In an era of impact -social impact entrepreneurs, impact corporate social responsibility initiatives, impact investing, impact and sustainability, impact philanthropy, impact reports, it’s time we add ‘impact activism’ to give her the edge and acceptance she needs and deserves.
Greta Thunberg, the young no BS European teen building a global movement and taking the world by storm is busting biases with the pure truth of an activist.
A catalytic moment is upon us where people are waking up their own inner activist and not sure where or how to let it unfold.
One reason for this is that bias has existed against activism for a long time.
Just like bias existed against the very words, ‘sustainability’ ‘green’ and the ‘environment’ (especially in investing) for a long time and they are now 'becoming' evidenced-based opportunities, it’s important we reconcile within ourselves and as a culture where these biases still exist.
In 1997 I was a tree-sitter.
Then I became a lawyer. (after my friend was killed by a logger)
‘Tree-sitter’ stirs quite the judgement, at least it did before the ‘L’ word gave me some street cred.
What I’ve witnessed over the past 22 years since my days of front-line activism- beyond marches but spending weeks alone with a harness sleeping 280 feet up in a 2,000 year-old redwood tree to protect that grove, is an interesting shift in people’s bias towards three words:
These words were met with judgement, stereotypes, and beliefs that so viscerally exuded from faces in mainstream circles it was like a coming out party every time I said, “I’m an environmental activist focused on long term sustainability initiatives.” (circa 1997-2000)
How would that be received now?
A lot different. The 3 letters, E. S. G. were still in gestation.
Akin to women sitting on corporate boards, black CEOs of multi-nationals, and other diversity issues that are fully embraced now (arguably) but in the 70’s and 80’s would cause aghast, biases still exist and are deeply ingrained in our culture.
Until we recognize the bias in the bias a certain flavor of activism will only be a white person’s prerogative. Let’s celebrate activism, opportunity for catalytic change and of course the greatness of what Malcolm Gladwell might call an ‘Outlier,’ Greta Thunberg.
And let’s be honest, the criminalization of activism is real in communities of color and those who support them.
One obvious bias that not many are talking about is why the world accepted Greta (and thank Goddess they are!!) and not the young Takota Iron Eyes, a Lakota Native American, who full stop started a movement that went global to protect Standing Rock from the Dakota Access Pipeline?
Why Greta? I think we're not at the point of that reflection yet because the positive force she is stirring is so incredibly necessary and awe-some.
One reason why activism has been frowned upon or called out in the past (I've been the curmudgeon in the room for a long time pointing out the obvious) is that activists will readily point out the uncomfortable. We’re still, as a culture, only comfortable with some uncomfortable. We haven’t fully embraced truth and reconciliation. We want to focus on optimism and sometimes, not always, this comes at the expense of truth.
If bite size chunks work, great, let’s embrace activism first in a way that is relatable. I am 1000% behind Greta, and I am also a stand for uncovering deeply entrenched biases towards activism, especially among impact inspired sustainability professionals and investors.
Bias exists against activism for good reason. It can be dangerous physically.
Front line activists are killed with impunity around the world in record numbers. They were also in this country only a few decades ago. I've witnessed children have their eyeballs swabbed with pepper-spray soaked Q-tips. I saw my friend killed by a logger and it was written off as an accident - all in California.
According to Global Witness in 2018, 164 documented killings took place of non-violent activists working to protect their rights, land and a clean environment around the world.
In the United States 7 states have passed laws that hike up penalties for activists protesting oil and gas pipelines -known as ‘critical infrastructure,’ and at least 6 more states are considering new laws. Thanks to institutional activism, the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights are on it.
But the danger around activism that must be, and is being, done away with is- reputation. Activism is noble. It's needed and it's time has come.
One doesn’t have to be a front-line activist to have an impact.
Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, is a wonderful example of an ‘Impact Activist.’ In his own words, “I’m not an activist. I don’t really have the guts to be on the front lines. But I have supported activists ever since a young man gave a slide show in 1972 at a city council meeting in Ventura.”
As a ‘tree-sitter’ in 1997 I remember boxes of Patagonia gear coming to supply our work. Climbing, rain and all kinds of back-country gear supplied us in abundance to facilitate our work to protect those ancient groves. Patagonia was pivotal in the movement to protect Headwaters Forest, more than 7,400 acres of old growth redwood habitat.
Chouinard most definitely is an activist, an ‘impact activist.’
In the coming years, we’re going to see activism flood the mainstream.
Regular folk will put their bodies on the line in front of bulldozers, in front of militia at the border separating babies from their parents, blocking pipelines, whistleblowing big data surveillance ops, or supporting those doing it.
More people will have the courage to take a direct stand for what they believe in. And if not on the front line, then through impact activism.
Professionals and small business owners have a huge opportunity to direct their work towards impact- a powerful form of activism.‘Impact Activist’ is the (not so) new impact investor or impact entrepreneur.
If you’re not cut out for the front line, like Yvon Chouinard, you can still have a direct impact through many creative paths that support activism.
Rainforest Action Network, Guerrilla Foundation, and so many organizations support the work of front-line community activists taking a stand for climate justice and humanity.
There are now tools to measure impact and the growth of movements. There are myriad ways to get involved personally and professionally, physically or financially.
Let’s spread the movement proudly and say, “I’m an Impact Activist.”
Impact Activists are also professionals that gear their work toward activism (in its many forms). It's the 'system' in the 'change' that makes it all work. From attorneys, to business advisors, to accountants, to marketing and communications experts, to investors, to scientists and biologists, to entrepreneurs and start ups- to the myriad elements in between. Impact Activism calls for a broad spectrum of change.
If finding your voice while aligning your values, purpose and work in the world to have a meaningful and measurable impact is on top of your agenda, please reach out and learn about our Conscious Leadership Mastermind beginning January 2020, and our private coaching and consulting opportunities!
Legacy is the stand we take for what we love and believe in.
Stephanie Trager, esq.
Catalyst Coach to Change Agents
Conscious Business & Legal Strategist
Impact & Sustainability Activator
Let's connect on social too
Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn