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Six Steps to Becoming a Student Activist

If you’ve looked around the world lately you may have noticed a number of scary things happening. Wars fought in places you hardly thought about before they started. Fires and natural disasters rip through communities like a hot knife through butter. Record temperatures reminding you of an impending climate crisis. Racial inequity in America manifests through violence from law enforcement, the pay gap, the lack of opportunities, and segregation. Someone told you that someday in the near future we will run out of drinkable water. “Fast fashion,” trends are moving so quickly that cheap clothing of yesteryear has dramatically packed landfills. Jeff Bezos EXISTS. You may be wondering what can even be done about these issues. How are we going to fix all of this? 



It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.


As we barrel into the New Year you may be wondering if there is any way that you can help, and maybe you aren’t sure how. In my experience with activism I find the best place to start is to breathe. Take a few more deep breaths too for good measure. You cannot fix everything. No one person can fix anything, but we can make things better if we are able to work together. The first step to healthy activism is to remove the pressure on yourself to right all of the wrongs in the world. Don’t freak out, though the fight is urgent and we need your help. Your mind, your skill set, and your voice are imperative to the struggle in whatever context you are able to get involved. 


The second step is where we really get cooking! To make the most of your advocacy work you need to expand your world. There are plenty of different and excellent ways to get your news, but there are also a few bad ones. Traditional media outlets provide a wide scope of news by touching on a lot of subjects, and newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are excellent sources to learn what is happening locally, state-wide, on a national level, and across the world. There is a price barrier however, and that can make it a less appealing option. Other sources such as Urban Milwaukee, and Milwaukee Independent, provide no cost alternatives for local voices and state news, and for a more national and global perspective outlets such as The Intercept are also excellent sources for reporting.


You may consider cable news as an option to learn more about the world, though MSNBC, CNN, or Fox News should only be consumed critically and should not be your primary source of information. There are many well documented critiques of such profit-motivated news-as-entertainment, and you should consider looking elsewhere. This doesn't mean you have to read all of your news though! NPR is free, and you already have it in your car on 89.7 FM! Democracy Now! Is also an excellent outlet, they have a YouTube show, and a podcast that comes out every morning that gives thoughtful perspective and in-depth reporting on the issues that matter.


So we are not letting ourselves be overwhelmed, we are getting informed on issues, the third step to becoming a student advocate is to pick your battles. Think back on that first paragraph, and consider the things that you are worried about in your global and local communities. It’s all too much! Deciding what issues matter to you the most is the key to this work. You have options here, whether you want to get involved with Climate Justice, LGBTQ+ rights, Immigration justice, anti-war demonstrations, helping with the cities unhoused, or even on-campus advocacy, once you identify the problems that need to be addressed then you can actually get in there and get your hands dirty.


The good news about step 4 is that you probably aren’t the only person who cares about your chosen issue! Look for the helpers. If you care about LGBT+ rights you can get involved with MKELGBT they have an incredible calendar of events on their website and they would LOVE to have you! There is also on campus involvement in this very issue with our very own Rainbow Alliance. If you care more about showing up for racial justice the list of organizations and events you can attend is seemingly endless. On campus the places to get involved are the Black Student Union and Latinx Unidos. There are so many opportunities to get involved!


Of course we are all busy, we are students, we are working, and we have families. Remember, you don’t want to let yourself get overwhelmed!  When finding time to get involved with organizing, assess what you can give. Sometimes that is your time, sometimes that is your money, but you should always remember to organize thoughtfully, and consider how much energy you have. It sounds cliche to say, but self-care really is super important, and you don’t ever want to burn yourself out!


Finally the most important step of becoming a student advocate and getting involved with your chosen issue(s) is to SHOW UP! We can only succeed in our struggles when we show up in numbers. Follow through on your commitments, invite friends and family, post about what you are doing (it's not bragging! You are doing something awesome!) Bring attention to the work, and be there when it matters. The struggle is long, but the work is rewarding. Don’t be afraid to get out there, we are all in this together.


Too Long Don’t Read:

  1. Don’t Freak Out (about all the work that needs to be done)

  2. Get Informed (Follow the news, and expand your world)

  3. Pick Your Battles (you can’t do it all)

  4. Look For the Helpers (find out who is already out there in the struggle)

  5. Assess What You Can Give

  6. SHOW UP (whenever you can, and bring friends)

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