What Does It Mean To Be An Activist?

YEA Camp is a social justice leadership camp that trains aspiring teen and adult activists to make a bigger difference on the causes they care about. But not everybody feels completely comfortable taking on the title of “activist.” Sometimes our campers even insist that they’re not activists — even though they have done all kinds of inspiring things to make the world a better place!

Do you consider yourself an activist? Why or why not? How about if you’re still in high school and not old enough to vote? What if you care a lot but have no idea where to begin?

We at YEA Camp believe that “activist” isn’t a title you earn after attending a certain number of protests or living through a certain number of birthdays, or after achieving a campaign victory. Activism happens all around us every day, and it’s a mentality that can empower us to make a bigger difference in the world.

What does the term “activism” mean to you?

The following excerpt is taken from The Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World, our free ebook that you can download here. We hope it will be a tool to help you make a bigger difference.

What Is Activism?

We at YEA Camp didn’t think any of the dictionary definitions really did this term justice (no pun intended)! So we made up our own definition.

Activism (noun): taking intentional action to help others, with an eye toward the big picture.

By this definition, we consider recycling a can activism if you do it to protect the environment — the big picture. Technically, if your motivation is to get the 5 cent deposit, that wouldn’t qualify as “activism” but still has a great result.

(However, the folks who helped pass laws to ensure people can get 5 cents for each returned can, regardless of the motivation for recycling, are absolutely activists!)

While, by definition, activism helps others, activism can also help you if you are being affected by the problem you are seeking to address. If it helps only you and there’s no bigger picture where others benefit as well, we wouldn’t consider it activism.

Other examples of things you can do that fit our definition of activism:

  • Speak up when someone makes a prejudiced remark
  • Vote or helping others to vote when done not out of one’s own self-interest but what’s best for society.
  • Rescue an animal in need of a home, as a recognition of the big picture that shelters are overpopulated
  • Reduce your ecological footprint like by going vegetarian or vegan (or even just eating less meat), driving less, and buying things second-hand. Again, if you do these things to benefit your health or save money, that’s great! Those have great results for society regardless of the motivation, but they wouldn’t be considered activism by this definition. (We say this not because we’re keeping score, but to clarify what we mean by the term “activism.”
  • Raise or donate money for any not-for-profit cause. This could include finding a cure for a disease, helping a family in need, or an NGO.

Do you see the “eye for the big picture”? Activists see the need to do something when the government is not properly addressing or funding efforts to solve our problems, such as by providing affordable health care or safety nets. We could go on all day.

Here are some examples of YEA Campers doing activism –lobbying, leafleting, marching, and fundraising!

We actually do a workshop at YEA Camp called “A Million Ways to Make a Difference” because the possibilities are really never-ending.

The point is: We bet you’ve done plenty of activism already.

So are you an activist?

By our definition, we consider most people activists for something, even if they don’t realize it or think of themselves that way.

We see activism as something people do with different levels of regularity, commitment, and effectiveness. Most people consider someone an activist when that person has done “enough” activism to be worthy of the title. But this “enough” is an imaginary, arbitrary level that we can each decide and claim for ourselves.

We see activism as a perspective and a mindset that leads us to take certain actions.

At YEA Camp, we attract campers who have a wide range of experience.  Some are just starting out, while others have been doing some form of activism since they were little. We think of it like everybody who cares about something is an activist at heart. Some of us just need some more direction and focus to follow through.

Of course, there can be activists for “good” and “bad” causes. There are even people doing things that might unintentionally be counterproductive to their goals.

Ultimately, activism means helping those without power who are experiencing something harmful that could be stopped by societal action.

As activists, we need to figure out what those actions are, and how to make them happen.

Adopting an Activist Mindset

So, what’s the difference whether or not you think of yourself as an activist?

When you have an activist mindset, you start being on the lookout for how you can make the world a better place. You start taking actions (big or small) to bring about the change you wish to see.

When you think of yourself as someone who is making a difference, you start behaving differently. You think about how you can be more effective. You take action in the direction you want the world to go.

We think activists are heroes. They (we!) are devoting time, energy, or money and making sacrifices for the greater good.

Thank you for being an activist!

Now that you hopefully consider yourself an activist, want to learn more about making a bigger difference?

Download our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World, to get tons of resources to help you make a bigger difference. Better yet, have even more fun by joining us at YEA Camp this summer! YEA Camp will be holding youth camps for 12-17-year-olds in Massachusetts and California, as well as YEA Camp for Adults! Join us at the amazing Woodstock Farm Sanctuary just outside New York City the week of 4th of July. Hope to see you there!