2019 was the year people across Canada marched against climate change, stood up to transphobia, fought pipelines, and protested unfair working conditions. Most involved weren’t experienced, grassroots activists. A majority were Canadians new to political organizing, who heard a call to challenge injustice and decided to listen.
With many Canadians committing to improving their lives through New Year’s resolutions orbiting around self-improvement, why not make 2020 the year you improve the world around you? Affecting real change, while sometimes daunting, is a way to take ownership of your place in society and participate in a way that is meaningful to you.
Not sure if activism is a good fit? Worries about feeling out-of-place or not making a difference are common and for many, events like protests aren’t accessible. But you don’t have to march in a rally or carry a witty sign to engage in social justice; activism can take less overt forms that fit your lifestyle.
HuffPost Canada asked Canadians how they get involved with the political causes they care about and what brings them joy in organizing. Here’s what they had to say.
Choose a cause that hits close to home and make allies
Canadians looking for causes to advocate for usually get involved with those they have personal stakes in. Take Palestinian-Canadian political analyst Dalya Al Masri. Growing up in Vancouver and London, Ont., she heard plenty of hateful remarks about the Middle East and little solidarity with Palestinians. The Palestineian-Israeli conflict is often debated problematically and in ways that erase the hardships Palestinians face.
It’s important for Al Masri to combat the stereotypes she grew up with. That’s why she uses her social media platforms to highlight the beauty of her culture: she shares Palestinian poetry, food, and music with followers, as well as in-person at events she organizes.
“Often people don’t know Palestine. They’ll know about the occupation, but not about the humanity behind it,” she explained.
That changed when she started university and was introduced to pro-Palestine campus activism groups. Hearing that Canadians cared about her people’s plight made her feel less alone and emboldened her to write.
“Writing opinion pieces in an objective, factual manner was a huge way for me to [organize],” she told HuffPost Canada. “I felt like I wasn’t so useless, living in Vancouver while my people are going through an occupation.”
Her accomplishments as an alumnus have been noticed by supportive professors; they’ve referenced her in their research and regularly ask her to speak on campus. This allyship in academia, along with work done by Jewish, Indigenous, and Black Vancouver residents, reminds Al Masri that she’s not alone in her work.
Use intimate conversations to change minds
Fighting for a cause often means changing attitudes about social issues or marginalized groups. This kind of activism is especially productive when those opposed are educated by their own communities.
After the 2018 Toronto van attack thrust incel groups and their violent anti-woman views into the spotlight, Toronto podcasters Dain Miller and Niall Spain realized the onus was on straight, white men like them to challenge misogyny among fellow men.
Watch: What it means to be #TorontoStrong. Story continues below.
“We realized it was our responsibility to lend our voices to the cause,” Miller told HuffPost Canada.
Communities where men offer relationship advice to other men can veer into “red pill territory,” Spain notes, meaning that vocal, anti-feminist attitudes that direct anger towards women will be among the top search results for men seeking online support.
Recognizing how important it was to create supportive spaces that welcomed vulnerable emotions from all genders, Miller and Spain started the advice podcast “Fuck Buddies.” Every episode, listeners send the duo, along with their guest hosts, questions about sex and modern dating. While the tone of their show is comedic, they use the sex-positive format to show that men can fight toxic masculinity and rape culture.
The two recall how a deeply upset listener contacted them for breakup help. He found their show through a grief forum and was having a hard time with his feelings. Recognizing the listener’s pain, they expressed how they processed their own breakups and how they picked up the pieces in healthy ways.
“When they messaged us, it was clear they felt very insecure about being vulnerable,” Spain said. “It was almost like they were saying, ‘Is it OK to feel this way?’”
Raise local awareness through art
If you’ve ever taken a stroll through the small coastal town of Twillingate, N.L., and spotted a wool starfish, you probably stumbled across the handiwork of the Rock Vandal.
The moniker belongs to occupational therapist Nina Elliott, who engages in “craftivism:” guided by writer Betsy Greer’s manifesto, craftivists use their creativity to create non-destructive public art that call attention to problems. Elliott was drawn to the gentleness of craftivism, as it allowed her to get creative with tailoring her political messaging to her town’s surroundings.
One of her most striking installations, “Old Manolis and the Sea,” started because she was frustrated by government inaction about a nearby sunken ship; three decades after Manolis L sank, the shipwreck showed signs of oil leakage, which worried locals.
Elliott, along with volunteers from across Newfoundland and from Hamilton, knitted starfish out of natural wool and placed them on a popular bridge in 2015.
Overfishing and pollution are among many problems facing our oceans. Story continues after the slideshow.
“The starfish represented the effects of the oil spilling,” Elliott told HuffPost Canada. ”We could put out starfish and it can catch people’s attention. If they’re interested, they can learn about the issue. [They wouldn’t do that] if we used a shame-oriented approach.”
After years of local pushback, the federal government removed the oil from the shipwreck in 2018.
Find healing and community in advocacy
Many discover emotional and social benefits to activism. Meeting like-minded people can ease hardships, like it did for Edmonton reporter and author Alexis Kienlen.
Before assisted dying was legalized, a death in the family shook Kienlen to her core. She describes the manner her relative passed as “horrific” and wished at the time that no family went through what hers did.
In the midst of her grief, Kienlen came across the advocacy non-profit Dying With Dignity. Signing up for an email newsletter led the writer to attend meetings with her local chapter.
“Before I went, I was scared to go. I thought it would be full of people who were suffering and visibly dying,” she told HuffPost Canada.
Instead she discovered a group of passionate Edmonton locals who were personally affected like she was and wanted to ensure Canadians could choose safe, humane deaths at the end of their lives. It was a pleasant surprise to see attendees her own age, in a space where a friend was welcome to bring her baby.
Before her assisted death, Canadian Audrey Parker wrote 10 things that helped her have a fabulous end-of-life experience. Story continues below.
Attendees do shed tears over loved ones, but the sadness also comes with joy; Kienlen says she’s found healing in talking about what her family went through and hearing similar situations from others. The bonds she’s made have helped the agricultural journalist cultivate a form of organizing that takes advantage of her capabilities. She makes a monthly donation to Dying With Dignity, has written to her MPs, demonstrated with protesters, and corrects terminology (like the term “assisted suicide,” which advocates are working away from).
To those looking to get involved with a cause for the first time, Kienlen advises on focusing on where one’s energies make the most sense.
“For me, it’s kind of a measure of ‘What can I do at this time?’” she told HuffPost Canada. “There are others who are way more involved; I’m an average person who’s doing a little bit.”
20 Ideas For 2020 is our month-long series that explores easy ways to take action on the ideas and changes you may have already been thinking about.