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Barricade at the Paris Commune, 1871
A Women's Liberation march in Washington, D.C., 1970

Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change, or stasis with the desire to make improvements in society and to correct social injustice. Forms of activism range from writing letters to newspapers or to politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing businesses, rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, and hunger strikes. One can also express activism through different forms of art. Daily acts of protest such as not buying clothes from a certain clothing company because they exploit workers is another form of activism. One view holds that acknowledging privileges and oppressions on a daily basis ranks as a form of activism.[1] Research has begun to explore how activist groups in the United States[2] and in Canada[3] use social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.

The Online Etymological Dictionary records the English words "activism" and "activist" (in the political sense) from 1920[4] and from 1915[5] respectively.


Activists can function in roles as public officials, as in judicial activism. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., introduced the term "judicial activism" in a January 1947 Fortune magazine article titled "The Supreme Court: 1947".[6] Activists are also public watchdogs and whistle blowers, attempting to understand all the actions of every form of government that acts in the name of the people: all government must be accountable to oversight and transparency. Activism is an engaged citizenry.

Some activists try to persuade people to change their behavior directly, rather than to persuade governments to change or not to change laws. Other activists try to persuade people to remain the same, in an effort to counter change. The cooperative movement seeks to build new institutions which conform to cooperative principles, and generally does not lobby or protest politically.

In his 2008 book, Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution,[7] Douglas Schuler suggests something he calls an activist road trip, whereby activism and road trips are merged into an activity that can be pursued on geographical levels that range from neighborhood to international.[8]

As with those who engage in other activities such as singing or running, the term may apply broadly to anyone who engages in it even briefly, or be more narrowly limited to those for whom it is a vocation, habit, or characteristic practice. In the narrower sense, environmental activists that align themselves with Earth First or Road Protestors would commonly be labeled activists, whilst a local community fighting to stop their park or green being sold off or built on would fit the broader application, due to their using similar means to similarly conservative ends. In short, activism is not always an action by Activists.[9]

Youth Activism[edit]

Youth Activism is a major component of social change. Community activism, volunteerism and social media activism are types of modern youth activism. Youth involvement in their communities allows them to voice their opinions and views and make their voices heard. There are so many opportunities for youth to get involved with internships and organizations that will allow them to volunteer to make a difference in this world. Youth have the power to transform the world. There is also a necessity to support youth activism. First we must respect youth's ideas about their desire for social change. Secondly, we must challenge racist, heteronormative and misogynists representations of youth whenever we counter them. Lastly we should have open conversations to youth about systems of oppressions, power and resistance.[10]

The Internet[edit]

For more than fourteen years, groups involved in various forms of activism have been using the Internet to advance organizational goals. It has been argued that the Internet helps to increase the speed, reach and effectiveness of activist-related communication as well as mobilization efforts, and as a result has had a positive impact on activism in general.[3][11][12][13]

Activism industry[edit]

The activism industry consists of organizations and individuals engaged in activism. Activism is often done full-time, as part of an organization's core business. Many organizations in the activism industry are either non profit organizations or non-governmental organizations. Most activist organizations do not manufacture goods.[citation needed]

The term activism industry has often been used to refer to outsourced fundraising operations. However, activist organizations engage in other activities as well.[14] Lobbying, or the influencing of decisions made by government, is another activist tactic. Many groups, including law firms, have designated staff assigned specifically for lobbying purposes. In the United States, lobbying is regulated by the federal government.[15]

Many government systems encourage public support of non-profit organizations by granting various forms of tax relief for donations to charitable organizations. Governments may attempt to deny these benefits to activists by restricting the political activity of tax-exempt organizations.


The longest running peace vigil in U.S. history, started by activist Thomas in 1981.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Inspired Voices: 5 Unconventional forms of Activism.". Elephant Journal. Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  2. ^ Obar, Jonathan; et al. (2012). "Advocacy 2.0: An Analysis of How Advocacy Groups in the United States Perceive and Use Social Media as Tools for Facilitating Civic Engagement and Collective Action". Journal of Information Policy. 
  3. ^ a b Obar, Jonathan (2014). "Canadian Advocacy 2.0: A Study of Social Media Use by Social Movement Groups and Activists in Canada". Canadian Journal of Communication. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Harper, Douglas. "activism". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2015-12-17. 
  5. ^ Harper, Douglas. "activist". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2015-12-17. 
  6. ^ Keenan Kmiec in a 2004 California Law Review article
  7. ^ Schuler, Douglas (2008). Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communicaton Revolution. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262693660. 
  8. ^ "Activist Road Trip". Public Sphere Project. 2008. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  9. ^ "Introduction to Activism". Permanent Culture Now. Permanent Culture Now. Retrieved 20 December 2011. 
  10. ^ "Youth and Social Movements: Key Lessons for Allies". 
  11. ^ Ope;, J. A. M. (1999). "From the Streets to the Internet: The Cyber-Diffusion of Contention". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 566: 132–143. doi:10.1177/000271629956600111. 
  12. ^ Eaton, M. (2010). "Manufacturing Community in an Online Activity Organization: The Rhetoric of’s E-mails". Information, Communication and Society 13 (2): 174–192. doi:10.1080/13691180902890125. 
  13. ^ Obar, J. A.; Zube, P.; Lampe, C. (2012). "Advocacy 2.0: An analysis of how advocacy groups in the United States perceive and use social media as tools for facilitating civic engagement and collective action". Journal of Information Policy 2: 1–25. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1956352. 
  14. ^ Dana R. Fisher, "The Activism Industry: The Problem with the Left's Model of Outsourced Grassroots Canvassing", The American Prospect, 14 September 2006
  15. ^ New Federal Lobbying Law Reporting Periods Begin

Further reading[edit]