What are activist groups?

Graphic shows young people against a pink background; some are holding signs and some are holding megaphones to represent the fact that they are in an activist group

Hello, my name’s Holly and I’m the Campaigns & Communications Manager at The Mix. I’m a volunteer at one of Greenpeace’s local environmental activist groups and I’ve written this guide to share my tips about how to join activist groups and what the experience is like!

What are activist groups?

Activist groups are communities of people who have joined together in order to create change, through taking action on behalf of an issue they all care about. This means that everyone in an activist group is working together on a common cause. 

The activist group or community often has a name they all work under, such as Sisters Uncut, and if they are a big group, they might have local branches who meet near where their members live. For example, I’m a member of the Greenpeace Shoreditch group in East London.

An activist group might be what is known as, ‘grassroots’, which means it was started by a group of ordinary people and naturally grew into something larger through campaigning. Some activist groups are organised by charities or lobbying organisations.

But what do activist groups actually do?

The main point of an activist group is to take action to create change, but that can include a number of different things, and also depends on the approach the group has decided to take. Usually the main activities activist groups organise include:

  • Protests and marches, where lots of people gather with banners and signs to draw attention to an issue or to ask for change.
  • Street campaigning, where volunteers talk to the public about their work to raise awareness and recruit new supporters.
  • Digital campaigning, where awareness is raised through activities such as online petitions, social media content and emails to local MPs.
  • Political lobbying, where volunteers try to engage politicians and political parties and get them to support their campaign.
  • Putting up posters and distributing flyers to raise awareness of the issue.
  • Mass action, such as asking the public to participate in a planned event.
  • Occupying spaces, such as sitting in the middle of a road or in a building and refusing to move to raise awareness of a particular issue.
  • Striking is also an important form of activism – find out more about this by reading our article, what is a strike?

How to join an activist group

You can usually find information about local meet ups by looking on the organisation or group’s website, or on their social media channels. You may be able to register online to sign up to a newsletter/platform and you can also get in touch with one of the organisers if you have any questions. 

If you’re feeling a bit nervous, don’t worry, that’s completely normal! Most groups will have an induction session for new people, so you can find out more before you launch into it. That means you’ll have other new people to start with. Everyone at Greenpeace Shoreditch was really friendly when I started and made it super easy to get involved. 

If you’re feeling confident, you could even start your own activist group!

Is it dangerous to join an activist group?

There is sometimes risk involved with activist work, but how much or how little is 100% up to you! You will never be forced or pressured to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with and remember, despite recent limitations placed on protests by the new Policing Act, you still have a right to protest in the UK.

The organisers will usually give a briefing for each new action organised, explaining the level of risk, and give volunteers/members a chance to sign up if they’re interested. If you do choose to take part in a high risk action, such as occupying a space or doing anything illegal, you should be given lots of support for this, including numbers to call if you come into contact with the police.

It’s worth noting that if you join a group and decide it’s not for you, or if your life priorities change, then there’s no obligation to stay.

What role can I play in an activist group?

There are so many different roles within an activist group, and all of them are equally important as they all play a part in keeping the work going!

The group or community usually has a structure in which people play different roles depending on their skills or interests, for example, if you’re really creative you might spend time making banners for protests, or if you’re knowledgeable about politics, you might want to volunteer to be the person who writes letters to MPs. 

Some other examples of roles within an activist group include:

  • Training new volunteers
  • Planning events to raise awareness
  • Planning social events for the volunteers
  • Managing the social media content for your group
  • Contacting press about new activities or events
  • Leading the internal communications for your group
  • Leading group meetings 

How will I know what to do? 

Many activist groups offer training to new people who sign up. At Greenpeace there are new training sessions every couple of months to make sure everyone has the skills and confidence they need to get involved.

What’s the best bit about joining activist groups?

There are so many things! 

  • You get to meet like-minded people who care about the same things you do.
  • You get to be a part of a new community which often has a social side too! We always head to the pub after a meeting and organise group trips like country walks or theatre outings.
  • You get to try new things and challenge yourself.
  • You get to learn from some really passionate and knowledgeable folks who often know loads about the issue they are campaigning for. 
  • Perhaps most importantly, you get to make a real difference and create change in the world. 

Next Steps

By Holly Turner

Updated on 10-May-2023

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