Grassroots activism starts with you.

That is the deepest truth. In sight of the spring semester, many Wildcats are wondering how they can get involved in local social justice movements. How can one college student make a difference in their community, their University, their world? The most important thing to remember when asking this question is that it is called “grassroots” activism for a reason. Everyone starts out as a seed, and grows their roots into either already existing movements orbiting the empowerment of marginalized communities, or into their own movements entirely.

Social justice work is not “new news”—in fact, advocating for your rights and livelihood is as old as humanity itself. The trick is to simply start somewhere; show up to events that have important political and social significance, volunteer your time and energy into the movements, and share your knowledge and awareness with those in your personal circles and beyond. Social justice work is an example of just how interconnected we all are in the world and how the act of one person can set off a ripple effect to so many others.

But where do you start, really? What does it even mean to be an activist? We spoke with Rachel Ward, the director of the student-run activist organization the Gender and Sexuality Equity Center to share some insight into what activism means to her and how students can get involved.

How has activism influenced your life personally?

R.W: Activism has enriched my life to the nth degree; I’m not sure I would be who I am today without it. To me, [intersectional] activism is a nonnegotiable part of my life; it not only gives my life meaning and purpose, but it also motivates me to never stop learning and broadening my perspective. 

Do you feel it is important, and if yes, why?

R.W: They say the door of consciousness swings only one way; this rings true for me and the role that activism plays in my life. It’s not easy realizing that we exist in a world of so much gray, and so much of it is up for interpretation and redefinition— activism means allowing people the chance to redefine the space that they take up in this world.

What aspects of the activist organizations on campus have influenced you the most?

R.W: The activist organizations I have had the privilege of being involved with have continually stressed the validity of my voice, my needs, and my desires. Not only have I had my own experiences validated in this way, but I have also undergone an incredible journey of self-discovery and self-reflection.

Do you believe that grassroots activism is effective?

R.W: I believe that grassroots activism is not only radically effective but also incredibly necessary and vital to any social movement. Many like to point to the legislative successes as a movement’s sole turning point, and while I think that legislation and administrative policy definitely play a role in bringing about social change, I also think it’s naïve and disrespectful to invalidate the efforts of people doing the often painstakingly difficult work at the grassroots level.

What is in store for the spring semester and the future of our campus in regards to activist efforts?

R.W: Folks by and large who have been doing the work for a long time will continue to do so, but I hope and foresee an influx of support from campus and community partners alike in the future. I think one silver lining in this current climate is the way folks are beginning to feel motivated to pursue activist work, finding more and different ways to bring about positive change in their own lives and communities. The GSEC provides a number of internship opportunities and community events students can attend.

How can students get involved?

R.W: Students can get involved in a variety of ways! There is something out there for everyone, whether it be peer education, self-education, volunteering, interning, protesting, and so on. I think some of the most challenging parts of getting involved are getting in touch with your vulnerability and openness to different ideas and difficult conversations.

Can anyone be an activist?

R.W: Without making any generalizations, I think that everyone with an open mind and open heart has the potential to be an activist. However, I do understand that that depends on how one defines being an activist. I would never discourage anyone with interest in doing ally or activist work because I genuinely believe that we are stronger when we stand together.

Additional insight: 

Katie Peterson, the program coordinator for the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center (CCLC) on campus, gave us the insight into some of the events students can anticipate for the upcoming semester:

“Obviously we are really looking into providing those safe spaces but also really creating those opportunities to help equip students to feel empowered and use their voices to challenge anything they my be concerned about,” Peterson said.

The CCLC will be offering “Talk about it Tuesdays” (bimonthly) starting this Tuesday, January 24, to raise awareness and provide a safe space to process and discuss things happening in the community and nationwide. There will be an activism training workshop, Activism 411, on January 25 where students can discuss why they should practice activism, along with training in allyship and tool-kit gathering with community member speakers. (More events TBA.)

Now that you’ve got the gist, here’s where to begin: 

The next few weeks are jam-packed with events and spaces that students can go to get started on their activist journeys. One major event in Chico is the Women’s March on Chico taking place this upcoming Saturday, January 21. This event is part of a nationwide movement involving 370 registered sister marches to the Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration.

Other upcoming events include:

Alternative Inaugural Viewing and March | January 20, 10–11:30 a.m.

Women’s March on Chico | January 11, 10:30 a.m. march, speaker rally at noon

CCLC Activism 411 | January 25, 6–8 p.m. activism workshop

CCLC Election Expressions | January 26, spoken word in Selvester’s Cafe at 6 p.m.

GSEC hosts “The Vagina Monologues” | February 10–11

CADEC Healthy Relationships Week | February 8–11

Green Dot Violence Prevention bystander training for students | TBA

GSEC Maggie and Marsha Activist Awards Nominations due April 14