lives. Specific protests for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Elijah McClain gained particular attention.

The summer was marked by a surging movement of activism calling for social change but with the coronavirus pandemic affecting how people interact with one another, many of these calls to action took place online.

NBC: A summer of digital protest: How 2020 became the summer of activism both online and offline

Lack of company transparency and support for the Black Lives Matter movement also led to several people (myself included) quitting their jobs in 2020, whether in solidarity or for their own safety and security.

While “armchair activism” or “slacktivism” (only participating in activist causes from home or online) used to be treated as a lesser form of activism, the fact that people were stuck at home in 2020 while our society experienced several major social movements meant that work-from-home activists were doing just as much for the cause as anyone else, albeit in different ways.

As the pandemic has unfolded, we’ve seen people from all walks of life mobilise to protect, support, educate and entertain from behind their screens. Personal trainer Joe Wicks launched digital PE classes to support parents who suddenly became homeschoolers. Communities across the UK formed Facebook and WhatsApp groups, banding together to help the vulnerable in their areas where the government fell short. And brands from Google to Guinness donated millions to support local healthcare systems, communities and industries.

We Are Social: How Armchair Activism Became a Force for Change During COVID-19

Coming out of a year that finally opened many people’s eyes to racial and class disparities in American society, we mobilized, created mutual aid programs, and saw a surge of new members to working class activist groups like the Democratic Socialists of America.

We know that we want to do something. But many of us feel pulled in so many different directions and want to contribute as much as we can to as many causes as possible.

The Social Change Ecosystem Map

Feeling pulled in all those different directions is the perfect time to get clear on what your role truly is in our social equity landscape (or ecosystem, as this resource highlights).

This incredible resource from the Building Movement Project names ten roles people may embody as activists working toward a more just and equitable world.

In the center, a yellow circle includes the words "Equity, Liberation, Justice, Solidarity" and has ten curved lines reaching out to other colored circles. The ten circles are labeled Weavers, Experimenters, Frontline Responders, Visionaries, Builders, Caregivers, Disrupters, Healers, Storytellers, and Guides.
Deepa Iyer, Building Movement Project. SM, © 2018 Deepa Iyer. All rights
reserved. All prior licenses revoked.

The ten roles are listed below, and a PDF version is available for download here from the Building Movement Project website.

All of these roles are important in the fight for a just, equitable, liberated world. Which means that none of us can do everything, and that the differences in your activism could mean inspiring, uplifting, and healing others — and you thought you weren’t doing enough just because your feet weren’t on the ground.

When you are worried about not being or doing enough, look for the evidence of your work’s impact. I bet you’ll find it.

Which roles sound most like you?

  • Weavers: I see the through-lines of connectivity between people, places, organizations, ideas, and movements.
  • Experimenters: I innovate, pioneer, and invent. I take risks and course-correct as needed.
  • Frontline Responders: I address community crises by marshaling and organizing resources, networks, and messages.
  • Visionaries: I imagine and generate our boldest possibilities, hopes and dreams, and remind us of our direction.
  • Builders: I develop, organize, and implement ideas, practices, people, and resources in service of a collective vision.
  • Caregivers: I nurture and nourish the people around me by creating and sustaining a community of care, joy, and connection.
  • Disruptors: I take uncomfortable and risky actions to shake up the status quo, to raise awareness, and to build power.
  • Healers: I recognize and tend to the generational and current traumas caused by oppressive systems, institutions, policies, and practices.
  • Storytellers: I craft and share our community stories, cultures, experiences, histories, and possibilities through art, music, media, and movement.
  • Guides: I teach, counsel, and advise, using my gifts of well-earned discernment and wisdom.

The Social Change Ecosystem Map is an invaluable resource, especially after the last year of social causes that have continued to demand advocacy, education, and mobilization.

“As an individual, you can use it when you need a re-set, when you feel stuck, burned out or
confused, or when you don’t know how to begin. I use it often when there is a community crisis and
don’t know how to respond. For example, people have been using the framework to figure out
their roles during COVID-19, in the struggle for Black liberation, and for post-election response.”

Social Change Ecosystem Map. Deepa Iyer, Building Movement Project. SM, © 2018 Deepa Iyer. All rights reserved. All prior licenses revoked.

The map comes with a downloadable PDF of prompts and exercises to help you find the role that fits you best. Once you know your role with greater clarity, focus on those types of activities. By being focused on the activist opportunities that best combine your talents and instincts with the needs in the social justice community, you will have a much easier time staying clear on your particular path to activism. Ideally, using this framework will help you avoid burnout from trying to do everything.

Activism Ideas for Beginners

If you’re just getting started in your social justice activism or you’re looking to get clarity and reduce the “must do all the things” candle you’re burning at both ends, here are some action steps you can take:

  • Sign up for Anti-Racism Daily and support their work on Patreon for $7 a month
  • Explore your local non-profits, mutual aid groups, and Black Lives Matter chapters for opportunities to help in-person, virtually, or financially
  • Adjust your budget to set up recurring reparations payments or non-profit donations
  • Contact your representatives (use ResistBot, your reps’ websites, email, or phone calls)
  • Call out oppressive comments from your friends and family on social media and around the dinner table
  • Consume the art, writing, and work of Black and Indigenous People of Color; not just their work about racism and social justice, but their art and fantasy novels and cosplay too

Share your own experiences with activism in the comments, I would love to hear from you and celebrate the work you do!

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