I recently gave a webinar offering ideas for activism away from traditional chants-and-banners protest. I spoke a bit about my experience of writing The Armchair Activist’s Handbook, suggested some approaches, then took questions from the audience (follow this link and type your name into the Guest box to take a look).
There was much debate about the merits of individual action vs group action, with some people querying the strength of the former. But while group action is undoubtedly important – indeed, it’s vital – individual action is equally valuable. Here’s why:
- It’s accessible. People may not have the time or the inclination to get involved in big, complex group movements but might be able to take individual actions that can be adapted to fit around their current circumstances. We need to engage more people in making a difference, and individual actions on a small scale offer a way in.
- Individual change can be the start of something bigger. Just think of Rosa Parks. By refusing to give up her seat on the bus one day, she sparked a bus boycott that changed things for the black community. But although she had some involvement with civil rights movement, this was a spontaneous and individual act. See the webinar for some other, more modern examples.
- The approach depends on the cause. Some causes are better suited to individual action while others are better suited to a group approach. Individual action isn’t always the answer, but it’s still an essential tool for change. It’s about judging what works best for a particular situation.
- An action can be individual and collective at the same time. For example, if you’re someone who uses networks like Freegle to cut your consumption and reduce waste, you’re taking action on an individual, localised scale while also being part of a bigger movement.
- It doesn’t have to be one or the other – you can combine individual action with coordinated change to have more impact. One of the issues I feel strongly about is the unwieldy power of the supermarkets. On an individual level, I’ve changed the way I shop so that I’m supporting independent local suppliers to help preserve valuable skills, ensure producers are paid a fair wage, reduce my reliance on imports and keep variety on the high street. But I was also part of a successful campaign – involving organisations such as War on Want and Traidcraft – to set up a supermarket watchdog with the power to fine supermarkets when they don’t play fair.
What’s your experience of individual action, and have you found it to be effective? If you’d like to get in touch, I’d love to hear your thoughts – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.