Activism comes in many forms of expression from writing letters to rallies to boycotting. For example, deciding not to buy clothing from a certain company because it exploits its workers is a form of activism. Activism is often concerned with ‘how to change the world’ through social, political, economic, or environmental change, and change can be led by individuals or collectively through social movements.
Activism = Taking Action to Effect Change
Four Roles of Activism
Bill Moyer, a U.S. activist-educator, defines four stages and roles in social movements: 1) citizens; 2) rebels; 3) change agents; and 4) reformers. His Movement Action Plan describes the four roles and includes effective and ineffective ways to play them.
Areas of Activism
- Animal Rights – fur trade; animal abuse; wildlife conservation
- Civil Liberties – censorship; freedom of speech
- Civil Rights – racial profiling; voting rights
- Economic – fair trade; outsourcing; affordable housing; fair wages; unfair labor practices
- Environmental – climate change; pollution; recycling; renewable energy; water quality
- Human Rights – immigration; refugee crisis; trafficking
- Privacy Rights – internet; wire-tapping
- Social Activism – equality, health care; income equality; equity; gun violence; hunger/food insecurity; educational access; racial injustice
UNL is committed to fostering a welcoming community where ideas are shared freely, respect for each other is promoted, and students, faculty and staff feel valued and heard. Lawful protests and counter-protests are permissible in accordance with university policy, and the university encourages all students participating in such expressive activity to do so in a peaceful manner.
We encourage all community members to use civil interactions and dialogue. View the nine tenants of the UNL Peace + Civility Project.Expressive Activity Checklist Resources & Tools for RSOs
Ways to Engage
As you learn about an issue you care about it’s a natural instinct to want to share your new knowledge and insight with others. You can do so by engaging with others — your classmates, younger students and other adults — in your community. This can include community forums, peer-to-peer programs, and social media forums. You can share information in interesting ways (written, art, theatre, etc.) and also give others the chance to explore their own thoughts and feelings about the topics.
Advocate for Legislation
Change comes about in a variety of ways and one of these is through legislative change. Learn about the history and impact of legislative change like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Learn how to analyze proposed legislation in relation to your goals and assess the extent to which it will have an impact. Study research that examines the extent to which legislation impacted injustice. Push for legislation by working with other groups with similar goals, building coalitions and writing letters to your legislators to advocate for specific local, state, and federal laws.
Run for Office
Student government provides a chance for students to have a positive impact at UNL while also learning about how government works on a small scale. By running for office, you’ll learn to reflect on and consolidate your positions on important campus issues, learn how to communicate those positions, build relationships with others, and become a good listener in understanding constituent (i.e., other students) needs. It’s also good practice for the future in getting involved in politics. Elected positions are not the only way to get involved; students can also serve on campus commissions that are working to improve the university.
Join a Peaceful Protest or Demonstration
Marching in the streets enables students to express themselves and publicly convey what's happening while meeting and connecting with other people who feel passionate about the same issues. Demonstrations and protests can be uplifting and empowering and can help you feel like you’re a part of a larger movement. In preparing to attend a protest, consider what your goals are in attending the event and think through what message you want to convey. You can create posters, prepare songs or chants and practice symbolism that conveys your thoughts and feelings. Consider whether you want to do so individually or organize a group of students from the university to march together, make transportation arrangements and ensure that safety concerns are addressed.
Create a Public Awareness Campaign that Includes Social Media
There are many ways to develop or participate in a public awareness campaign. Educating people about an issue in order to inspire change can take place on campus, in the community and online. Creating signs and posters using art and photography can be very effective as can videos and live speeches; these are all useful skills that you can learn and apply later. The use of social media to raise public awareness has been largely driven by young people and is a useful vehicle for raising issues and effecting change. The use of blogs, social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, videos, memes, and online petitions are just a few examples of how words travel fast online and can incite quick and effective action.
Raising money is a concrete way for students to contribute to community or national efforts to address injustice. From organizing a bake sale around a local issue to fundraising on a larger scale for a national concern like racial disparities in the criminal justice system, raising money helps students feel like they are part of something bigger and backs the cause. Fundraisers can include selling items, auctions, entertainment, sponsoring events and more.
Engage in Community Service
In addition to organizing and advocating on a large scale, consider a community service activity that involves issues you care about. For example, if you’re concerned about the stereotypes and violence directed at homeless people, in addition to advocating for legislation or raising money, you might also donate your time to help out in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Serving the people directly impacted gives you firsthand knowledge of the situation, deepens your understanding of the issues, and builds empathy.
Expressive Activities Checklist
If planning an expressive activity, use the following as a guide to help ensure you'll keep yourself, the campus and our community safe while sharing your message.
Development of Purpose
- Develop a clear understanding of the ultimate goal and purpose of the event.
- Develop a clear understanding of the goal/purpose by all members of the group.
Evaluation of Time and Location
- Conduct a review of campus activities on the desired day of your event. (Based on the timing of your proposed event/what else is happening?)
- Determine where you’d like your event to occur. Review the Campus Use of Facilities and Grounds Policy.
Submit a Formal Event Request
- Request for Space in Student Affairs Facilities (Unions, Campus Rec, Housing, etc.)
- Complete an Event Planning Reservation form (Required for RSOs only)
- Review Use of Academic and Specialized Space Policy
Notification to Student Affairs
(Only if a formal request isn’t submitted)
- Contact Student Affairs by phone at (402) 472-3755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make the campus aware of the activity you're planning
Items to Consider & Questions to Answer
- Is the event planned to be hosted inside or outside?
- Will the event be ticketed?
- Is the event closed or open to the public?
- How many people are expected to attend?
- Are signs or props allowed?
- If there is a speaker, will the speaker take questions and how will the event be moderated?
- When and how will event expectations be shared?
- Will sound amplification be used?
- How will those involved in the activity choose to express themselves (signs, chanting, etc.)?
- Do those involved in the expressive activity intend to enter the event?
- Are masks or costumes allowed?
- What are the potential risks/issues that are unique for those attending your event (will medical assistance need to be made available, how will the weather potentially impact the event, etc.)?