What is activism?

Julia Armstrong
29th January 2023

My personal journey of activism 

I have been brought up by a power house of a woman who has been an animal rights activist for probably 50 years. She is tirelessly a voice for the voiceless. She has spent her life going to protests, demonstrating and actively trying to disrupt and stop animal torture and harm. So if you had asked me a year or two ago what activism was I would have said, going to demonstrations in London, shouting through a mega phone trying to get the powers that be to listen, signing petitions, handing out leaflets. 

As I have progressed in my career as a social worker I found it increasingly difficult to be an activist as essentially working for a local authority is working for local government. Most local authorities I am sure will provide mandatory training to staff including mandatory training around PREVENT. This is a 2011 government strategy to prevent and reduce radicalisation and extremism in relation to terrorism. But did you know that this includes anything that the government deem ‘extreme’ and against British values and includes animal rights activists. These ‘fundamental British values’ are taught in schools to all of our children as part of their ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.’ I don’t know about you, but I think that morals and values are subjective, people have different cultures and I am pretty sure I don’t have a lot in common with the white British privileged older gentleman who were educated in some posh private school making up what ‘British values’ are. I also think that spirituality, as well as social and cultural norms change, grow and develop along with the societies in which we live in. I wonder if these ‘fundamental British values’ are keeping up with our ever evolving national and global landscape. I mean one of my values as a British person is to treat humans with kindness, respect and dignity – I wonder if the governments policies on immigration are showing fellow human beings kindness, respect and dignity. 

The government have also gone one step further in controlling what they deem ‘extreme’ and acceptable behaviour from the British public. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, now restricts the publics right to protest, the public’s right to demonstrate, the public’s right to stand together as a community and fight for what they believe in. If you look over the course of history, some of the biggest changes have taken place due to people fighting for their collective voice to be heard, demonstrating, protesting. The Civil Rights Movement was led by Martin Luther King Jr in the US, who fought to end the LEGAL segregation of African Americans in the United States. The Suffragettes fought for women’s right to vote. More recently we have seen movements from Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter. With the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, these courageous acts that have changed history would be illegal and an arrestable offence. (Please note that the PREVENT strategy also includes non violent forms of ‘extremism.’) I would argue that if our government were acting in the best interests of the British public, we wouldn’t need to protest. If the British government were addressing systemic and institutional racism from the top down making actual change, we wouldn’t need to take to the streets to shout that BLACK LIVES MATTER. If the government were looking at what is best for the British public and human’s existence and longevity in this world instead of looking at capitalist gains, we wouldn’t need people to take to the streets to shout about the climate crisis. 

Different forms of activism

I have now left working for local government as I felt that this was against my morals and values as a human being on the planet and now work as an independent social worker. It has allowed me the freedom to be able to resume my intrinsic role as an activist. But, what I have started to learn in the last 12 months is that there are different forms of activism and it doesn’t have to just mean going to London to a protest, holding a placard and shouting through a megaphone whilst handing out leaflets. Whilst this historically has been affective and has been affective in recent months and years, I think that there other ways to be an activist, what with the ever evolving internet and social media landscape. 

I spoke to a colleague recently who said that their form of activism is standing alongside someone and supporting them to tell their story, to give them and their experiences a voice. A voice for the voiceless. I know that there are many amazing grassroots movements which seek to empower people to mobilise themselves to support their own change and give them a voice. A voice for the voiceless. I am still trying to work out what all my ways of being an activist are, but one of them is Your Nature. Your Nature and its related website and social media is a way of sharing information and knowledge and helping to educate people. Nelson Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use the change the world.’ Alice Walker said that “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet” – this resonates with me. I think it is my duty to be an activist. I am also aware that at times I find this fighting from the bottom up approach extremely frustrating as I feel so small and insignificant in trying to fight against the systemic issues not only nationally and globally. But all I know is that doing something is better than doing nothing. Also collectively and united as a community we are more able to create wider more far reaching change. John Lewis a Freedom Fighter said “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” 

How to be an activist 

I would urge you to think about how you can be an activist. What is it that you find unfair, unjust, against your morals and values? What are you going to do about it? 

Please like, comment and share and let’s get people talking about activism. 

Meet the author(s)

Julia Armstrong

Lecturer | Social Worker
I qualified as a social worker in 2011 having graduated from Bournemouth University and went onto work in adult statutory services until 2022. During this time I spent 10 years working in drug and alcohol services and then the latter years as a Best Interests Assessor for the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) Team. I now work as an Independent Social Worker under the name Your Nature. This includes independent DoLS assessments, independent Practice Educator roles and working part time at Bournemouth University as a lecturer in social work.
View full profile
NCCDSW © 2024. All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy
Website Design Dorset - Good Design Works
Skip to content