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Effective Activism 101

Being an activist doesn’t always have to mean protesting in the streets, fighting for passage of a law, or raising funds for an organization. It simply means, well, being active for a cause—but the particular action you take and the cause for which you fight are up to you.

Your voice really can make a difference in raising awareness of an issue and even changing laws and policies. Use this guide to start championing causes you care about on the local, state, or federal level—whether you can invest a little time or a lot. "The wheels of government turn slowly, but they don’t turn at all if you’re not involved. Working together with like-minded individuals to move the process—however incrementally—can be gratifying," said Christopher Kush, author of "The One-Hour Activist: The 15 Most Powerful Actions You Can Take to Fight for the Issues and Candidates You Care About" (Jossey-Bass, 2004).

Connecting with individuals and organizations already championing your cause is critical to your success—and a logical first step. "Your one voice does count," affirmed Mary Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, "but working within organizations or with like-minded people is usually the most effective way to make a difference. More than likely, someone else has already covered some ground that will help you in what you want to achieve."

Finding allies in the form of nonprofit organizations championing the same cause is especially critical for immigrants. "A lot of us from other countries have a fear of speaking up," said Herminia Servat, 68, who advocates for the rights of domestic workers. "You have to realize you’re not alone, and people will support you. Look for an institution with people who share your ideals, and learn to work together. Unity is really where our strength comes from."

A good grassroots organization can assist you in figuring out which levels of government handle your issue, which proposed legislation you should focus on, and which lawmakers to contact to express your views. A fellow organization also may offer advocacy training and may be able to coordinate your activities with other activists from all over your state or the nation.

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