Road to TEDx, hosted by UNR’s College of Business, is a student speaker competition where students share present an idea in a similar format to TED Talks. On October 2, 2019, I gave a presentation at UNR’s Road to TEDx event about activism, the importance of it, and how anyone can be an activist. The event was a success, and I placed second overall! Below is the speech I gave at the event:
So I’d like to start off by asking you a question. Raise your hands if you have ever wanted to change something or spread a message about something. Maybe its climate change. Maybe its politics. Maybe it’s the lack of air conditioning in your dorm. We read about, hear about, and experience all sorts of problems on a day-to-day basis. For instance, when I was in 5th grade, our class read about how Typhoon Haiyan had devastated the Philippines, killing thousands and causing lots of damage. We wanted to help. So we did. We decided to do a fundraiser to aid disaster relief. Coincidentally, our teacher had a popcorn machine. Hence, Popcorn for the Philippines was born. It took just 30 kids, one teacher, and a popcorn machine to raise over $400 for the Red Cross. I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment, and the feeling that I did something.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. Maybe you too have hosted a bake sale fundraiser or volunteered at your local animal shelter. Maybe you haven’t. But you can’t deny that there is something out there that you want to change. And now is the time to do something. To be an activist and make that change happen. So, first off, what even is activism? Well, last week I searched it up and Google told me it was “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” That’s it. But many people associate activism with a huge, long-term commitment: famous movements like #climatestrike because that is what the media reports. While these campaigns are amazing, they only perpetuate the idea that activism is hard and unachievable.
That’s wrong. Activism is just that: trying to promote or intervene with some sort of change or reform. It doesn’t mean devoting your life to philanthropy. It can just mean a simple Facebook post, reminding your friends to save water. So: what’s stopping you? Think about that for a moment: what is stopping you from advocating for that change? Trick question: nothing is. We often tell ourselves: “I’m too young, I’m too old, somebody else will do it, it won’t make a difference, or I don’t know how.” But these are just excuses–because even small changes count. Let me reference a story: The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley.
A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a boy who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean. As he approached, he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The boy looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean”. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man. “The tide stranded them. If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer.“Surely you realize that there are miles of beach, and thousands of starfish. You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy listened politely, then picked up another starfish. As he threw it back into the sea, he said, “It made a difference for that one.” So go forth with your idea. Because, no matter what you do, you will still have made an impact.
So now you may be wondering: how do I proceed? How do I do activism? Activism can be broken down into several steps: Brainstorm, Action, and Modify, or, how I like to call it, BAM for short. Brainstorming involves reflecting on your passions and the causes you’re interested in, and then finding a way to benefit that cause. Thinking about the questions: What are some issues that affect me or that I care about? What are some ways I can spread awareness about or help this problem? And What goals do I have? To start off, first consider your passions and the causes you’re interested in. Then, do a little bit of research. What have others done? Is there already an organization I can work with or help?
Then, you want to brainstorm several ways to spread awareness. There are many ways to spread awareness about or help some issues–putting a couple posters in your office building, putting a donation jar in your dorm, sharing a post on social media, making a Youtube video, sending a letter to the editor, just to name a few. They don’t have to be difficult and time-consuming methods. And then, you want to ask yourself about goals–set realistic, quantitative goals, like: I want 50 people to see my Facebook post or I want to donate 50 lbs of food to the Food Bank. Don’t make it your goal to just…spread awareness. How much awareness? How many people? It is easier to accomplish something when you have these quantitative goals.
And many people forget this one: find someone else. It can just be 1 friend, or it can be 10 people. Work with others who are also interested in the same cause. You don’t have to, but it will help you take your project further. The next step, action, involves going forth with your plan and making a difference, along with overcoming any obstacles during the process. Finally, modify involves reflecting on what you have done: how can I modify my project so that it has a bigger impact? Reaches more people? Raises more money? You want to keep the momentum going and improve on your project.
So now, I’d like you all to do one thing. Start. If you only remember one thing from my talk, remember that word: “start.” Because that is what not enough people are doing–they are afraid of starting. To become an activist, you must first take that step into the unknown. And then, you will truly have made an impact in your community. So what will you do? Will you organize a park cleanup? Volunteer at an organization you are passionate about? Or even just put up a sign reminding your coworkers to turn off their lights? Because anything you do, no matter how small, will make a difference. Thank you.