Tips for Activism
August 24, 2017 4:25 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in becoming involved in activism on my campus. What's the best place to start?

I am interested in becoming more active in politics at my grad school - specifically, contributing to local progressive groups, encouraging progressive voters to come to the local polls, exposing conservative front groups, assisting in fundraising, etc. I'm curious about a good place to start, especially nationwide progressive groups that are active on campuses.

Also, I would like to balance anti-Drumpf activity with getting good grades and keeping up with classwork.

Besides general advice on where to begin activist involvement and balancing activism and schoolwork, I have a couple of more specific questions about specific situations that concern me.

1) What is the best way to deal with right-wing provocateurs of the Milo Y. streak if one visits or is invited to my campus, and how should I try and influence other progressives there to deal with them?

2) If I become involved in a progressive group, what's the best way to identify and avoid being tricked by agent provocateurs and sting operatives (mostly Project Veritas/James O'Keefe and their ilk)?
posted by thedarksideofprocyon to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For (1), the Southern Poverty Law Center has an awesome guide on the alt-right on campuses, with specific ideas for responding -- from engaging with conservative groups who invite these speakers (usually they must have an invite from a student group, and aren't allowed to independently schedule events on campus) to organizing peaceful protests that make it clear you're not okay with the speakers but also minimize the risk of violence.

For (2), I know some groups will do things like check IDs against an RSVP list and not allow phones (or other things that could make recordings) to be out/on during meetings. But also -- DON'T talk about doing illegal stuff in an open meeting! I mean, ideally you may not want to get involved in doing illegal stuff at all, but if you are planning a civil disobedience-type action, discuss only with people you personally know and trust, not randos that turn up at a meeting.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:39 PM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh finally, and also! Since you are a grad student, I'm guessing you may be involved in TA'ing or working with undergrads in some way. I have found one of the ways I feel most valuable is in thinking consciously about how I create inclusive environments in my classroom, make sure I include diverse voices in my syllabi, anecdotes, videos, etc. Sure, I can be another body at a rally (and I sometimes am), but I also do have specialized skills by way of my training/profession, and I think it makes sense to actively put those skills to use rather than totally separating my professional life from my activism. I would never tell a student they have to adhere to a specific political belief, but I'm also not going to allow racist comments in my classroom, or fail to teach American history accurately, etc. etc.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:43 PM on August 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yeah TA is a semi-powerful and authoritative role and voice to have, I know this because I've done it at a few institutions.

Use this voice wisely, and use it for good. Even if you're teaching e.g. math or physics there are ample opportunities to present and model radical acceptance and inclusion, and perhaps even moreso in the arts, humantities or social sciences.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:34 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

If I become involved in a progressive group, what's the best way to identify and avoid being tricked by agent provocateurs and sting operatives (mostly Project Veritas/James O'Keefe and their ilk)?

There's no substituted for becoming regularly involved with a regular group, so i encourage you to seek out local groups that hold regular in-person meetings even when there isn't a Nazi march on the horizon. This way, you will come to know people, and they will know you. You can't tell a provocateur by their shoes or haircut; fortunately, ones like O'Keefe are pretty rare and the likelihood of you being tricked by one are low. They are lower if you actually know the local organizers and activists.
posted by rtha at 6:47 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Having gone through a bunch of finding my activism group this year while also a grad student, my main recommendation is to find the group local to you that is actually doing canvassing, voter outreach, and /or voter registration. You're unlikely to know who that is based on their national stance, because it'll all be about the hyper local organization. It may be your local young democrats. It may be the DSA. It may be the League of Women Voters, or Indivisible, or a campus group. But if you want the biggest impact in the coming year, to my mind that's the best use of your perhaps soon to be limited time: find who's doing voter outreach and registration and plug yourself in.

Failing (or complementing) that, start flyering your campus and reaching out to new students about how to register and vote in local 2017 elections in November and why they should. Rinse and repeat for next June and November.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:59 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the suggestions so far - I have decided that I will split activism between work on-campus and becoming involved with liberal student orgs.

It seems like a general good idea to get to know local activist leaders and groups, so I'll be doing that, too.
posted by thedarksideofprocyon at 8:26 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I haven't encountered it in person, but my understanding from historical precedent of activism and opposition agents is that the person suggesting questionable or extreme tactics such as violence is usually the opposition (or law enforcement) plant.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:55 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

When you explore local activist groups, one thing I can recommend is to not get sucked into drama and/or activist group infighting. It's exhausting and counterproductive. I managed this by only staying on the edges.

Another route to go is to work with particular groups surrounding a cause that you are passionate about. I care about transgender rights, for example, so I volunteer with a couple of local organizations in town that work on this issue. It's not quite the same as going to protests, but I find it rewarding and effective, particularly in terms of outreach. I have other friends who do similar in terms of animal welfare, the environment, reproductive rights, refugee services, etc.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:09 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, in regards to rmd1023's point, I have seen undercover police dressed up as Black Bloc protesters before. So yes. It's a valid concern.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:12 PM on August 24, 2017

To piggyback on spinifex23's comment: Self-care is an important part of being able to do sustainable activism. Whatever group you elect to join, take some time each day/week/whatever to check in with yourself about how you are doing with it. Are the group's activities productive, in your view? Does the group's "personality" seem compatible with yours? Are you thriving in that environment? If, after a reasonable trial, the group isn't working out for you, look for something else. You aren't chained to them for life.
posted by Weftage at 8:23 AM on August 25, 2017

Autostraddle has a series on this!
posted by divabat at 2:43 AM on August 27, 2017

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