march for our lives illustration

Knowing your Rights

“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”

For some people, life is about being part of something bigger than yourself. You really see it and feel it when you and your tribe are making noise about a truth that has pissed you all off. When using protest or any type of nonviolent resistance, it’s important to know your rights on the way in.

My experience in demonstrations is limited and I’m certainly not the expert on this navigating and exercising your rights in these spaces. But I did find some valuable resources for knowing your rights during demonstration:

  1. When protesting
    Know Your Rights: Demonstrations and Protests [PDF]

  2. When police intervene
    5 Rules for recording Police [Video]

We know rights are often violated in these situations. But these resources advocate that by staying on the right side of the law, even if your rights are denied in the moment, you’ll be better positioned for justice at a later point in time. Ultimately, safety must be your priority number one: Amnesty International Safety During Protest tip sheet

If you know of any resources I can add to this list, or thoughts about those shared here, please comment.


Showing up for Mentorship

Tapping into sources of inspiration keeps me motivated to stay engaged. There are celebrity intellectuals and historical events, art and video at our fingertips to remind us why we care. But there are also people made of magic right in your own circle–people you know intimately.

My mentor-turned-friend/sister Dr. Patty brought that magic to her communities every day. She taught me how “what’s personal is political.” She instilled in hundreds, probably thousands of students that service is our rent for living. She built communities and broke bread. She integrated play into her life, and she laughed a lot. Patty knew how to hold people accountable and still show them love. She celebrated the accomplishments of her urban family members every chance she got.

Keep these sources of inspiration close. Learn what’s worked for them and see if any of those practices feel right for you too. It’s not about trying to become them, or even compare yourself to them.

Remember that magic makers aren’t invincible. They need to be seen and supported, too. As in any relationship, you won’t always understand each other but you can still stand by their side. Show up and be a part of these forces in your life.

It’s been a little over a year since Patty left this plane. I met her just over ten years ago. She invited me to enroll in her Women in Civic Engagement class, and I finally had my own intimate community on Ohio State’s giant campus. In those years Patty showed me how everyone has the capacity to pay their rent for living–you don’t need to be a celebrity status organizer to have an impact.

Remember the magic makers who have gotten you this far. Your mentors, teachers, gurus, family members who do what’s right. Turn their lessons into action. Is there any better way to honor someone than with acts of service?


Finding Your Tribe

All of our sustainable steps so far can be taken from the safety of your mom’s basement. Maybe that’s the way you like it. But civic engagement is really a group activity. So get out there and find your people. This looks different for everyone, but here are two routes I’m exploring:

Find a big event that speaks to your interests, and drill down

  • I attended a United State of Women event last year and was energized by the people in attendance and the opportunities in front of us.
  • From there, find a smaller group with which to engage
    • A popular non-profit was tabling, and I signed a postcard to state my interest. This group is well organized, and sent me me an SMS invite to an Action Forum–a meeting where I could engage with issues of my choice and answer specific calls to action.

Use your professional networking skills in another arena.

If you have a specific goal in mind for your kind of activism, think of your connections. Reach out to that friend-of-a-friend who is close to the topic, send them a message and ask if you can treat them to coffee. They’ll give you ideas on how to get involved, and probably be great conversation partners who leave you feeling energized.

unplugging society at award ceremony

My first intimate tribe of social justice fighters is now spread out all over the world (and beyond). Now, I’m making the shift from student engagement to regular human activism. It’s not always easy to show up to an event alone or put your networking face on over the weekend, but you’ll know it’s right when you leave an interaction with more energy than you showed up with. That’s my benchmark, at least for now.

Tell me: How are you finding your communities for civic engagement?