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Civil rights activists at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom during the Civil Rights Movement in 1963
A Women's Liberation march in Washington, D.C., 1970

Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental reform or stasis with the desire to make improvements in society. Forms of activism range from writing letters to newspapers or to politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing businesses, rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, and hunger strikes.

One can also express activism through different forms of art (artivism). Daily acts of protest such as not buying clothes from a certain clothing company because they exploit workers is another form of activism. Research has begun to explore how activist groups use social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.[1][2]

The Online Etymology Dictionary records the English words "activism" and "activist" (in the political sense) from 1920[3] and from 1915[4] respectively.

Types of activism

Activists can function in a number of roles, including judicial, environmental, internet (technological) and design. Historically, most activism has focused on creating substantive changes in the policy or practice of a government or industry. Some activists try to persuade people to change their behavior directly (see also direct action), rather than to persuade governments to change or not to change laws. Other activists try to persuade people to remain the same, in an effort to counter change. For example, the cooperative movement seeks to build new institutions which conform to cooperative principles, and generally does not lobby or protest politically.

In his 2008 book, Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution,[5] Douglas Schuler suggests something he calls an activist road trip, whereby activism and road trips are merged into an activity that can be pursued on geographical levels that range from neighborhood to international.[6]

Activism is not always an activity performed by those who profess activism as a profession.[7] The term activist may apply broadly to anyone who engages in activism, or be more narrowly limited to those who choose political or social activism as a vocation or characteristic practice.

Judicial and Citizen activism

Judicial activism involves the efforts of public officials. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. - American historian, public intellectual, and social critic - introduced the term "judicial activism" in a January 1946 Fortune magazine article titled "The Supreme Court: 1947".[8] Activists can also be public watchdogs and whistle blowers, attempting to understand all the actions of every form of government that acts in the name of the people and hold it accountable to oversight and transparency. Activism involves an engaged citizenry.[9]

Environmental activism

Environmental activism includes the efforts of activists who align themselves with EarthFirst! or Road Protestors. Local community fighting to stop a park or green from getting sold or constructed on would also be included as part of a broader conservationist goal. Every year more than 100 environmental activists are killed: a Global Witness report[10] found that in 2014 at least 116 environmental activists were assassinated,[11] and in 2015 at least 185 activists were killed around this planet.[12] However, the expressions, aims and consequences of activism vary by region.

Internet activism

Since the 1990s, the Internet has been a tool used by activists for mobilization and communication of causes. Specific platforms like, founded in 1998, allow individuals to establish petitions and movements for social change. Protesters in Seattle in 1999 used email to organize protests against the WTO Ministerial Conference.[13] Throughout the 2000s, protesters continued to use social media platforms to generate interest.

The power of Internet Activism came into a global lens with the Arab Spring protests. People living in the Middle East and North African countries that were experiencing revolutions used social networking to communicate protests, which put the issues in front of an international audience.[14]

They use different means to avoid political persecution, such as Tor Browser (a browser that uses Tor network to protect users' identity, IP address, network or location), and encryption data tools and encrypted mails to prevent governments or anyone else intercepting their communications.

Design activism

'Design activism' is a conceptualization that occurs across various communities of practice and can be associated with diverse initiatives such as transition movement, speculative design,[15] design futuring,[16] activist systems,[17] biopolitics[18] and others. One working definition of design activism describes it as "design thinking, imagination and practice applied knowingly or unknowingly to create a counter-narrative aimed at generating and balancing positive social, institutional, environmental and/or economic change."[19]


The longest running peace vigil in U.S. history, started by activist Thomas in 1981.

There are a wide range of methods used for activism including:

Activism industry

Some groups and organizations participate in activism to such an extent that it can be considered as an industry. In these cases, activism is often done full-time, as part of an organization's core business. Many organizations in the activism industry are either non-profit organizations or non-governmental organizations with specific aims and objectives in mind. Most activist organizations do not manufacture goods,[] but rather mobilized personnel to recruit funds and gain media coverage.

The term activism industry has often been used to refer to outsourced fundraising operations. However, activist organizations engage in other activities as well.[20]Lobbying, or the influencing of decisions made by government, is another activist tactic. Many groups, including law firms, have designated staff assigned specifically for lobbying purposes. In the United States, lobbying is regulated by the federal government.[21]

Many government systems encourage public support of non-profit organizations by granting various forms of tax relief for donations to charitable organizations. Governments may attempt to deny these benefits to activists by restricting the political activity of tax-exempt organizations.

See also


  1. ^ Obar, Jonathan; et al. (2012). "Advocacy 2.0: An Analysis of How Advocacy Groups in the United States Perceive and Use Social Media as Tools for Facilitating Civic Engagement and Collective Action". Journal of Information Policy. SSRN 1956352Freely accessible. 
  2. ^ Obar, Jonathan (2014). "Canadian Advocacy 2.0: A Study of Social Media Use by Social Movement Groups and Activists in Canada". Canadian Journal of Communication. SSRN 2254742Freely accessible. 
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "activism". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2015. 
  4. ^ Harper, Douglas. "activist". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2015. 
  5. ^ Schuler, Douglas (2008). Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262693660. 
  6. ^ "Activist Road Trip". Public Sphere Project. 2008. Retrieved 2015. 
  7. ^ "Introduction to Activism". Permanent Culture Now. Permanent Culture Now. Retrieved 2011. 
  8. ^ Keenan Kmiec in a 2004 California Law Review article
  9. ^ "Politically Active? 4 Tips for Incorporating Self-Care, US News". US News. 27 February 2017. Retrieved 2017. 
  10. ^ "Report | How Many More?", Global Witness, 20 April 2015.
  11. ^ Cronin, Melissa, "Map: 116 environmental activists were killed in just one year",, 4 March 2016.
  12. ^ Holmes, Oliver, "Environmental activist murders set record as 2015 became deadliest year", The Guardian, 20 June 2016.
  13. ^ Smith, Jackie (2001). "Globalizing Resistance: The Battle of Seattle and the Future of Social Movements". Mobilization: An International Quarterly. 6 (1): 1-19 – via Allen Press Miscellaneous. 
  14. ^ Sliwinski, Michael (21 January 2016). "The Evolution of Activism: From the Streets to Social Media". Law Street. Retrieved 2016. 
  15. ^ Dunne, Anthony; Raby, Fiona (2013). Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. 
  16. ^ Fry, Tony (2008). Design Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice. Oxford: Berg. 
  17. ^ Roudavski, Stanislav; Jahn, Gwyllim (2016). "Activist Systems: Futuring with Living Models". International Journal of Architectural Computing. 16 (2): 182-196. doi:10.1177/1478077116638946. 
  18. ^ Da Costa, Philip; Kavita, Fiona (2008). Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. 
  19. ^ Fuad-Luke; Alastair (2009). Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World. Sterling: Earthscan. 27. 
  20. ^ Dana R. Fisher, "The Activism Industry: The Problem with the Left's Model of Outsourced Grassroots Canvassing Archived 5 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine.", The American Prospect, 14 September 2006
  21. ^ New Federal Lobbying Law Reporting Periods Begin

Further reading

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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