What makes an activist?

Just because you share a post on Facebook or tell people you support a cause, does that make you an activist?

The media recognizes student activism throughout North America, whether it’s a national student walk-out in the United States or Canadian students working toward Indigenous rights. However, what’s the difference between an activist and someone who supports a cause, but doesn’t do anything to actively help the cause?

Amy Baldwin, a fourth-year activist against campus sexual violence, believes the difference is people having an external view of a cause.

Amy Baldwin is a student activist who likes to participate in events on campus to show her support. (Troy Glover/AQ)

“I’m one of those people who actually goes to events because I legitimately care about those events and I’m like, ‘Oh, all these people are supposed to be coming,’ and then nobody shows up,” she said.

Baldwin said it’s hard for someone to be an activist for a cause when they don’t actually show up to help it.

However, Elizabeth Tuck, a second-year feminist, thinks activism looks different to every person.

“I, for example, am able to attend marches but there are people who aren’t, or people who don’t choose to do activism that way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that my activism is more valid than theirs.”

People who don’t actively participate in marches or rallies but consider themselves activists, may be seen as “slacktivists” or “passive activists,” meaning they want to make a difference but don’t do much to accomplish anything.

Emma Rhodes, a second-year student believes passive activism is caused by a lack of understanding.

Emma Rhodes thinks a lack of understanding is why students may not get as involved as they could. (Troy Glover/AQ)

“I think if we’re going to put a definition on it, I guess passive activism would be attending but not understanding, going because your friends are going.”

Since students are usually preoccupied by their studies, there’s still the question of whether or not student activism even helps. Baldwin thinks students are able to bring a powerful perspective to activism with their stories and experiences.

“Students do, and young people do care about a variety of things, and are willing to show up and to be an activist for whatever cause, more so than a lot of adults honestly,” Baldwin said.

She said because students don’t usually have a job that demands they remain publicly-objective, it makes it easier for them to participate in activism.

Tuck believes student activism is crucial to activism as a whole.

Elizabeth Tuck believes student activism is crucial, especially in today’s world. (Troy Glover/AQ)

“Student activists are present throughout activism everywhere, on all sorts of different marches that happen in downtown, and other social kind of projects,” she said.

Some students may not know how to get involved in their community or not understand how something happening in the community may affect them. Rhodes thinks if students want to bring change, they should search for organizations to get involved with and research the cause.

“Students are the younger generation, they’re the ones who are and going to be directly affected by [large issues] as it is, so if it’s a big undertaking, and it’s going to take a lot, then you should start now,” she said.

Tuck said education is the first step to becoming an activist, to look at one’s individual values and see what kind of change they want to create. However, she doesn’t think looking up information will give activists all the answers they need.

“Activists, or people in general, are constantly learning, and the more involved one becomes, the more educated one also becomes.”

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