How Introverts Can Be Effective Activists
Is there a place for introverted, quiet people in activism?
Before the 2016 election, I would have said no.
I believed that to be an activist, you had to be loud and hang out in crowds; that to be a legit activist, you had to march with a megaphone in one hand and a protest sign in the other.
I believed activism was for extroverts, and there was no room for the quiet types, like me. The social justice movement’s roaring vibe looked like organized chaos from where I calmly sat, and I wanted nothing to do with it.
Yet, every day since the 2016 election, I looked for outlets to express my opinions, to stand up to injustice, and to fight for change. Ranting in social media posts wasn’t doing enough to quell the undercurrent of rage that swelled in my gut.
As an introvert, I have an aversion to standing shoulder to shoulder in large gatherings (especially now, with COVID floating in the air); I loathe networking and yelling chants, and cold-calling strangers or knocking on doors leaves me… well… cold. The whole culture and energy of activism feels intimidating to people who are easily overstimulated — people like me.
I don’t consider myself a particularly shy person, nor am I anti-social. I simply respond to stimulation differently than extroverted people do. Crowds, socializing, loud spaces, and extended moments of heightened emotions leave me feeling drained and overwhelmed. Afterward, I need time, space, and a quiet place to recharge my energy stores.
While every introvert is unique in their tolerance and preferences, most will confess that they need time alone to recharge after stimulating social events. All that socializing and chit-chat drains our batteries.
According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I’m not alone in my introverted temperament. She asserts that up to one-half of the people we know are introverts. She points out that the ranks of social change leadership include quiet types such as Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
“Why shouldn’t quiet be strong?” Cain asks. “And what else can quiet do that we don’t give it credit for?”
How My Gentle Activism Started
I wanted to be brave and fight for causes I believed in, but I had no way to channel my energy so I could use it as a positive force in the world. The vacuum left me feeling powerless.
I am passionate about the causes and candidates I believe in, and I wanted to use that passion to ignite social and political change. What blocked me from putting myself out there in a safe, manageable way was my limiting belief that activism favors extroverts. I couldn’t get past my story that to be considered an effective advocate, I had to have the temerity of an extrovert.
What I needed was a form of activism that buoyed me rather than depleted me. But, I had two non-negotiable conditions:
- My advocacy had to fit my personality and lifestyle, and
- I wanted to participate on my own terms.
Thus began my search for alternative ways to make my (quiet) voice heard. I found Sarah Corbett’s TED Talk, and what she said flipped my internal narrative on its head. She contends that activism needs introverts.
Corbett is the founder of the online community Craftivist Collective, a group that encourages crafting as a means of activism. She is also the author of the book How To Be A Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest.
In an NPR interview from 2019, Corbett suggested that being loud and charismatic are not prerequisites to activism.
The interview featured an excerpt from her 2017 TED Talk: “Introverts, … I know you like being on your own. I know you like being in your head. But activism needs you, so sometimes you’ve got to get out there,” she says. “It doesn’t mean that you’ve got to turn into an extrovert and burn out, ’cause that’s no use for anyone. But what it does mean is that you should value the skills and the traits that you have that activism needs.”
That’s all I needed to hear. She affirmed for me that activism can be more than marching in the streets, attending rallies, and protesting. There are gentler ways to ensure your voice and views are heard, and they can be just as effective. Introverted advocacy is real and it’s emerging as a vital part of social justice and political movements.
Getting into Action
I am living proof that this flipped perspective on activism actually works. Nowadays, I call myself a “gentle activist and volunteer,” and I feel confident that my efforts are actually making a positive impact.
I joined a political group of volunteers in my hometown. One of the activities I signed on for was writing postcards to voters in support of a candidate running in a special election for our state’s government. Our efforts paid off; she won the election.
Next, I signed on to address postcards to encourage people in my state to register to vote. Writing is simple and solitary, but each postcard, email, or letter I write causes a ripple. How many raindrops does it take to cause enough ripples to stir calm waters? I aim to find out.
There are so many ways quiet people can contribute to a cause. The good news is there is no need to limit yourself to politics if politics isn’t your thing. Charities, social justice movements, educational organizations, and nonprofits all need introverted advocates to help them raise funds and awareness.
How to Start Your Own Gentle Activism
It’s hard to know where to start when you are new to gentle activism. I’ve compiled a list of a few things I’ve done over the past three years to support protesters, marches, candidates, and causes:
Donations: Give money, food, or supplies directly to social, political, or philanthropic organizations you believe in.
Online activism: Share, hashtag, comment on, and like posts that support your values, or volunteer to oversee a local organization’s social media account.
Writing: Write letters, postcards, emails, newsletters, op-eds, blog posts — the medium is not as important as the message you share.
Crafting: Start knitting hats, scarves, gloves; needlepoint, poster making, creating signs for marches, sewing masks… the options are endless.
Behind-the-scenes Support: Offer background support to volunteer committees via brainstorming or planning events; organizing fundraisers, marches, protest, letter-writing campaigns, phone banking, and texting campaigns; host virtual meetings via Zoom. Use your resources and skills to build the structures the extroverts need to do their work.
Start a book club: Invite a small, diverse group of participants. Select books from a Black Live Matter Reading list (here’s one) or about social justice issues. Encourage open, honest discussion.
Vote and encourage others to vote: Your vote is your voice. Voting is easy, effective, and it affects social and political change.
Volunteer: Find or suggest activities for the group that are suited to your temperament. Other introverts in the group are likely waiting for someone to step up and lead them.
Sign petitions: Google online petitions and you can find several websites to guide you in creating petitions or signing ones already in place to support your favorite organizations.
Put yard signs on your lawn: It’s an easy, effortless way to share your allegiance and get exposure for your cause.
Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is
Is the way you spend and invest your money aligned with your values? Before I talked with my friend Carrie, a socially responsible investment advisor and self-described introvert, I had never considered how spending and investing could be a form of gentle activism.
“It’s important for me to put my money where my values are — so how I spend money, how I give money, and how I invest are all part of my activism,” Carrie said. “Through the work that I do, my colleagues and I help our clients use the power of their money to transform systems.”
To truly make an impact, we need to be deliberate with where and how we use our energy and our personal resources. They say money talks. I now believe that money speaks volumes when it's used to support the causes, candidates, or organizations you believe in.
Activism Isn’t One Size Fits All
Introverts are made for the behind-the-scenes work that set extroverts up for success. Most of us are good listeners, deep thinkers, and great organizers. We love nothing more than being asked to create strategies and plans, and then to hand those plans over to the extroverts to carry out. Our focus can be the micro-moments that enable and support the extroverts so they can shine brightly in the macro ones.
My quiet activism has made a tremendous difference in how I feel. Rethinking where and how I spend my money, writing postcards, making donations, and supporting causes virtually are vehicles for me to release my frustration. I now feel I’m doing something to be part of the solution. Best of all, my gentle activism has curbed my feelings of hopelessness; instead of feeling demoralized, I now feel empowered.
More importantly, my efforts have had results in getting candidates for change elected.
We all have a voice and a right to express it, regardless if it’s marching in the streets with like-minded people or sitting quietly at our desk with a pen in our hand.
“Ever since the beginning, to keep the world spinning, it takes all kinds of kinds,” (to quote a Miranda Lambert song). Both introverts and extroverts are needed and have vital skills and insights to offer. There is no longer one “right way” to be an activist. And the world is better for it.