How to Be an Activist When You’re an Introvert

an introvert is an activist

Marches and protests can be loud, crowded, and overwhelming. Can you still attend them if you’re an introvert?

There’s a lot going on in the world right now compelling people to band together to amplify the issues they care about. But how do we navigate activism as introverts? My family of introverts and I have gone to a number of marches in the last few years, and we’ve learned some things about how to make it less overwhelming and more motivating.

More importantly, we’re figuring out how to tap into the collective energy and channel it into real action that works with our introvert tendencies.  Here are seven things we’ve learned.

Activism for Introverts

1. What you focus on expands.

The news is rife with catastrophe, and it can quickly feel like we’re drowning in negativity and powerlessness. The thing that’s keeping me from burnout is choosing to focus on solutions rather than all the drama the media loves to capitalize on.

When we focus on seeking out and supporting the people and organizations that are working tirelessly to solve the big problems, it’s energizing rather than scary and demoralizing. It’s like Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.”

2. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Many introverts hate conflict, so why in the world would we want to attend a march or protest? Because, as one of my favorite protest signs stated, “So bad, even introverts are here.”

But here’s the thing: There are scary protests, and there are uplifting, empowering, peaceful protests. I understand the impetus behind angry, violent protests, but as a peace-loving introvert, I find that type of conflict an excruciating way to address problems. On the other hand, for my introverted husband, it just doesn’t make sense to let feelings cloud logic, which he believes can prevent us from coming together to figure out real solutions.

So our family has been going to some of the big, well-organized marches, and we’ve enjoyed ourselves and felt safe while supporting causes we believe in. It may seem like a waste of time to go to a march or protest, but the waves of energy coming off a crowd of like-minded people can actually be electrifying and inspiring. My favorite protests are the ones that have a sense of humor, like the gay dance party protests (with glitter bombs!). There is just as much power in joy and humor as there is in anger and fear.  

3. Let the crowd pass you by.

Because we choose to go to the bigger marches, the immense sea of people sometimes quickly becomes overwhelming, especially for our daughter, who is both autistic and highly sensitive. So we’ve figured out a few tricks to make the whole thing less overwhelming.

First, we’ll go toward the center of the action to listen to speakers, but then we give ourselves enough space by hanging out on the edge of the crowd. Once the march starts, we’ll pick a good corner to watch everyone go by, but wait until the end to join in. We get to see all the amazing signs that people have created, and then join in when it’s far less crowded.

But if you’re only comfortable going to smaller events, that’s okay, too. Either way, it can be empowering to get out there and make your voice heard.

4. Make yourself comfortable and come prepared.

Lean hard into your creature comforts to make these events less taxing. Remember to dress dress in comfy layers that take any possible changes in weather that day into account. Bring whatever combo of accessories (hat, sunglasses, scarf, gloves, etc.) that will protect you from the elements for however many hours you plan to be outside. Wear comfortable shoes that you can walk and stand in for hours (we end up doing way more standing than actual marching). A backpack with a sack lunch or snacks, water, sunscreen, and cash is a must at the larger marches. We even carry a sun umbrella for hot, sunny days.

5. Let your sign do the talking.

As an introvert, I’m the last person to want to get up on a soapbox and speak to a crowd, but I loooove making protest signs. Sometimes I’ll make two so I can have a double-sided sign. One of my favorite things is to create a sign that has an uplifting message on one side but a snarky poke at the people and institutions holding us down on the other. I also relish the creativity that comes from having to distill my message into one evocative phrase or image.

But the most rewarding part is when people connect with my message and want to take pictures of my signs, or if I get a laugh or compliment in passing. We don’t need to exchange words because the message is enough to bring us together. We know we are kindred spirits.

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6. Be aware of your surroundings.

The big marches can be sensory overload, but I learned the hard way to keep an eye on my surroundings and make sure we’re safe, no matter how positive things appear on the surface. At one march, a couple that looked friendly approached me, but then they started filming me and asking me pointed yet ridiculous questions — basically trying to troll me. The whole encounter made me feel physically unsafe.

I was caught off guard because at the same time, other people were happily coming up to me asking to take pictures of my signs. The cognitive dissonance was overwhelming, but eventually I pulled myself out of my confusion, assessed my safety, stood my ground, and told the trolls to stop harassing me.

What I learned from this incident is to be aware of who is in my personal space and why, even in seemingly positive circumstances. It’s important to read the crowd from time to time and notice if the energy doesn’t feel right. We also have to look a little further afield and all around us to make sure we’re in a safe space.

7. Prepare to do nothing (and everything) afterward.

Going to a successful march or protest has an interesting effect energetically on me. Afterward, you may strangely feel both exhausted and energized at the same time. You may have an introvert hangover — when you feel mentally and physically unwell from so much “people” time — but you may also feel fired up to do more.

For example, you may want to share the pics you took and the stories of what you felt, heard, and saw. Trust me, this is the time to slow down and give yourself space to process everything. It’s a great time to reflect and journal. Maybe judiciously share on social media.  

But more than anything, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to channel the energy and inspiration you’ve absorbed into action. Make a donation to relevant organizations, if possible. Do a Facebook fundraiser. Consider getting out of your comfort zone and doing some volunteer work with like-minded strangers.

We introverts prefer to lead by quiet example, so at the very least, figure out what changes in your life you can make to further the cause. Then tell other people about what you’re doing. Maybe they’ll feel inspired, too.

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