Fighting for liberty is a tough job. We’re new to the scene, hopelessly outnumbered, and are up against a system that’s inherently hostile to just about all our goals. The good news is that liberty lovers tend to be perfect activist material: passionate, energetic, and committed. The bad news is that very few of us have any clue what we’re doing. Well, that’s about to change. I’m here to give some pointers as to how to get the most out of your activism buck. Follow and internalize these simple guidelines and your activism efforts will soon become much more effective.
Quick background about myself: I’ve been involved in liberty activism for all my adult life, and for a significant portion of my pre-adult years as well. I spent my early teen years writing to heads of state around the world appealing for religious and political prisoners to be set free. During my mid-teens I studyied grassroots activism, and during my late teens and early twenties I worked at various liberty-advocating nonprofits. In 2013 I moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project, and have worked as a liberty activist in the years since. I founded the Rights Brigade, and continue to loosely direct its fearless band of activists (more on how below). Over my many years of work on the liberty frontlines, I’ve learned a few lessons on effective activism. They are summarized below, broken down into two phases.
Note: All the nuts and bolts of effective activism could fill books. Think of this as best practices or guiding principles.
Phase 1: Preparation guidelines
Isolation Theory Your cause is only as strong as its weakest link. Keep in mind that you will have enemies trying to reduce the effectiveness of your activism. Whatever you are trying to accomplish, they will attack you on your most controversial position, no matter how irrelevant to the activism at hand it may be; and, no matter how unfair that may be, such a tactic will be effective. The best way of countering this is through isolating your activism efforts. Tackle one issue at a time, and stick to that one issue only, no matter how great the temptation to bring the rest of your causes into the mix. As soon as you let a second issue creep into the situation, your opponents will use that as a distraction and derail the whole effort. Practice issue isolation in order protect yourself.
Professionalism The justness of your cause will matter little unless you conduct yourself as a likable, respectable human being. Maintain a professional appearance. Speak with the utmost politeness, respect, and sincerity. Show up on time and work as if you were getting paid. This will ensure that you are liked, even by people who may not agree with your message. If people like you, they will associate your message with you, and will be much more receptive to it in the long run. Do the opposite, however, and it will kill your cause. Dress poorly, smell bad, put in little effort, and speak rudely or without compassion, and even those who support your cause will be turned off. Practice professionalism at all times.
Leadership You will never be able to do everything by yourself, nor will you be able to accomplish your goals with people you can directly control. Instead, you will have to lead. While one could fill books on the subject, we can summarize leadership into informing, asking, and doing first: inform the people of the situation and what the goals are, ask them to help you carry them out, and then start carrying them out yourself, before anyone else. By speaking and acting first you are providing an example to be followed, subtly suggesting others act in the same way. Asking for help only triggers them into action, and does not show them what action should be taken. Then, praise and lift up all positive activism that follows your example, while having a muted response (or none at all) to negative activism (do not criticize or this will discourage others from following you). By doing all this you are able to mobilize many more activists than if you could only rely on those you control, while still being able to limit responsibility to your own actions and those you have openly endorsed in case things go awry (see Isolation Theory above).
Phase 2: Implementation guidelines
Goals Have a realistic end result in mind. This isn’t the same as a purpose, which is distant and has only a loose connection to your activism. A good goal should be something that happens as a direct result of your activism. If it happens you can stop, but if it doesn’t, you know you still have work to do. Engage in activism without a clear goal and you have only set yourself up for failure, doomed to keep on working without accomplishing any real change. The goal comes before the activism, not the other way around.
Discipline Activism is rarely successful after a single act. Changing the world requires effort, and this involves discipline and consistency. If you show up only when you really feel like it, and do little to no preparation beforehand or followup afterwards, your success will be limited. Exercise self control and give the task all the focus it needs, however, and you are much more likely to succeed. Consistent results over a sustained period of time will accomplish your goal.
Evaluation Never shy away from taking a step back and giving your activism’s success an honest evaluation. Are you being effective? Are you meeting your goals? Is there something you could be doing better? Remember, nothing is guaranteed to work until it is tried. Also remember that nothing is guaranteed to fail until it has already been tried without success, and is simply tried again with no changes in its implementation. Constantly be on the lookout for anything you might be doing wrong, as well as anything might be able to do better, and make adjustments accordingly.