If you’re anything like me, there’s something privately disappointing about activism that mainly involves emailing elected officials, signing mass petitions, and posting to Facebook. These can be important contributions, but I feel a little let down when I have to wait 9 months for a form reply from my senator or when petitions are well-meaning but just kind of go nowhere with their 70,000 signatures.
But activism doesn’t have to begin or end with a tweet. Long-term activism is something we can bring into our daily lives and into our connections to family, friends, faith communities, work spaces, and more. As individuals, we may not be the primary drivers behind change, but we can serve as one of many people helping to prime the pump: spreading awareness and getting people focused on an issue before it becomes a major news item or is attached to a specific bill or course of action.
Raising awareness (priming the pump) doesn’t always feel “real,” because it has no immediate political consequence, but it is essential for a few reasons:
- It conditions people to pay attention when an issue bubbles up in the media or political life. Think of the way you have never heard of a word, song, or product before, but once you know it, you see it everywhere. It was always everywhere, but until something made it necessary for your brain to hang on to, you ignored it. Raising awareness means you can help make important information “sticky.”
- It gives people time to consider and process information before the conversation becomes politically charged. By the time people are introduced to something like “end-of-life care” or “public health exchanges,” the lines have already been drawn in the sand and we stop listening to arguments from people we believe represent “the enemy.” Introducing a topic early doesn’t mean someone will ultimately agree with you, but it allows you to engage meaningfully before the issue escalates and becomes a shouting match about which party or political figure deserves to “win.”
- It pushes us, as advocates, to bring the issue back down to a human scale. No one wants a dissertation on what a financial derivative is, especially not when it isn’t a topic of mainstream discussion. But your brother might be willing to take your advice and ask his own financial advisor if she has a fiduciary responsibility to offer the best possible information or product.
- It provides direct feedback. The work it takes to raise awareness is the work it takes to actually listen to and communicate with people. It means figuring out when your arguments just fly over people’s heads or when you are missing a reality on the ground that doesn’t get attention in the more philosophical treatments of an issue. It helps you uncover where the pockets of confusion or misinformation may live – including your own.
So don’t wait! Start priming the pump on issues you care about with the people you know. And if you’re looking for an example of what priming the pump looks like in action, check out our post on protecting American workers’ retirement investments.