Stop Being An Activist. Become an Actionist.

Stop Being An Activist. Become an Actionist.

Who are some of the most prominent activists that you can think of? Go ahead, take some time to think of a couple names. I’ll wait right here.

So, let me guess. Was Martin Luther King, Jr. on your list? Rosa Parks? Malala? Angelina Jolie, even? These are just some of the most famous change-makers of our time and the past century. Now for the thing that they all have in common? They made social change. They took a stand and took action for some cause for which they held an incredible passion. 

Whether it was Malala standing up for gender equality and education for girls around the world or MLK leading a march on our nation’s capital to push the cause for civil rights in the US, the people that we see as role models took action. To me, these people aren’t simple activists – they are actionists.

There’s a problem, however. Out of the newest generations (The Millennials and Generation Z), I see a lot of young people having powerful conversations and spreading the word about issues they care about. I attend Appalachian State University (a school full of activists) and daily, I hear conversations about gender equality in India and the detrimental effects of climate change. Now, I can already hear you saying, “Well Matt – why is that a problem? Isn’t it a good sign that young people are talking about changing the social issues plaguing our communities?” To that, I say no. It’s not enough.

It’s not enough for young people to talk about the issues facing our world. True impact starts with a conversation, but it doesn’t end there.

I’ll give you an example from my own life. I care deeply about the Syrian refugee crisis. It is one of the largest migrations of humans in recent years and one of the most pressing crises to ever face humanity. I’ve prided myself in being active on social media – spreading the word about stories of refugees in Europe and the pitiful actions (or should I say inaction) of the US government to ease the crisis. In my daily conversations, I’ve taken the time to try to educate others on what’s happening with the crisis and why it’s such an important issue. I think I’ll go to bed with a clear conscience. But I then I start thinking. Will these conversations change the stance of the US government and those rebel state governors who refuse to take in refugees? Will my social media posts feed the starving children of Madaya? The answer is no.

True impact – change that brings down governments, solves crises, passes legislation – is difficult and scathing work. 

We all say that we want to impact the world, but what does that take? I can tell you for sure that it’s much bigger than a few social media posts here and there to clear our consciences. It’s taking hours to organize multiple protests at your state capital to convince your governor to open up homes for Syrian refugees. It takes getting thousands of signatures on a petition to open up the US borders to thousands of more refugees. It takes convincing and raising funds for your close group of friends to volunteer for 3 months during the summer at a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon.

But, one of the greatest things I’ve learned in my time in AIESEC and as a young person is that if each and every one of us band together and dedicate hours to making change happen, it will happen. 

There are 1.8 billion young people in the world between the ages of 10 and 24 years old. We hold more power between us than at any point in history.

Let’s stop being activists. Let’s become actionists.

Originally posted January 2016

Matt Benfield

Matt is in his last year at Appalachian State University with a major in Global Studies and a double minor in Not-For-Profit Management & Spanish. He was the past Local Committee President of AIESEC at App State and is currently works in their Public Relations team. His interests include drinking obscene amounts of coffee, taking selfies until his phone battery dies, and being a proud Belieber.