Jun 29, 2009

Student Activism

As the world continues to watch chaos unfold in Iran, it’s important to understand our own duty as American citizens towards activism. A free and democratic society is one where differences are settled with debate and not a battlefield. Chronically at the forefront of public debate are the student activists, who wield their positions with passionate rhetoric, winning the hearts and minds of fellow citizens as they go. If you feel like taking part in this oldest and dearest of American traditions, here are a few tips that will help you along the way (regardless of where you may stand on the political spectrum):

The first thing you should do is inform yourself. One of the greatest tools at your disposal will be the ability to articulate and argue your point of view. If you can’t establish your voice as credible, your cause will be lost in a flood of misunderstanding and counter-arguments. Research not only your own perspective, but that of the opposition as well- anticipate how you will need to persuade others to join your fight.

Next, recruit and organize. Use everything you can think of- social networking sites, school common grounds, even the opinion letters section of your school newspaper could help turn a like-minded individual into a fellow activist. Make sure to utilize the press every step of the way. Any journalists who cover your efforts will basically give you free advertising. Try to keep them on your side- even though the press is supposed to be totally objective, a carefully placed word or phrase could easily either demonize or glorify your cause .

As you look deeper into how you can have a bigger impact, align yourself with larger-organizations that are fighting for the same thing. With activism, there is always power in numbers.

Be visible, and be clear. Don’t leave any room for confusion when demonstrating. Although your arguments may be complex, try to keep things as concise as possible so those casually observing will have no doubt what you are fighting for. It could be helpful to print out a short (roughly a page) pamphlet that explains your position to those who may want to know more.

Know your rights. Free speech and freedom of assembly are some of the most closely held rights that we as Americans enjoy. Read up on what you can and can’t do so you’ll know when your rights are infringed upon.

Finally, and most importantly, keep it peaceful. Passions will run high, but one of the quickest ways to draw condemnation is through demonstrations that involve something other than words. Any violence or vandalism will likely cause more harm than good by giving your opponents ammunition to use against you.

Once you have a plan and supporters, exercise those rights and fight for what you believe in. There’s no more satisfaction than that which comes from doing it yourself, so be the change you want to see.

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