Like getting fit in any other way, you need to assess where you are now when it comes to knowledge and activism in politics.
Welcome back, grassrootsers! We’re on to the new year, and it’s time for getting fit as activists and advocates for the things we believe in. As I promised last week, we’re not going to sweat too much, but we’re absolutely going to get into some extensive workouts in the weeks to come.
Before we start our workouts, though, we really should assess where we are, where we’re starting from. We need to take an inventory of skills and talents, and set some preliminary goals.
Today I’m going to pose some questions that will help you identify your areas of interest, itemize your strengths and talents, and reveal the areas in which you can shore up possible gaps or weaknesses. You can read through the questions and answer them in your head; but if you’re really ready to grow as an activist, you should write them down. Refer back to them from time to time. Check your progress, and revisit your answers. Just like stepping on the scales helps us monitor our progress in weight management plans, reviewing our assessments and goals tells us how far we’ve come, and motivates us to go farther.
So grab a pen and some paper (or open a new document and copy/paste the questions) and let’s get started!
1. What five issues are you most interested in/concerned about? List them in order of most important to least important.
2. Of those five issues, rate on a scale of 1-10 how informed you are about each, with 10 being ‘very informed’ and 1 being ‘not at all informed’.
3. Of those five issues, rate on a scale of 1-10 how much of an impact you think an activist can have on each, with 10 being ‘a huge impact’ and 1 being ‘no impact at all’.
4. What five issues do other people get worked up about that don’t really interest you?
5. Where do you currently get most of your news/information from?
6. What talents and skills do you already have that may help your activism? Include things like photography, event coordinating, legal knowledge, graphic design, web design, specific-industry expertise, writing, data management, or anything else that can even remotely be used in advancing your ideals.
7. What kind of time can you devote to working on issues you care about on a weekly or monthly basis?
For the next series of statements, rate each on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being ‘absolutely true’ and 1 being ‘absolutely false’.
8. I can write clearly and express myself well in print.
9. I am comfortable speaking in front of an audience.
10. I am comfortable speaking on camera.
11. I am comfortable being interviewed about issues I believe in.
12. I am comfortable making phone calls to support a candidate or issue I believe in.
13. I am comfortable knocking on doors to support a candidate or issue I believe in.
14. I am comfortable using social media accounts to support a candidate or issue I believe in.
15. I am comfortable writing to or talking to or visiting elected officials about issues I believe in.
16. List five words or phrases you would like people to associate with your activism.
17. Name two people you know, or know of, who fit some or all of those phrases.
18. List five words or phrases you never want people to associate with your activism.
19. Name two people you know, or know of, who fit some or all of those phrases.
20. List two things each that you’d like to achieve in your activism in the next two weeks, two months, and two years.
21. List two actions for each achievement that you intend to take in order to make them happen.
There, now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
Look over your answers in Section 1. Did you identify some things that you were very passionate about, but had little ability to change? Most of us have issues that fall into that high interest/low impact territory. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do about them, or that we should ignore them. It DOES mean that we should look for ways to develop more skills or knowledge that could be used to impact those issues in the future. And you’ve take the first steps to do that.
If you listed issues that bored you to tears in Section 1, that’s good to know, too, so that you’re not bogged down in activities that don’t appeal to you or that drain your energy. This section will also help you determine the issues you might need to spend more time researching, so that you’re better prepared to fight for them.
Section 2 can help you inventory the skills and talents you bring to the table, and discover whether your news sources are skewed in an unhealthy way – perhaps too much television or too many blogs. It will also help you think through how much time you have to accomplish the goals you’re going to set.
In Section 3, you’re looking at your preferences as well as your abilities. Some people have terrible stage fright and wouldn’t dream of speaking in public, but they are exceptionally skilled on the phone. By taking an honest look at some common activities, you’ll be better able to decide what activities will be your best fit, and keep you from wasting time doing tasks that feel more like chores.
Finally, Section 4 helps you think through the values, standards, and goals you have for yourself. Do you have role models? Are you often pointing out bad examples? What kind of reputation would you like to develop? What are your goals, and what actions can you take in the near future to get closer to those goals?
I really do advise you to print these questions and answers out, and review them regularly. A periodic checkup will help encourage you as you develop more talents and skills, refine the ones you have, or achieve new goals and milestones.
And finally, I want to take a moment to say something, something that I hope you engrave into your brain, because you will need to remember it many times in the future:
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT EVERYTHING.
Say that out loud. Use the first person. Repeat it in front of a mirror.
Once you start doing activist things, people are going to notice. And you know what people do when they notice that YOU are doing things? They try to get you to do MORE things, things they aren’t willing to do. You will need to practice the art of polite refusal (and not-so-polite refusal if necessary) because you cannot do it all. In fact, add that to your homework: develop three ways to say ‘NO’ to someone asking you engage in some activism you aren’t able to. It could be as simple as ‘I wish I had room in my calendar, but it’s just not possible right now.’ You can have that one for free.
And don’t feel bad about learning to say NO. You should not carry around guilt just because you aren’t comfortable taking on issues that you don’t understand fully, or issues that you find less important than others. You are going to be the best judge of what you can handle, and you are also going to be the only one who can ultimately say ‘NO’ when you need to.
I’d love to hear what you learned in your assessment. Comment below on something you hadn’t though of, or a skill you didn’t realize could be useful, or someone you know who’s a really bad example – whatever hit home with you. When you share something, it’s bound to resonate with someone else, and help them grow too.