3. Hone Your Mission Statement
In order to engage people on an issue, you need to cut through a lot of other information that’s demanding their attention. With most people, you’ll probably get five seconds tops to explain yourself, 15 seconds when they’re feeling generous. So pretend that you have 10 seconds or less to explain your cause, inspire people to join you, and make a lasting impression. What would you say?
Here’s Izzy again:
It’s always a good idea to make an elevator speech. I’m kinda hazy on the origin of “elevator speech,” but I think it’s based on the idea that you could deliver this speech in the time it takes for an elevator to go up a few floors. Sit down with a pen and a piece of paper, and write down what you think your mission is. It’s fine if it’s super long and full of details at first. Then, keep editing it down by removing details and specifics until you’ve got a speech that’s short, simple, easy to understand, and useful. People don’t want to hear the complete history of your organization or group—they want to know why you’re worthy of their attention and they want to know FAST.
“Don’t just say the first thing that pops into your head,” says Erin. “Write a personal mission statement and memorize it—that way you’ll always be prepared!
4. Organize an Action
Now that you’ve got an idea of who or what’s ass you want to kick, it’s time to put the active in activism (ugh, sorry, guys). You don’t have to be marching around outside or chaining yourself to a tree to qualify as active, though—you can change the world just by sitting in your bedroom, typing.
First, figure out what you can do that will get your message to the person or people who need to hear it. Warns Erin:
You have to really do your research. Look into other successful campaigns that were started on the platform you want to use (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr) and emulate (but don’t copy) their strategies. Talk to others that have done it, look at how good petitions/hashtags/blog posts are written and once you do all this, spread the word. Email as many people/organizations/news outlets as you can. Write letters to the editors of newspapers and websites. Make a YouTube video to share.
And ask for help, says Izzy:
If you’ve joined an organization, they’ll give you all of the advice and technical support you need to succeed! Even if it sounds perfect in your head, they’ll help you improve your action until it’s good enough to be published on the internet. Your organization will hopefully be full of people who can share your page or petition [or feed or whatever] with their Facebook and Twitter followers, and all of the sudden you’re getting signatures from people who aren’t just your mom.
Izzy, Julia, and Erin all sang the praises of Change.org. “It’s easy, quick, and so shareable on social media sites, where you’ll get your audience,” says Izzy. “Don’t walk around downtown with a clipboard and a latte begging people to sign your petition.”
5. Recognize and Celebrate Successes
The internet is vast, and your issue might take a long time to really fix, so it helps to develop a clear idea of the problem you’re attacking and an equally clear definition of victory. Otherwise you’ll be stuck trying to resolve huge, blurry problems like “sexism” or “poverty” for your entire life, and you’ll never actually be able to determine what (if anything) you’ve accomplished. You may get bored, or burned out, or bitter.
Set small, specific goals. Instead of setting out to “end street harassment,” resolve to do something like getting an op-ed in your school paper, or defeating a specific bill, or just getting more attention for an issue that matters to you. Julia and the rest of the girls at SPARK focused on Seventeen with this in mind. Says Julia:
When we were planning our action, we knew that it was probably a good idea to target a particular magazine instead of all of the magazines in the world that use Photoshop. It’s smarter to start with a realistic goal, and then once you’ve succeeded make another realistic goal, and another. These smaller goals act like steps leading up to your giant, dreamy, unbelievable goal. The higher you go up, the more plausible your long-term goal gets. Celebrate every success you have, even if it seems small. It could lead to more successes in the future! And it will help lighten the mood if everybody’s really stressing out. I baked a cake after Seventeen released their “Body Peace Treaty.” (Mostly because I really wanted to eat a cake.)
Follow her lead: When you get good news or have a small victory, THROW A PARTY. Invite your friends. Tell yourself at the end of every day that you tried really hard, and you did a really good job. That is more than just a little necessary self-congratulation; that’s how you work up the strength to keep fighting.
6. Take Care of Yourself
You can’t save the world by ruining your life, and you can’t do good work if you’re ruined. It’s not selfish or lazy to take a break and take care of yourself—it’s a necessary component of your success.
When our petition was first taking off, I was completely running on adrenaline and not really processing what was happening. I flew to New York City and met up with some other SPARK members to do interviews and meet with the editor-in-chief of Seventeen. I went from interview to interview, having to do more interviews in the car on the way to another interview. It was great, but I knew it was time for a break when I felt like punching an interviewer for making me answer the same questions I’d already had to answer a billion times. I was ready to come home and take a break. THAT IS COMPLETELY FINE. Different people have different levels of what they can handle before feeling stressed. And another advantage of working with a group is that you can share your workload with other people when you are feeling too tired.
There’s one more thing we want to warn you about: The moment you do something really visible and people start to pay attention to you, a small number of people will feel jealous and/or threatened, and be mean to you. Izzy knows what I’m talking about:
It’s basically a rule of life that when you publicly share your opinion on something, you’re going to be met with opposition that is at times fierce and scary. This shouldn’t stop you. It’s always good to surround yourself with a group of positive people who can counteract all of the hate—hopefully the other kids in your organization or group can be your support network. It’s also OK to stop entirely. You don’t have to do a walk of shame down the street waving a white flag, either—just stop circulating your materials, delete your petition, throw away your blueprints. Stopping to take care of yourself shouldn’t make you feel like a failure—it’s you dealing with your own life and trying to make it better. As an activist, that’s what you’re trying to do for your cause every day. Sometimes it’s OK for your cause to be you.
We hope that gets you inspired to start making some change on the internet. And hey, by the way, you know what’s on the internet? YOU, RIGHT NOW. And THIS VERY WEBSITE. You know who else is reading this right now? A lot of other teenage girls all over the world. Go ahead and use the comments section to throw out your elevator pitch. There are thousands of you. You could form an army, fighting for justice. It can start with you. ♦