Lessons from activists
Activists, academics, and social movements have been active in producing knowledge that can help sustain solidarity over time.
What can we learn from them?
- A Guide for Effective Activism Produced by Long-term Activists
A group of activists who became burned out developed a set of effective activist strategies. This guide is organised in three main parts: 1) Activist campaign tactics; 2) Building strong progressive movements; 3) Integrating activism into everyday life. In part 2, you will find tools and tips to ensure that group members stay involved over time. The full guide can be accessed here.
- Toolkits & Guides by CIVICUS
CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. They have compiled tools and guides which can be seen at their site that can be used for building, developing and sustaining citizen action.
- Ulex Project
The Ulex Project provides high-quality training for activists, change makers, and organisations. Read more about their approach and have access to plenty of tools and strategies for making activism more effective and sustainable.
- Community Tool Box
The Community Tool Box is a free, online resource for those working to build healthier communities and bring about social change. It offers thousands of pages of tips and tools for taking action in communities. You can find tools and resources for assessing community needs and resources, addressing social determinants of health, engaging stakeholders, action planning, building leadership, improving cultural competency, planning an evaluation, and sustaining your efforts over time. Their tools and resources can be accessed here.
- Psychological Processes Underlying Sustained Engagement
Mannarini and Fedi (2011) conducted several interviews with antiglobalisation activists and opponents of a high-speed railroad in Italy. Affective commitment with the group or the cause emerged as a crucial factor enhancing the willingness of activists to keep motivated over time. They have suggested a set of actions to help reinforce commitment over time, including: 1) promoting collaborative relationships; 2) supporting collective (rather than individual) coping strategies; 3) preventing the organisation structure and functioning from being too hierarchical and rigid in roles and procedures. The article can be consulted here.
- Collective Psychological Empowerment as a Model of Social Change
Supported by several empirical studies, Drury and Reicher (2009) proposed an Elaborated Social Identity Model of crowds and power (ESIM). This model recognises the role of empowerment as a cause and consequence of collective action and defines empowerment as a positive social-transformation, that relates to a sense of being able to change the social world. In this article, the authors discuss three recomendations for those seeking to mobilize others: 1) promote practices that contribute to enhancing shared identification; 2) define goals in a way that the actions of the group are understood as possible, successful, and relevant. 3) ends and means should be consistent, as this may help to empower activists with the belief that they can bring about societal change.
- Fighting racism, battling burnout: causes of activist burnout in US racial justice activists
Gorski (2019) interviewed racial justice activists in the United States, who have experienced activist burnout. Despite mentioning more than one cause to explain their burnout, interviewees’ experiences support the idea that the most impactful burnout causes revolve around how activists treat one another. Following previous scholars and activists, this article recommends shifting from a self-care to a community-care burnout orientation. This would imply looking at burnout as a part of activism rather than as something that individual activists experience outside activism, and to consider that marginalised-identity activists are more likely to experience structural factors that increase their burnout risk (e.g., police violence, white supremacy, racism in their everyday lives).
- How collective action produces psychological change and how that change endures over time: A case study of an environmental campaign
Vestergren, Drury and Chiriac (2018) conducted a longitudinal ethnographic study of an environmental campaign aiming to save a piece of forest in the Swedish island of Gotland. Based on the analysis of several interviews with locals and activists, they concluded that: 1) participation in collective action has lead to a variety of types of change, that were sustained over time (e.g., empowerment, self-confidence, personal relationships, consumer behavior, etc.); 2) there was a relationship between the emergence of these psychological changes and the experience of a conflictual interaction with the police; 3) the intergroup interaction with the police altered the intra-group relations within the group of campaigners (e.g., locals and activists) making them more united; 4) stronger and continued relationships within the group of campaigners facilitated the sustainability of the psychological changes over time.
- In the Tiger's Mouth: An Empowerment Guide for Social Action
Katrina Shields’ book (first published in 1991) addresses how to avoid burnout, network and create stable groups. The guide includes exercises that encourage discovery and growth, both for individuals and groups. While this book is not avaliable for free, a detailed review can be consulted here.