ABC's of Activism | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

ABC's of Activism

While the world is far from silent right now, a lot of you are wondering how to get started in being more active, and how to educate yourself in the political and activist spheres. You might not be able to go back to civics class, but here's a handy guide of terms to help you along.

A Allyship: "An active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people." (The Anti-Oppression Network)

B Boycott: "Refusal to purchase a product or use a service; a boycott gives an oppressed group economic leverage in their struggle for social change. During the civil rights movement, bus boycotts and business boycotts were used." ("The Jackson Sun")

C Civil Disobedience: "Nonviolent action in which participants refuse to obey certain laws, with the purpose of challenging the fairness of those laws." ("The Jackson Sun")

Classism: "A system of oppression that produces social and physical barriers based on one's real or perceived economic status or background. It is associated with but not mutually exclusive to capitalism. While we may describe classes as poor/low income/working class, middle class, and upper class, a binary also exists within classism. This binary exploits poor, low income, and working class people for the benefit of middle and upper class individuals." (The Anti-Oppression Network)

Constitution: The guiding document of the United States of America, well worth reading or re-reading. "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." (National Archives.)

D Dialogue: ""Communication that creates and recreates multiple understandings" (Wink, 1997); it is bidirectional, not zero-sum and may or may not end in agreement; it can be emotional and uncomfortable, but is safe, respectful and has greater understanding as its goal." ("Diversity and Social Justice," University of Massachusetts Office of Multicultural Affairs)

E Ethnocentricism: "Judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one's own culture. The view of things in which one's own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it." (The Anti-Oppression Network)

F Framing: Espoused by author and professor George Lakoff, framing is the effort to present positions and actions that most of the public supports, but absent appropriate "framing" often vote their fears instead of progressive beliefs. (from members of the Central Oregon Social Justice Center, COSJ)

G Gerrymandering: "The distorted drawing of electoral lines to give an unfair advantage to one group. The word comes from a combination of salamander and Elbridge Gerry (I744-1814), a Revolutionary era governor of Massachusetts and signer of the Declaration of Independence. According to one story, the word has its roots in an electoral district drawn by Gerry's party for the 1812 election that looked like a salamander." (The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights & The Leadership Conference Education Fund)

H Habeas Corpus: "Constitution in Article I, section 9, states: "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." "A court order from a judge instructing a person who is detaining another to bring the detainee before the court for a specific purpose, usually to explain to the court the reason for holding the detainee. The court then decides whether the detainee should remain in custody or be released."(National Archives)

I Intersectionality: "'The complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect.' Coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 essay asserting antidiscrimination law, feminist theory, and antiracist politics all fail to address the experiences of black women because of how they each focus on only a single factor." (from Merriam-Webster's "Words We're Watching")

Indivisible: A new movement built on the Tea Party's model of "practicing locally-focused, almost entirely defensive strategy," says Ezra Levin, a former Democratic staffer and co-founder of the project. The Indivisible website allows people to enter a zip code and connect to others in the community. (From "Your Guide to the Sprawling New Anti-Trump Resistance Movement," "The Nation," Feb. 6)

J Judicial Activism: "The view that the Supreme Court justices (and even other lower-ranking judges as well) can and should creatively (re)interpret the texts of the Constitution and the laws in order to serve the judges' own considered estimates of the vital needs of contemporary society when the elected "political" branches of the Federal government and/or the various state governments seem to them to be failing to meet these needs." (Auburn University, "A Glossary of Political Economy Terms")

K #KnockEveryDoor: Co-founder Zack Malitz says that "in the 2016 election, Democrats didn't invest enough in going door to door and talking to voters. And where they did, they didn't reach out to people who needed to be persuaded or who were perennially discouraged from voting." So he and some other former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers and volunteers have organized canvassers to knock on every door in the country. (From "Your Guide to the Sprawling New Anti-Trump Resistance Movement," "The Nation," Feb. 6)

L Late-Stage Capitalism:  "The current phase of economic evolution where capital interests over-reach into the political sphere, ensuring created laws predominantly benefit large corporations and super-wealthy individuals, at the expense of democracy and policy in the best interests of people and ecological sustainability." (COSJ)

M Movement Match: A project that includes a quiz to help match activists with the right organization. Organizers says over 10,000 people have taken the quiz so far. (From "Your Guide to the Sprawling New Anti-Trump Resistance Movement," "The Nation," Feb. 6)

N Nonviolence: "Rejection of all forms of violence, even in response to the use of violence by one's adversaries. Many civil rights demonstrators pledged to respond nonviolently, and many were trained in nonviolence principles." ("The Jackson Sun")

Nationalism: "An ideology, or rather a whole category of similar ideologies, based on the premise that each nation (or at least the ideologist's own nation) constitutes a natural political community whose members should all live together under the authority of "their own" independent nation state. When the people of one nation live in large numbers in a multi-ethnic state or in states with government(s) dominated by political elites drawn from another nationality, nationalism often becomes an ideology justifying rebellion or secession in order to create or recreate a nation state for the heretofore subjugated nation." (Auburn University, "A Glossary of Political Economy Terms")

O Oppression: "A systemic social phenomenon based on the perceived and real difference among social groups that involve ideological domination, institutional control, and the promulgation of the oppressor's ideology, logic system, and culture to the oppressed group. The result is the exploitation of one social group by another for the benefit of the oppressor group." (Oberlin College/"Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice," Ed. Adams, Bell & Griffin)

P Passive Resistance: "Quiet but firm refusal to comply with unjust laws; passive resistance involves putting one's body on the line, risking arrest and attempting to win over one's foes with morally persuasive arguments." ("The Jackson Sun")

Q Quorum: "A Quorum of an assembly is such a number as must be present in order that business can be legally transacted." (Robert's Rules Online)

R Racism: "Racial and cultural prejudice and discrimination, supported intentionally or unintentionally by institutional power and authority, used to the advantage of one race and the disadvantage of other races. The critical element which differentiates racism from prejudice and discrimination is the use of institutional power and authority to support prejudices and enforce discriminatory behaviors in systemic ways with far-reaching outcomes and effects." (COSJ)

S Solidarity Organizing: Organizing for social and economic justice, recognizing that the experiences and wisdom of divergent, traditionally oppressed groups like people (and communities) of color, women, LGBTQ folks, or the working class are centrally important and interconnected, such that any strategies going forward must be rooted in the unification of these causes." (COSJ)

T Tolerance: "Respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human." (UNESCO Declaration of Principles on Tolerance)

U Underserved: People with life circumstances that make them susceptible to falling through the cracks in our political, economic or health care systems. In the context of health care, many do not have health insurance or cannot afford it; those who do have insurance sometimes face insufficient coverage. (Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved)

V Veto: "A privileged single vote that, according to some systems of rules for decision-making, has the effect of blocking or negating a majority decision. In the United States, the President may veto a bill passed by majorities in both houses of Congress, preventing it from becoming law unless each house then re-passes the bill by a two-thirds majority." (Auburn University, "A Glossary of Political Economy Terms")

W White Privilege: "The concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society which whites receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society." (Oberlin College/"Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice," Ed. Adams, Bell & Griffin)

X Xenophobia: "Fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign." (COSJ)

Y Youth Vote: A political term describing 18- to 24-year-olds and their voting habits. "Traditionally in American elections, young people have stood out for their consistently low levels of electoral participation, but a shift has appeared in some years, at least in part, in the direction of greater engagement." ("Young-Adult Voting: An Analysis of Presidential Elections, 1964–2012" U.S. Census Bureau, 2014)

Z Zen: "The whole point of Zen practice is to become fully aware, here and now.  To come home to the present moment; this is truly where we live.  Thinking verbally takes us far into the past, or into the distant future. But both past and future are fantasies, since the future isn't known and our memories of the past are often quite distorted accounts of what really happened.  Zen exhorts one to "Come to your senses!", for when we get lost in thoughts of the past or future, life passes us by." ("What is the Meaning of Zen?" Rafael Espericueta, Bakersfield College)

Prepping for the struggle? Headed for a round of civil disobedience? Knowledge is power.

Know your rights, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union:


  • You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud.
  • You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car or your home.
  • If you are not under arrest, you have the right to calmly leave.
  • You have the right to a lawyer if you are arrested. Ask for one immediately.
  • Regardless of your immigration or citizenship status, you have constitutional rights.


  • Do stay calm and be polite.
  • Do not interfere with or obstruct the police.
  • Do not lie or give false documents.
  • Do prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested.
  • Do remember the details of the encounter.
  • Do file a written complaint or call your local ACLU if you feel your rights have been violated.

About The Author

Nicole Vulcan

Nicole Vulcan has been editor of the Source since 2016. While the pandemic reduced "hobbies" to "aspirations," you can mostly find her raising chickens, walking dogs, riding all the bikes and attempting to turn a high desert scrap of land into a permaculture oasis. (Progress: slow.)
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