Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Become an Activist

Photo: Cindy Trinh, Activists of New York, activistnyc.tumblr.com

This week on The Plus Factor, we’re focused on how activism, community engagement, and giving back are being viewed as an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

A few days after the election, I attended a rally in Manhattan that turned into a march up Sixth Avenue toward Trump Tower. Along the route, there was an 11- or 12-year-old girl with her mom, and as they walked to turn the corner and noticed the march, she tugged her mom's arm to stay. Her mom acquiesced, and as we passed, the little girl smiled, lifted her fist, and pumped it in the air to the rhythm of the chant. "Love Trumps Hate. Love Trumps Hate."

It was the first time I felt inspired rather than defeated since president-elect Trump's victory, and since then, there have been many other moments—in my own life and relayed to me by others. All of them have been coalescing to make up this larger moment, this point in history when so many of us realized we weren't doing nearly enough to stand up for the things we value and the inequalities and discrimination we reject.

"These moments have an impact," says Greg Jobin-Leeds, the author of When We Fight, We Win!, a book that chronicles and shares lessons from 21st Century social movements. "They get us all to rise up, which is something we really must do."

Activism, community engagement, and giving back are essential parts of a healthy lifestyle that often get overlooked.

Especially for those invested in wellness, since activism, community engagement, and giving back are essential parts of a healthy lifestyle that often get overlooked. Today, it's much easier to see how these pieces of a person's—and nation's—holistic pie chart matter more than ever.

How will we take care of ourselves and each other and build fulfilling relationships in a society where it's okay to be racist, anti-woman, or homophobic? How will we feed ourselves, our families, and communities around the world well when climate change threatens the food system? Listen, right now is the perfect time to become an activist.

Photo: Cindy Trinh, Activists of New York, activistnyc.tumblr.com

How activism, community, and wellness are linked

Fun fact: there's scientific evidence that people who give back to society are healthier. In fact, studies have shown that people who live "with purpose" may live longer, while those who help others in their communities have lower levels of depression and stress.

Many people, like me, say that attending rallies and being within a community of people with similar values helps them express frustration and anger while regaining hope. That positive feeling you get from showing up is a common motivator across movements and can spark a deeper commitment to future action, Jobin-Leeds says. "If you go to your first protest, you start feeling power and courage and strength," he explains, "and it does allow you to transform yourself and to connect with others who are in the struggle, and to learn."

There's scientific evidence that people who give back to society are healthier.

That effect can feel self-indulgent, but as historian and Well+Good contributor Natalia Petrzela explains, civic participation and self-care have been intertwined for a long time, and good health and strength allows activists to make a bigger mark.

It's why many people are encouraging women from wellness professions to stand up and engage in politics and social movements more. "I believe these women are already part of the conversation but they can’t see how to use their voice as a catalyst for social change," says Christine Miskinis, a life coach who hosted Rock Your Voice, Woman!—an event for female entrepreneurs—in New York City in January.

The keynote speaker at the event was Marianne Williamson, a prominent spiritual teacher who recently ran for Congress and has made the point several times that wellness enthusiasts have an even greater responsibility to act.

"People who are concerned with personal growth and transformation should be the last people sitting out the great social and political issues, because if you know what changes one heart then you have a clue as to what would change the world," she told Well+Good at the start of her political campaign.

Williamson will be hosting a conference, Sister Giant, "to forge a deeper conversation about what is happening in America today" in Washington, DC, on February 2. Speakers include Buddhist scholars...and Bernie Sanders. (See? It's all coming together.)

Photo: Cindy Trinh, Activists of New York, activistnyc.tumblr.com

What you can do

So basically, if you're at all inspired to act, "get informed from the people on the front lines," Jobin-Leeds says, and then jump in.

Use your talents to help an organization standing up for a cause that resonates with you, or make a donation to contribute to its work. Make a sign and attend a protest, like the Women's March in DC on inauguration day, or the many branches of the march happening in cities all over the country.

In the end, walking with a sign may feel fruitless, but standing up to change the conversation—the way successful modern movements like Occupy Wall Street and #BlackLivesMatter have—never is. "We can be the creators of history, either by our acquiescence or our rising up," Jobin-Leeds says, especially if we choose to see that rising up as a part of our responsibility as seekers of long, happy, healthy lives.

Or as a certain outgoing president put it in his farewell address this month, "Ultimately, that's what our democracy demands. It needs you...Show up. Dive in. Persevere. "

Follow our daily (Re)New Year missives all week from Meena Harris. The lawyer, feminist, and founder of I’m an Entrepreneur, Bitch, shares her tips for feeling empowered, taking action, and getting ahead—at work and in life. (Leadership runs in the family—her aunt is Kamala Harris, the just-elected US Senator from California.)

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