About six months ago, I asked a close friend to look-over my résumé when preparing to look for summer work. When commenting about my work in activism, she gave me some advice.
“Maybe tone down the emphasis on political volunteer stuff,” she said when emailing my résumé back to me. “When people think politics and young people, idiotic radicals often come to mind. You, of course, intend to look like a well-groomed, clean, young, conservative professional. No wacky hippie political bullshit.”
Although I’m not one to wear a tye-dye shirt to a job interview, I wouldn’t be surprised if many people think this in my home province of Alberta. It seems to have a reputation (whether deserved or not) for being apathetic. Although protests happen here, I’ve found that usually only my friends who were already involved in social justice issues attend them in the first place. Whether activism in Canada is facing an identity problem, I don’t know. However, in the last few years I’ve been with Stand, I’ve always seemed to identify myself as an “advocate” as opposed to an “activist” to someone that isn’t involved in a social justice issue. This is probably because I have a fear that people will think of me as radical hippie if I use the word “activist,” whereas using “advocate” is less likely to trigger a frown.
And there maybe something to this. In a purely un-scientific survey, I looked-up the keywords “activist” and “advocate” in two separate searches for the last seven days in the Canadian Newsstand database, which searches Canadian newspaper articles. Both searches produce very different results, revealing stories that can’t be found when doing the other search. I couldn’t find any correlation of any kind between the two searches, but it speaks to the idea that there are two different conceptions of the words.
It really shouldn’t be this way, given that people that label themselves under either category do the same thing: be active on political issues. This is the best way for ordinary people to advance democracy. Without activists, there is no way that our current system of government can function. Politicians need to know what the public thinks when working on an issue, given that policy decisions rarely happen in a vacuum. The public—or rather, the engaged public—helps influence this. Whether you consider yourself an activist or an advocate, your voice is critical to keeping Canada engaged in Sudan and acting against mass atrocities. Despite the potential negative connotations of young people and politics, know that you’re helping keep the political discussion moving by advocating politically. Sudan maybe halfway across the world, but helping the Sudanese people begins right on our backyards.
Scott Fenwick is Advocacy Director of Stand Canada.