While some argue voting in the presidential election is one of the most important civic duties, ensuring that a democracy serves the best interests of its citizens requires active participation all year, every year.
“America is built on hope for the next opportunity. What happens in the next midterm election two years from now, and the presidential election in 2024 will be built on the efforts that are put in after this election is over.” — Michelle Dusseau, UCF associate lecturer
“It is what we do after, when the dust settles, that helps us find our way to real lasting change,” says Michelle Dusseau, UCF human communication associate lecturer. “No matter the result of this election, we can’t happen throw our hands up and say, ‘Well it is what it is.’ America is built on hope for the next opportunity. What happens in the next midterm election two years from now, and the presidential election in 2024 will be built on the efforts that are put in after this election is over.”
Dusseau earned her bachelor’s in interpersonal and organizational communication and a master’s degree in corporate communication and technology from Rollins College. She’s also completed a doctoral degree in professional studies in education from Capella University.
Whether you’re new to activism work or you’ve been at it for years, Dusseau, who teaches Social Innovation and Activism, emphasizes it is a constantly evolving practice. Here she shares some insight on how to make a difference in the long run.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become involved with social activism or political issues but doesn’t know how to start?
MD: My advice would be to first realize you have more than likely already engaged in acts of activism without knowing it. We often think of the disruptors and front-line agitators as the only activists; but activism is art, fashion, listening with empathy, storytelling and building bridges in divided communities, while both acknowledging and tending to intergenerational trauma and oppression.
Follow other activists on social media, engage in community discussions and read. There is so much material from great activist leaders. I have been an active activist for over 25 years, but I am still reading new work and learning from others in the field. My most recent acquisition to my collection of activist writing is “The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart” by Alicia Garza.
What are some simple ways people can continue to make their voice heard after the election?
MD: Voting is an important and powerful use of your voice, but it is one piece in a much larger puzzle.
Becoming educated on political leaders at the state and local level is imperative. From the mayor, city council and district attorney to the members of your local schoolboard, these are the individuals who are making decisions on the community level that impact your life every day. Follow them on social media, call their offices, call out injustices, show up to town hall meetings and speak your voice in the actual room where decisions are being made.
What are some mistakes people may make when they want to champion a cause or issue? How can these be avoided?
MD: Traditional rhetoric is rooted in persuasion, but also in the goal of “winning” the argument. I encourage activists to shift to invitational rhetoric, where listening to the position of the opposition is part of the process. This can create a pathway to compromise, and even an awareness that few of us are “totally right” all of the time. This can be uncomfortable, because it can lead to the uncovering of hidden biases or misconceptions, but it is a necessary step in coming back together as a community. Therefore, interpersonal dialogue, one-on-one exchanges where mindful listening — when you are cognizant of your own potential bias — is essential in policy discussions.
What may some people not realize about being politically engaged or socially active?
MD: Individuals with a predisposition to be change agents often feel like they need to champion and fight for every issue in which they recognize injustice. Active activism is rooted in awareness and awareness is born from education through experience, reading and communication. All of this has a high output of emotional labor, and that labor is exhausting. No one can fight for everything, but everyone should fight for something.
“Active activism is rooted in awareness and awareness is born from education through experience, reading and communication. … No one can fight for everything, but everyone should fight for something.” — Michelle Dusseau, UCF associate lecturer
It is also essential that we fight outside our own self-interest. Fighting for the rights of others, that which does not directly impact your reality, although it impacts the world you live in, is how we strengthen community and build trust where relationships are fractured. In this process, it is important not to “take over” a movement but to be an ally and servant to the cause of fighting the injustice.
The greatest act of activism we can engage in daily is love. Caring for others when we don’t need to, but because we want others to succeed. This take little effort but can save lives.
We are in the middle of a mental health crisis and checking in on one another is essential. Giving permission to one another to NOT be OK is necessary and being with them in that moment, rather than trying to fix things for them, is needed compassion.
Know the resources at UCF and in your community. When you are an activist, when you become known as a helper and a healer, people will bring their problems to you. UCF Cares is not a slogan, it is a lifeline. Victims Services is available 24/7, 365 days a year at 407-823-1200. And Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has a variety of services, including an after-hours crisis hotline at 407-823-2811.
What do you see for the future of activism?
MD: As a generational theorist, I know that Gen Z is one of the most powerful voices, and now voting blocks that there is. This generation is driven by change and will not take no for an answer — we saw this after the Parkland and what mobilization means when bodies and technology unite for a common good.
What I am really excited about is the generation behind them, Generation Alpha. History will tell where this generational line will be drawn, currently it is the early 2010s, but I predict it will be the children that have little organic memory of life before this pandemic (so those born in 2013 or 2014). I believe Gen Z and the Alphas will be known as the activist generations. They are the most diverse in thought and belief and are exposed to global perspectives as part of their everyday experience.