What is an Activist?
Activism is a term that conjures up different images in people’s minds. For example, one image of activism would be a ‘hippie’ type person sat in a field wearing a flower crown promoting peace and love by only wearing organic, recycled clothing (I love that idea, wouldn’t life be great if we could all just be like that everyday?).
Another idea of activism would be the ‘aggressive’ type activists, those who break into animal testing facilities and save the animals, the ones who are willing to be arrested and sent to prison because they are so committed to fighting for what they believe in.
In 2016, as technology is undeniably a huge part of most people’s lives, a ‘new’ type of activism are the online activists. The bloggers, the youtubers, the people who share videos and leave comments all over the internet. In 2016, activism is so easy to do, you’re probably an activist yourself to some extent even if you don’t realise it!
And I’m not writing today to insult one form of activism over the other. They’re all good, effective methods which reach out to different types of people. Like pieces of a puzzle, we need all these types of activism to link together and form a bigger picture.
But is there a missing link?
As I look through popular vloggers and bloggers who have made it ‘big’ through social media, they often encourage others to do the same. ‘Be an activist like me, look at how many people you can reach, see how much support you can get!’ – and that’s great. But something that is not considered as often in the activist world is activism through academia. There are so many young people today considering going to university; this blog post is for you, and for those who are already studying at a higher level of education.
Activism in the Academic World
As I am studying anthropology and I am interested in animal rights/environmentalism, this blog post will have a slight bias in that sense, but what I write can probably be applied to many areas of academia and activism. As academics/students, we are encouraged so often to remain objective, but does this mean that we have to agree with and support everything we are studying? No, of course not.
My eyes were first opened to activism within the academic community whilst I was on exchange at the University of Iceland. One of the modules I took was called ‘Disability and Power’, and it was taught by an Anthropology and Disability Studies lecturer. This module taught me that you can combine scholarly research and studies whilst campaigning for change at the same time. Over the past fifty years, the disability rights movement has developed, shifted and changed in leaps and bounds (I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it has improved), and as far as I can see, this is thanks to two factors. Activism and protest on a grassroots level, and research, journal articles, and activism on an academic level. The two different approaches supplement each other to make a more well-rounded campaign, and thus faster movement toward social change and equality.
Activism vs. Remaining Objective
But, disability studies is not my area of expertise, and I’m not educated enough within that community to provide an essay on the topic. Anthropology is a discipline in which I have developed more opinions in, and it’s fair to say it is one of my passions, although some aspects of it frustrate me. The main thing I struggle with about anthropology is remaining objective. Why am I not allowed to give my opinion on certain topics, when from an animal rights perspective some things are so clearly wrong?
The biggest answer to this is the fact that I am an undergrad. For now, I have to deal with it. To get the good marks on essays, I have to remain objective. Interjecting personal opinion over a peer-reviewed journal would give me poor marks. I’m not saying this is wrong, as objectivity and open-mindedness is such an important, useful skill to have. But, as an activist, and in a time where humans as a species are rapidly destroying our planet, objectivity is becoming irrelevant.
Once I graduate and specialise in my area of interest (I want to do a post-graduate study in anthrozoology, looking at relationships between humans and animals), I am going to use my passions as a vegan and an animal rights activist to advocate for social change. And you should all be doing the same. Learn how to jump through hoops, learn how to remain objective, it will teach you how to a) write effective, balanced journal articles and b) provide you with multiple world perspectives. BUT, with our generation of upcoming university graduates, we should be using our technological knowledge, experiences, and passion/compassion for the planet, to shape our disciplines into something that is 21st CENTURY RELEVANT.
The Future of Academia…? 21st Century Activism
Anthropologists have explored ‘exotic’ islands, they have examined kinship relations, they have lived with tribes, they have provided us today with knowledge about our world. But that’s in the past, now. Today, the relevance lies in doing research that can reinforce your activism. To change the world.
And I strongly believe that academics who provide a ‘top down’ approach to the world of activism, will fit hand-in-hand with the youtube vloggers. I feel like Youtube probably appeals to younger viewers (16-25 years old?), whereas published research papers and discussions carried out by a doctor in the field of X subject may provide the necessary evidence and inspiration to speak to older generations, and other academics, who, in turn, will use their positions of power to help a good cause. Like a snowball effect. Maybe it won’t roll as smoothly as the way I have described it here, but right now we should be doing everything in our power to help save the animals and the planet.
So, to the recycled clothing-wearing hippies, to the brave people who will stop at nothing to save animals from pain and suffering, and to the youtubers/bloggers who provide us with amazing, inspirational content – keep doing what you’re doing. Whether you’re reaching out to five or five hundred people, everything you do is having an impact. Any activism is good activism!
And to those who are in university feeling stressed, and confused, and unsure about how to pursue your future, I am urging you to use your power as a person getting a degree, to provide the academic world with professional forms of activism. Learn how to turn the subject that you’re specialising in into something powerful, and use that power to spread the vegan message to all corners of the globe.
It just might be the most important thing you ever do.
This is just my opinion though! I’d love to hear from you what you think. What is the most effective form of activism? Do you think activism has a place in the academic world? Don’t forget to share this page and subscribe to the website for new content. You can also find me on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr for even more!