Sustainable living and ethical fashion blogger Mikaela Loach shares her journey from slacktivism (yes, it’s a thing) to activism, and the four key things she learnt on the way.
Like many of us, my first flirtations with activism were as a young teen enthused by the prospect of positive change, the loom of low-impact living and the shiny promise of purpose. However, my change-making activities were superficial, limited to sharing the odd Facebook post or petition, fundraising now and then, and posting #PrayFor when a disaster occurred. I prescribed to the identity that ‘activist’ provided but ultimately had no real impact on the world around me. I cared, but I wasn’t caring effectively. I was a slacktivist.
Looking back and wondering why I didn’t get more involved earlier, I’ve pinned down four key things that I think have helped me on my journey from slacktivism to activism: finding a passion, realising my ability to form change, finding role models and a supportive community.
Finding a passion (or two)
If I’m being honest, I didn’t care much about the climate crisis in my early teenage years. Climate change was the thing I’d vaguely learned about in Geography lessons, didn’t totally understand and couldn’t see what the actual impacts of. I saw it as a problem that was only going to affect people in the future, so why should I worry about it now?
It was a speech, a documentary and many conversations with my supportive vegan friend Millie, which turned my apathy into a new passion for climate justice and animal rights. So in 2015, I stopped buying or consuming animal products.
Entering the ‘vegan world‘ on social media opened me up to the daily developments of the climate crisis which was soon no longer an abstract concept, no longer out of sight and out of mind; engaging in active social media communities meant the climate crisis became in sight and in mind, as it should be. Seeing how climate breakdown has led to people becoming refugees as a result of droughts and flooding made me realise that fighting for climate justice isn’t just for ‘hippies’, it was for me. It was already affecting everyone, especially vulnerable and marginalised communities – look up Environmental Racism – and I wanted to be part of the action to combat it.
This passion didn’t directly translate into effective action: it would spill over and come out at the wrong times. I directed my frustration at the people directly in front of me, rather than taking action to tackle the wider issue. For a long time, I was just that annoying vegan that people didn’t want to hang around with. I didn’t really know the right way to do activism.
Realisation of my ability to form change
What I learnt in this time was that I had far more of an ability than I had previously appreciated to make changes to my situation, and use the privilege I had – in having a choice over the food I could consume or clothes I buy – for good.
But it became not only about how I made purchases, but also realising my voice could be used to create change. So, I began writing: I started a blog and began sharing more of my thoughts on Instagram. I learnt how to communicate this passion and even gave a couple speeches on climate issues while at school.
Finding a role model
In December 2016 I volunteered at the Help Refugees’ warehouse in Calais with my mother, where I met many real-life activists who were walking examples of how one can proactively take part in movements to create change. Simply seeing how these people lived their lives and how they used their privilege to combat problems was incredibly challenging. It was through connecting with these people on Facebook and joining a community of changemakers that I rallied some friends to go to my first protest with me. Going to the first one got me addicted: the atmosphere, the opportunity to connect with people and take an important stand. It was wonderful. These people taught me about emailing my MP, how to organise people and start my own groups, or where to find existing ones to join.
Finding a supportive community
This point is where social media has come in. Instagram has been a wonderful place to learn about others’ experiences and how to get more involved in activism. Every protest I’ve been to I found out about via social media: it’s an incredible platform with which to rally people.*
Going to a protest for the first time can be a daunting thing, especially when you don’t know anyone else going. Using social media to share that I’m going and asking others to join has been a way I’ve made wonderful friends. Having a community online – and in real life – who are supportive and who care about the same causes I do has been endlessly important when feeling isolated or demotivated. Follow people who inspire and encourage you.
A huge privilege I’ve had in my journey to activism has been being at university: it’s a melting pot of ideas, direct action groups and other activists, along with giving you enough time to explore, listen, learn and act. If you’re reading this as a student, use this time wisely.
*I would recommend following other climate activists to stay in the loop with protests. Also make sure you’re following @extinctionrebellion on Instagram and liking their Facebook page if you’d like to get involved with their work.
It’s taken me a long time to even feel comfortable referring to myself as an activist; the word connotes images of people who have done miraculous and brave things to fight for a just cause. There aren’t clear lines between who is and who isn’t an “activist” and it’s most definitely not a competition. Activism doesn’t have to be grand: it’s just about showing up. You don’t have to get arrested; you don’t have to be able to take that specific day off work for a protest; you don’t have to be in the spotlight or have any chance of ever being a “hero”. It just takes you showing up to directly take action to stand for a cause. It just takes giving some of yourself to a movement. How our activism looks may not be the same, but it doesn’t make any of it less important. So, act. Act. Act.
On 20th September there will be a Global Climate Strike. If you are able to attend for any time at all, or would like to help out with promoting your local strike, details can be found here.