Overachiever, activist and writer Amika George has accomplished more than most aged 21. Through her Free Periods campaign, which she launched when she was just 17, menstrual products are now available for free in all secondary schools and colleges in England. In January, it was announced that the UK's 'tampon tax' had also been abolished.
For George, taking action and fighting for positive change has been an integral part of her life so far. It hasn't been an easy road, but settling for the status quo was never an option. In her debut book, Make It Happen, she wants to inspire others to contribute to a better world in small practical steps. From choosing your cause to making allies, she writes about how to affect change at a time when we really need it.
Whatever kind of person you are, you can be an activist. I believe that activism comes in many forms. Refuse to be typecast as a do-gooder or hippie tree-hugger, and know that incredible change has been achieved by a whole range of people who couldn’t be more different from each other. I don’t believe you need to be the most outgoing person in your community, or the most eloquent speaker, or ultra-resilient and resourceful to do this. You can be any sort of person.
I’m not the loudest person in the room. Neither am I the most confident. If you’d told me four years ago I would be speaking in front of TV cameras, or that I’d be standing alone on an open stage holding a mic on the other side of the world, I wouldn’t have believed you. But the urge to act takes over, and you feel you just have to do it. That feeling comes from something which really, really matters to you. Whatever you want to change, whatever issue you feel is demanding to be heard, it can be you who makes it happen.
Our world is a scary place right now. As I write this, I’m reading about impending wars across nations, where diplomacy seems to be wearing thin, and political leaders tweet about solutions in the form of destruction and retaliation. I’m reading about the consequences and terror of a global pandemic killing thousands and plunging the world into collective despair. I’m reading that a worldwide economic downturn is looming, and that mass unemployment, deprivation, and even famine could cause so many more to suffer.
I’m reading about a climate crisis so severe that raging bush-fires have forced thousands to flee their homes, and floods and storms are the biggest killer in countries already crippled by desperate levels of poverty. I despair that my future will be foreclosed by politicians who say we can’t afford to tackle the climate emergency. Politicians who are careless about our future because they may not live to see the consequences.
I’m reading about misogynistic, racist, and divisive comments made by world leaders, which no longer elicit widespread outrage and condemnation, purely because we’ve become inured to them. When there seems to be no hope for the world, it’s easy to become apathetic and, instead of feeling angry, find ourselves accepting.
But the world is full of people refusing to give in to despair, and against all odds are growing and cultivating seedlings of hope and change. We are getting bolder and bolder in seeking out spaces where we can make sure we are heard, and we’re using the internet and social media to expand our reach and connect with others who share our concerns and determination to change the status quo.
You may have been propelled to action because you’re directly affected, or you might have become aware of an injustice that’s staring you in the face and refusing to move away. Whatever the reason, remember you have power – and use it.
Listening to that feeling inside which nudges your conscience, asking you to do something, anything, is often the hardest part of getting going. That feeling is easy to ignore if you try hard enough, but don’t ignore it. Be open to it, and let it do its thing.
I’ve heard the negative, internal voice that tells us we are all insignificant, and nothing we can do will ever make a real difference. It says: ‘What do you think someone like you can do to change something so big?’ or ‘You’re going to look stupid if you have a go and it doesn’t work out.’ I’ve heard that voice tell me I’m not good enough, not brave enough, not old enough, not white enough, not the right kind of person to make a difference.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to that voice, because it was only when I started to act that it slowly but surely died away, until it was barely a whisper – and one I could ignore.
Similarly, when you’re confronted with injustice, hypocrisy, or blatant double standards, don’t ever let yourself feel that it’s just the way it has to be, because nothing is ever the way it has to be. No matter how rigid or entrenched something appears to be, I really do believe that things are always in a state of flux, and it’s for us to grab control of the wheel, start the debate, and steer the conversation in the direction we want it to go. Don’t squeeze yourself into the mould (wrong shape, wrong size) that society claims you need to fit in order to be worthy of attention. It suits some, but not all. Create your own and make it look exactly as you want it to look (the shape that fits you, the size that fits you).
Why should we let those in power, who don’t look like us, speak like us, or know what matters to us dictate how we ought to live? What the hell do they know about the issues that hit us hard? They don’t want you to challenge or disrupt. Why should they? I am so fed up of hearing young people being called Generation Snowflake, a flippant term created to diminish and undermine us. Apparently, we’re too busy pouting and editing our selfies to care about shaping our world.
It’s far easier for people in power if everybody tows the line, eyes down, lips pursed, and hands behind backs. Everything – from books to advertising, films and TV – informs us that power looks, sounds, and feels a certain way. We’ve bought into that for generations, haven’t we? But as Wael Ghomin, the activist who helped spark the 2011 Egypt uprisings, affirms in his book Revolution 2.0, ‘the power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power’. And we, as ordinary people, hold more power than we fully understand.
Think about the kind of society you want to live in. Is it one where everything is predetermined and prescribed, where we wait patiently in line for our paltry slice of the pie, and then find out it tastes pretty horrible when we get it, wait in line again and go back for more? No. So think about the situation and consider how many people a particular issue affects, aside from you (if it’s one that affects you directly), and whether anything is likely to change if you make the decision to ignore it.
Make It Happen: How to be an Activist by Amika George is published by HQ, and available to buy now.
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