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Let’s say you, like so many others, care about social justice. Let’s say you want to build a better world by helping erase oppression, and facilitate resistance against the power structures which prop up the disenfranchisement of marginalized groups. Let’s say you, for literally any reason, have decided that marching in the streets and taking part in large protests just isn’t the right role for you.
It turns out, there are a wide range of options available to you to further the causes you care about, even if you are unable to participate in direct action, or other demonstrations. Not sure where to start? Here are some suggestions:
- Find out who does legal support work in your area, and ask how you can help: between helping conduct Know Your Rights workshops, answering phones for the legal hotline, tracking down arrested people, communicating with worried family members, doing administrative work for attorneys doing pro bono defense work, and everything else that needs doing in the activist legal field, there is almost always a need for more help in this area.
- Support people at their court dates: find out when people who have been arrested have to appear in court. Check in to see whether they’d like support, if you can. If this isn’t possible, show up, be well behaved, and make sure they know they don’t have to endure the dehumanizing process of being shuffled through the court system alone.
- Write to prisoners: whether it’s someone whose case is ongoing, but cannot afford bail, or someone who was unable to beat their case and is now serving time, writing to incarcerated people is a wonderful way to remind them that they still matter to people, and that they are supported in their struggles. All prisoners are political prisoners, and all prisoners deserve reminders that they are cared for.
- Support campaigns for incarcerated people: people who are imprisoned are both in dire need of income, and also largely cut off from sources of income. Fundraising for prisoners may look like raising funds for their commissary, funds to help support their children, money for their families so that they can afford the exorbitant prices for accepting phone calls from their incarcerated loved one, bail funds, and legal defense/appeal funds. Other support for prisoners may look like campaigns to send them books and/or magazine subscriptions, organizing visits from comrades, facilitating visits from family, providing childcare, and generally helping a prisoner’s family survive while their loved one is incarcerated.
- Providing emotional and/or material support to those who DO engage in demonstrations and/or direct action: this may look like holding space for friends while they unpack trauma caused by police repression, cooking a meal, helping with some chores, being willing to talk about anything BUT what they’ve just experienced, offering to cover shifts for them at work if they are arrested (or simply too tired/traumatized to go into work), offering to feed their animals if they are incarcerated, offering to babysit while they go to a demonstration, offering rides to people who need to get out quickly, being an emergency contact for someone attending a protest, and more.
- Doing actual educational labor around social justice issues: this means you actually check in and engage, one-on-one with people when they say something crappy, rather than standing on a soapbox and talking about how you are superior to them. This may mean recommending resources for further reading, linking to studies which demonstrate how they are wrong, and patiently rephrasing your point until you land on phrasing that actually sticks. This means speaking to people as equals, and generally means assuming that they have good intentions and bad information, rather than the inverse. This means engaging rather than blocking, and it usually means a *private* discussion, because a public discussion is often too embarrassing to be productive. This may also mean being a trustworthy resource for people who are working on their shit, so that they know they can come to you without receiving judgement or ridicule, and without having their confidence broken, to ask questions about doing better.
- Checking in with people doing support work: support work, especially in the cases of medics, legal workers, and anti-repression work, can be an emotionally taxing and highly traumatic experience. The secondary trauma which comes from diving into repression-filled environments in an effort to pull others out is a heavy burden to carry, and having community members check in and shoulder some of that burden means that those doing the immediate support work can continue to do so for a much longer period of time. If you’re not sure how to support people doing this work, simply ask how they’re doing. If that doesn’t feel like enough, it’s okay to tell them you’re here for them, and that they can lean on you if they need to. Even if they don’t take you up on your offer, I promise, the offer is worth a lot, and it DOES help.
- Stop laughing at racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic, queerphobic, classist, ageist, otherwise oppressive “jokes”: even if you’re not in a place where you’ve eradicated oppressive language from your speech, you know this shit isn’t funny. Speak up about it. Straight up say, “I don’t think it’s funny to make fun of _________ people.” Don’t repeat the joke later, don’t turn around and tell others how awesome you are for not laughing, just put this nonsense in check whenever and wherever it pops up, because making fun of people for being part of an oppressed class is never, ever funny. And because not laughing at this shit doesn’t make you some sort of social justice superhero, it’s actually the bare minimum for human decency.
- Work with kids: in any way, and for any length of time. Teach kids to be decent to one another without erasing the differences between them. Teach them that while our differences shape our life experiences, they also give us amazing opportunity to learn from one another. Teach what kindness and decency look like. Teach them to know the difference between right and wrong, for real.
- Don’t drag down other people’s efforts: there is room for people with differing political ideologies to work on the same issues without belittling one another’s work. There is nearly infinite space for addressing the harm caused by oppressive power structures, and what works for some people may not work for others. Rather than focusing energy tearing down other efforts for not being perfect, we can all strive to do our best, and leave others to do their best. We are not all operating with the same tools, so the solutions we build are all going to be different. Since we’re still a long way away from an egalitarian society, THIS IS OKAY. We don’t have to be in agreement on what an ideal society looks like, because we’re still generations away from it. We just need to agree on some of the things that are wrong, and all work in our own ways to address it. More tactics being employed by more people means a greater chance of finding some solution that works, even if it only works a little bit, for a little while. By all means, if someone’s tactics are actually hurting you (or someone else), that should be addressed… but none of us are perfect, we are all still learning, and we all need constructive feedback from time to time. Meet people where they’re at, if you can, and if you can’t, maybe just leave them alone and work on your own project instead.
- Accept feedback gracefully: even when it doesn’t come in a tone you appreciate, try to divorce the feedback from the tone, and make something of it. Consider carefully others’ critique of your work, even if it isn’t given kindly. It’s okay to reject critique if you’ve considered it and found it invalid, but it should be considered nevertheless. This goes double when the critique comes from someone marginalized upon different axes than your own, and triple when you’re doing “ally” or “accomplice” work, and the critique comes from someone you’re attempting to be an “ally” or “accomplice” to. Criticism is a learning opportunity, and we should all do due diligence to make sure we’re not missing important facets of the issues we are collectively struggling to fix.
A lot of this work is a lot less “sexy” than rioting, or chaining oneself to a police station door to shut down their operations, but every bit of it is extremely important. If you can’t, or don’t want to be in the streets, that doesn’t at all mean that you and your work don’t matter. The struggle for a better world is reliant upon all of our best efforts, and there are ways for each and every one of us to contribute according to our abilities.