We have big expectations with every new calendar year, but 2020 was meant to be extra special.
It’s a year many of us have looked forward to for much of our lives, with hopes that we’d see profound progress and change.
The year 2020 did deliver change, but it came in the form of upheaval, devastation, and unexpected revelations. In many ways, it feels like the destruction that comes before rebuilding.
For many, anti-Black racism became real this year. There is a deeper understanding of the threat of sexual violence. And the importance of voting has been spotlighted for the broader public.
This is the year we paid attention. We weren’t allowed to ignore systemic issues affecting marginalized people. We were called to action, and we were made to fit our regular lives into a strange new world.
The upside is this new world can be better than the old one. Now that we’ve woken up, what’s 2021 calling us to do?
It’s one thing to be informed about crises, epidemics, and systemic injustice. It’s another thing to take action, and yet another to be consistently engaged in work that can change the world.
For our activism to be sustainable, we have to be realistic in our commitments and make time for rest. Here are eight ways, with varied levels of engagement, to fight the good fight for equality and justice in your own community and beyond.
There’s so much going on that it can be hard to figure out how you can take action. With high demands on your time and energy, you may not be able to make it to meetings and demonstrations. No matter what, you can always work on yourself.
It takes self-awareness and a willingness to be uncomfortable to truly assess your part in upholding systems of injustice. Passive and active forms of oppression need to be recognized and appropriately addressed, and sometimes that means changing habits and increasing personal responsibility.
For example, paying attention to and participating in midterm elections in addition to presidential elections can have a huge impact on your community.
Learn about the inequities you weren’t aware of until recently. What made it possible for the reality of oppression to be removed from your day-to-day experience?
When you figure out what it is, decide what you’ll do about it.
Then think of all the other things you’ve been missing because of the monotony and privilege of your routine.
There was a big rush to purchase books on anti-racist reading lists. That’s been great for bookstores and authors, but it doesn’t go much further if those books aren’t being read.
Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race” is a bookshelf staple. It should be discussed in book clubs, included in curricula, and referenced in academic papers and everyday conversation. If you have the power to make this happen, do it.
Kiley Reid’s “Such a Fun Age” is a great novel with important themes. It highlights the way white people try not to be racist but don’t quite manage to be anti-racist while at the same time being a highly enjoyable read.
Remember that your reading material doesn’t have to be heavy. This is something you can enjoy and share with others.
Read more books in all genres, by women, LGBTQ+ people, migrant people, and people of color. Write reviews of those books, recommend them to other people, and be prepared to have tough conversations about the themes.
We all have our go-to newspapers, nightly reports, and even journalists. They’re often in our own cities, so the focus is likely to be hyperlocal. While it’s great to know what’s happening in our immediate communities, it’s critical to pay attention to regional and international news.
Every now and then, it’s good to watch news reports from other parts of the world that focus on issues different from those you hear about most.
It’s a great way to get perspective, spark ideas, and get encouragement from the wins other people are experiencing. This can shift your focus and re-energize you when it feels like nothing is working and inspiration is running low.
We’ve all got our favorite people on social media. Celebrities, journalists, politicians, major organizations, and friends from far and near fill our feeds with their versions of events.
One of the easiest ways to have an impact is boosting the signal on other people’s work, helping to expand their reach.
Make an effort to follow grassroots organizations, young leaders, up-and-coming activists, funders of nongovernmental organizations, and people who are making good trouble to branch out of the status quo.
Social media is one of the easiest ways to keep your finger on the pulse of the political landscape. Pay attention to what people with smaller platforms are saying and amplify their voices with likes and shares.
One of the issues that isn’t getting enough attention is the violence of the capitalist system. It reduces women and people of color to units of production and labor.
It’s becoming easier and easier to spend money with big businesses where the wealth is concentrated. It doesn’t automatically trickle down to those who need it most.
This is one of the reasons marginalized people put significant focus on entrepreneurship.
You have to spend money anyway, so do your best to support small businesses. Look for a locally-owned bookstore for your next read. Even if they don’t have the books you need, most of them are more than happy to order them.
You can also use Bookshop to order books directly from your local store with the convenience of online ordering.
When you want fresh produce, look for local farmers markets instead of big box names, or order from a Black-owned meal prep service.
“Open your purse!”
You’ve heard it over and over again in 2020, but have you done it yet?
Reading, tuning in to the news, and talking to your family members and friends about the state of the world are all important and take commitment, but they can be incredibly exhausting. If you can afford it, let your money do the work.
Nongovernmental organizations need money to keep their doors open and the heat on. They need to be able to pay vendors and purchase items to continue to offer critical services to their constituents.
Decide on an amount that you can give on a monthly basis. Talk to family members and friends about making a commitment as a group. Every little bit really does count, especially when you’re doing it with others.
Ways to give
It isn’t enough to be on the side of justice. Let your position be known. Don’t simply label yourself an ally. Take action to protect the people you support.
As a person who is not facing a particular form of oppression, you have privilege. Use it to defend others, talk to other people like you, confront oppressive institutions and people, and challenge those institutions and people to take specific actions to benefit the oppressed group.
For example, a resident who is also a citizen has better access to resources as well as decision-makers than migrant people. As a citizen, you can advocate for changes in laws and policies that discriminate against migrant people, and maybe you can help them get the resources and services they need.
When you hear people stating opinions as facts, you can direct them to relevant data. If you’re in spaces where you’re respected because of your relationship to the people in them, you can use that privilege to speak up.
There are a lot of people who want to do more and do better, but they don’t know where to start. Have suggestions ready for people who say they just don’t know what to do.
Know which organizations need volunteers, financial contributions, and in-kind donations. If your friend in human resources wants to help, direct them to an organization helping people with résumés, cover letters, and interview preparation.
When you read a great article, see a great movie, or listen to a podcast episode that really makes you think, share it. Get other people to consume great content and create opportunities to talk about it.
Being a part of change-making work is not easy. It can be exhausting, cost you relationships, and feel never-ending. But the truth is, the alternative is worse. We’ve seen what happens when we do nothing.
Resist the urge to disconnect from the issues. Engage in these eight ways as much as you can, and remember that it’s important to rest. You don’t need to be on at all times. It’s okay to tag-team.
Practice self-awareness, think outside of your own experiences, and challenge the people around you to do the same. The more people you get on your team, the easier the fight will be.
We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the state of the world, but together we have the power to change it.
Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, women’s human rights defender, and writer. She’s passionate about social justice and community building. She enjoys cooking, baking, gardening, traveling, and talking to everyone and no one at the same time on Twitter.