Essay: 3 steps to releasing your inner activist — reflections on the Women's March on Philadelphia
The state of activism in Philadelphia, and indeed throughout the United States and the world, is evolving. Reacting to the fears many marginalized groups feel during the Trump presidency, tens of thousands of newly "woke" people have realized their voices deserve to be heard. As a new activist myself, I wonder how to sustain this enthusiasm for a movement that is by no means new.
Recently I heard Councilwoman Helen Gym speak about the three stages of activism within a movement: Give, go, and grow. I think that is a perfect description of what has been happening over the 60+ days since the Women's March on Philadelphia.
The simplest step for most people. You can give your money and/or your time, and we've seen so many people do this in recent weeks and months. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have seen all-time highs in both the volume and size of donations.
Newly minted activists are all over social media and in the streets. They are writing postcards and making phone calls to let their elected representatives know what they think. They are completing calls to action and spreading the word among their friends. They know the names of the White House Cabinet members, maybe all the Cabinet members, and they know more about the workings of our democracy than they ever have before. They are forming groups with their friends and with like-minded strangers.
Most of these fledgling organizations are run entirely by volunteers (that is certainly true for Philly Women Rally!) who may or may not have had any formal experience with community organizing in the past, and their efforts have been effective.
The next step in most activists' evolution. Go is all about showing up. Whether it is a march with 50,000 of your newest friends on the Ben Franklin Parkway or a spontaneous protest at the airport, tens of thousands of women and their allies have proved they are willing to go when one of their compatriots puts out the call.
The thing that is most remarkable to me about this phase of our new-found activism is that we've sustained it. At Philly Women Rally, we knew the Women's Marches were just the beginning of the work that needed to be done, but there was no guarantee that all these newly mobilized people would agree with us. Showing up is hard work, and it can be tiring. The fact that so many of us have continued to do so renews a great deal of my faith that this is still the America that I have always known and loved.
By far the most difficult stage to achieve. It is how we go from being loosely associated activists to becoming a movement. It means getting outside of our comfort zones and meeting people we don't know. It means getting to know people who don't look like ourselves and making sure that all kinds of women's voices are being heard. It is learning about things our varying degrees of privilege have protected us from for our entire lives. It is crossing the aisle, the street, the tracks, to learn what other people feel and experience. It means being uncomfortable, and it might mean giving up a little of our own privilege so that those without can have more. It means considering the work we are doing through the lens of different races, sexualities, religions, and abilities and understanding how those different races, sexualities, religions, and abilities intersect. It also means making certain we take care of ourselves and making certain our allies take care of themselves, too, so that we can sustain the good work we are doing. It is remembering that this is a marathon and not a sprint.
I don't know for sure what the magic formula is to sustain the evolution of the movement, but I am heartened by all the amazing people I have met who share the passion I do for ensuring all women's voices can be heard. I also don't know for sure what all the next steps are to achieve our goal of equality for women of all races, sexualities, religions, and abilities but I am encouraged by the myriad of grassroots ideas and organizations that have come into being. What I do know for sure is that Women's History Month has a brand-new chapter that is still being written and I am so proud to be some small part of it.
Beth E. Finn is founding board member of Philly Women Rally, organizers of the Women's March on Philadelphia.