There Is Space For Quiet Activism

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Obviously. And when it comes to activism, being loud often makes change. After the recent incident with Bernie Sanders, and with a lot of the Black Lives Matter protests, I’ve been seeing a folks in activist movements talking about the way that change happens. I fully support these conversations, and furthermore I fully support people in marginalized communities being loud and in the face of people who aren’t listening. Change never happened because some people asked very politely.

However there are some people framing this as the only way to do activism. There seems to be an assumption or implication that the only real activism is activism that consists of yelling, disruption, swearing, and anger.

Now I want to be as clear as possible. All of those things are important in activism. They show up in most movements at some point and they are incredibly useful.

I also want to clarify that I understand most movements can be a bit like a pendulum in their styles and preferences. Sometimes we’re focusing on louder, more in your face activism, sometimes we’re more focused on behind the scenes, quiet work. Right now we’re focused on anger and that is appropriate.

With all that hedging out of the way, I want to give a shout out to the quiet ones among us. It’s always been important for me to work on making my spaces and movements accessible to the neurodiverse among us. For people with anxiety, personality disorders, autism, depression, eating disorders, OCD, and all the other variations on the human brain, the “right” way of doing activism isn’t always possible. Of course there are some neurodiverse individuals who have no problem with carrying themselves confidently, loudly calling out mistakes, or being the center of attention for breaking the rules. But moreso than the average person, individuals with difficult brains struggle to be loud and out front.

This is just a small reminder that quiet activism is activism. The people who quietly organize conferences but never speak, the ones who raise money and goods to help support their louder colleagues, the ones who listen and support and signal boost, those people all count as activists. These people not only count as activists but are also a necessary part of activism. The quiet ones are often the ones who can have sustained discussions with opposition that slowly wears them down and changes their minds. They’re the ones that wrangle dozens of volunteers, or stay at home and write thoughtful, intimate pieces about their own experiences.

So a shout out to my socially anxious people, to my people who are afraid for their jobs and homes and families, to my people who don’t want to be the center of attention. To the people who are afraid to yell and swear and be a firebrand. You matter too, and even if your contributions aren’t as obvious, they are meaningful.

Activism has space for all kinds. Here’s a quiet reminder that all kinds are appreciated.


Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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  1. The big truth is we don’t know what will make a difference. All we can be really sure of is that the status quo needs to shift. And so we say and do things to make a change.

    Some won’t work. Some will backfire. Some will work. There’s no magic formula for what fits into each category.

    1. It’s true that there’s no way to know, but it can still be useful to look to other movements and see what tactics seemed to correlate with success and what tactics seemed to correlate with stagnation or setbacks.

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