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What is an activist?

Activists are people who seek to create positive change. But not all people who work for change define themselves as activists.

A person who speaks out at their workplace about unsafe practices, or somebody who refuses to buy a tram ticket as a personal protest against privatisation, may not see themselves as activists, yet these actions could be seen as political 'activism'.

It is important to go beyond the stereotypes of activistism that are often deliberately generated to discredit and marginalise people who protest. This site recognises that activism includes the positive and courageous actions of ordinary people in their daily lives.

Activists may be forming radical co-operatives, working within universities and schools to educate others, working through the legal system or government to create institutional changes, maintaining cultural practices and music as an act of resistance, developing national and international networks and forming alliances across movements.

Activists may be students, residents, trade unionists, Aboriginal rights campaigners, environmentalists, lesbian and gay campaigners, peace and social justice workers; they may work in funded non-government organisations (NGOs), in grassroots affinity groups or autonomous networks, in political parties or lobby groups, in local resident associations or in a trade union.

This website will be of value to all activists and is created in the spirit of solidarity and common ground between all people working for a free, just and sustainable society.

Read about the experiences of other activists in the Case studies section.

Activists not criminals

Importantly, this website recognises that activists are people who want to create positive and peaceful change. Activists are not violent, anti-social or criminals. Although there are diverse perspectives on activist tactics and how to create real change, activists are not violent people. Nor do activists willingly create violence. Overwhelmingly, activists work to prevent or reduce violence in society and work in ways to minimise harm to people.

We need to remember that the police and state institutions such as the prison system have a monopoly on the 'legitimate' use of force and that movements for change in Australia are overwhelmingly peaceful and nonviolent.

Labeling people who break the law as 'deviant', 'evil', 'anti-social' and different to ordinary law-abiding citizens is part of the social control functions of the criminal justice system. In the same way, activists are often labeled or associated with the terms 'criminal' or 'terrorist'. The labeling of certain activists as 'violent' or terrorist' is a part of efforts to discredit and undermine support for social change and is often used to justify legal repression and police violence.

On the contrary, activists are most often principled people who are concerned about the issues that affect themselves and others and reflect the diversity of the Australian community.

Read about the experiences of other activists in the Case studies section.

See also: Policing Political Protest