Since making the documentary American Circumcision, I’ve gotten many messages from people asking how they can make a difference on this issue.
“How can I make a difference?” is a universal question for anyone who discovers a new issue or wrong in the world they wish to right. While most people ask me this question in the context of my documentary, the advice I’m going to give applies to any issue or cause that is important to you.
Find Your Personal Super-Power
First – what are you good at? What would you be doing if there was no cause or issue for you to work on and you were just doing what you love?
People ask me what to do on the issue of circumcision because I made a film about that issue. What they don’t know is that I’ve been making films since I was fourteen. It’s what I love doing and and did professionally before ever discovering this issue. When I became aware of the issue of circumcision and felt like I had to do something, film was the medium I chose, because I already had a unique talent or super-power there.
Many people think that when discover an activist issue they need to start doing something new or different, but you probably already have a unique skill, talent, or super-power you could apply to this issue. It doesn’t have to look like what people are already doing. At the time when I started, I wasn’t aware of any other films being made on this issue. What I did was new and unique, and your contribution could be too.
For example, one guy I know is good at internet marketing and self-publishing on Amazon. He is helping activists self-publish content on this issue. Another speaks Spanish and is translating activist materials. You wouldn’t think of these as normal activist skills, yet they have something unique to contribute that helps other activists.
- What unique skills do you to bring that you can contribute to the issue you care about?
Connect With Others And Volunteer
There are already dozens or organizations working on the issue you care about. Begin contacting them and asking how you can get involved and volunteer. If you have a unique skill, let them know, but be willing to work on the places they need help especially when you are just starting out and getting to know people.
As much as possible, see if you can get to in-person meet-ups where you can make real friendships and connections with people. If there is nothing near you, search online and ask others on social media. There may already be a group involved on your issue in your town that your aren’t aware of. If not – start one! There may be others like you in your area who want to do something, but haven’t been able to find a group. Create an informal meet-up and start connecting with others.
As much as possible however, contact larger groups and ask what they need. So much of this work can now be done remotely. For the first time ever in human history, you can connect with anyone on the planet using technology. Take advantage of what others have already done and help amplify their efforts.
The more you connect with other activists, the more you will find a place for you personal super-power. For example, you may be gifted at organization. If you meet an artist who is very good at creating, but not very organized, your unique skill might empower his, and together you can contribute something even better than either of you could individually. As much as possible, start connecting with other activists and volunteering to help.
It may seem like I went off and did something on my own by making a film, but my film was the result of many connections. I connected with each person who I interviewed in the film. I connected with an audience that funded the film and spread the word about it. I even connected with people outside the issue who had skills or connections in the film world and were able to help me complete and distribute my project. While I had a unique super-power only I could contribute, that power was amplified by the hundreds of people who supported my film.
Even if you decide to do something new or unique, whatever you do will be amplified by existing organizations and other activists working on the same issue. Connect as much as possible and see if there are ways you can volunteer your unique talents with existing organizations.
- Can you find and contact existing activist organizations?
- How can you volunteer your unique skills to their work?
- What are you doing to meet more activists involved on the same issue?
Contribute Money To What You Value
Every activist organization I’ve ever seen, no matter the size, needs more money.
If your unique skill is one that generates a lot of income, or you are short on time, there is no reason you couldn’t just focus on doing the job you already love and contribute a portion of your income to the cause. Every organization loves big donors, and if an hour of your time can go for $300, that money might be way more useful to the organization than if you spent the same hour standing on a street-corner holding a protest sign.
Money is a super-power. I’ve talked about finding your unique super-power, but if you know how to make money, you have a unique super-power that most people wish they had. Use it!
You can contribute money no matter your income level. One activist leader told me that if everyone on her email list just contributed five dollars a month to their organization, they’d meet all their funding goals. Have you given your five dollars? You pay more to go to a yoga class or get a fancy coffee in the morning. Everyone can find five dollars in their budget they are spending on something frivolous and contribute it to things that have real value.
Put it another way – which would great more happiness and joy in your life – that extra drink on your night out, or knowing you helped make the world a better place by giving to others?
If you can’t cut spending, see if you can find a way to make more. Could you work an extra hour at your job, and give your wage for that hour to a group you support? For some, that might only be a few dollars an hour, but it’d be a few dollars more than they had before.
- How much are you giving to the causes you care about?
How To Contribute To A Cause
To re-cap, you can…
- Contribute your skills
- Contribute your time
- Contribute your money
…or some combination of the above.
What you give depends on what you are able to and what you can create the most value with. If you don’t have a lot of money, give time. If you have a unique skill, give that. Etc. You know what you can afford, and what you are best at.
Now let’s talk about the inner-game of contributing to cause, because without this you might burn-out on just the above.
Make Self-Care A Priority
When people first discover a cause they have a lot of enthusiasm and want to charge into action. Good! That enthusiasm and fire in the belly can lead to a lot of positive change. However, it’s important to feed that fire and make sure it doesn’t burn-out, because social change can take years or even decades.
When people discover a new issue, they often experience emotional pain. There may be grief at being harmed by something you didn’t know was wrong, or anger that the world is the way that it is. These emotions if unacknowledged may come out unconsciously, or be projected on others. They may even lead to counter-productive actions that set back the movement you care about back.
Anyone involved in an issue should also pursue healing work and self-care. You can’t change the world, if you aren’t first willing to change yourself. Healing work does not excuse the perpetrators or mean that what they did was not wrong. It means that you are taking ownership of your own life and reclaiming the aspects of yourself that others tried to harm. The more your judgement is not clouded by trauma, the more you can be fully present in the work you are doing and effective as an activist.
If while working on a cause or issue, you start to feel burned-out – take a break! Your mental health is more important than any cause. Although many people find activist work energizing, have the self-awareness to know when you are drained and need to re-charge. You will contribute more to the causes you care about if you are happy, healthy, and emotionally whole.
- What are you doing to take care of yourself while working on the issues you care about?
Always Keep Learning
You discovered this issue because you were willing to learn something new. However, there may be more to the issue and activism process you still don’t know. Keep learning!
There are always new things happening on every issue. Likewise, activism techniques and methods are constantly changing as the way we communicate and the platforms we communicate on change too. A decade ago, social media was just beginning to become a thing. Now, if you aren’t on social media platforms you are basically invisible.
Activism benefits from a “beginners mind” – always looking at the issue and work with a new perspective. Even if you have been involved on an issue for over thirty years, there is always something new you can learn or a new skill you can pick up.
Remember how I mentioned unique super-powers earlier? Well, you can add more of those. It takes about six months to learn a new skill. What would happen if you added website design, photography, or event organizing to your skill stack? Plus each skill you add compounds with the others you already have. I’m a filmmaker, and I’ve done public speaking, but the fact I can do both creates a unique opportunities like a film tour that wouldn’t exist if I had only one.
I know people who are going back to school just because they know academic credentials or a law degree would give them an extra skill in the work they do. These are multiple year expensive commitments, but they can also fun and open new doors in other areas of your life. Don’t limit yourself in what you want to learn.
- What could you do to learn more about this issue?
- What skills could you learn to be even more effective as an activist?
- Find your unique superpower
- Contact organizations, volunteer
- Connect with other activists
- Donate money
- Take care of yourself
- Keep learning
P.S. If you found this post helpful, I would really appreciate it if you’d sign-up for my email list. I’m working on activist tools to make all of the above much easier, but they may not be ready for some time. Those on my email list will be the first to know.
Plus, I’m using my unique super-powers to write and create content – things like my film – that you can share with people new to an issue. You might want to sign-up for my email list, so you can see my unique super-power in action.
If you want to learn about an issue I care about, get my film here.