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Stand Up, Speak Out: The College Student's Guide to Activism

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By Charlsie for CollegeCandy.com

A lot is happening in the world right now. Egypt said no more to their president, and since then, other countries such as Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Iran, Kuwait, Algeria, and Dijbouti have actively started seeking change from their governments. Tons of stuff is happening back in the United States, too. There are the Wisconsin protests rising up against the newly elected governor's budget, the House voting to ban federal funding to Planned Parenthood, possible threats to cut funding for programs like Americorps, and of course, we're still in a terrible economic recession.

As college students, we should be aware of what's going on around us. For example, the federal funding to Planned Parenthood could hurt women across the country and prevent us from having affordable birth control options (such as the Pill and IUDs) and annual health screenings. Sometimes sitting around doesn't seem good enough, but people often say "I'd get involved, but I don't know how." Consider this your friendly college guide to activism so you can get involved:

Utilize Facebook and other social media platforms: The world of social media is meant to be an extension of your personality, so why not use it to share what you believe in? Passionate about animal rights -- don't be afraid to 'Like' PETA or post a video about puppy mills. Are you upset that funding was cut in your home state for education? Post an article about it on your blog -- use it to start a dialogue. Tweet about what's on your mind. Send out Facebook event invites for club meetings about campus fundraising or for the Gay/Straight alliance you just joined.

Register to vote: This is straightforward and simple. By registering to vote, even if elections are right around the corner, you are taking a proactive step to say, "Hey, I want to voice my opinion." You can register to vote here.

Write to your representatives: If you want your concerns to be sent directly to those in office, write a letter. It may feel like they aren't read or acknowledged, but letter writing is one of the most effective ways to say "I'm a constituent and this is what I believe in." Share a personal anecdote about why them voting against a bill will change your life or list the concerns you have as a citizen in your jurisdiction. Not sure what to write or who to send your letters to? Everything you need to get started is right here.

Hold a coffee hour: Use your on campus coffee shop to hold a meeting where students can get together and talk about what's going on. As an organizer, you simply have to get the word out there and open up the floor for people to discuss what's on their minds about an issue. You can even get your school's staff involved. For example, if you want to talk about what's going on in countries like Libya, ask a professor from the Political Science department to join in on the conversation. If you can get professors behind you, more students are likely to come. Plus, who doesn't love an excuse to get a cup of coffee?

Petition: If you are concerned that your campus isn't going to carry Plan-B anymore, don't expect someone else to do something. Start a petition; it's the quickest way to get people to put their name to something. Reserve a table in your school's dining hall or go around to all the fraternities and sororities on campus and ask them for support. All you have to do is dedicate some time, get others to help out, and send the petition (make sure to make copies of it) to the right people. Everything you need to know about petitions can be found here!

Start a club: If your campus doesn't have an Amnesty International branch and you wish it did, start one. Just because your school doesn't have a Black Student Alliance doesn't mean it has to stay that way. Generally, it's easy to start a club -- especially if the student activity board feels like you are passionate enough to run it. Find people to help you show preliminary interest in the group, and go through the proper procedure to be an active club. Through a club, you can increase activism and meet a ton of people with similar interests!

Contact those in charge: E-mail the dean of student life if you want to see something changed. Contact the president of your school if you have a problem that hasn't been solved by anyone else. Get in touch with the department head and see if you can get their backing to sponsor a student-lead discussion on the topic of your choice. Write to the person in charge of guest speakers and say "I want someone to come speak about AIDS!" If you don't tell those in charge what you want, you can't expect them to read your mind. And if they don't listen, well... figure out how you can get involved with the student government or sit on a board with the Dean.

Search for people like you: Clubs offer a great way to meet people with similar interests, but sometimes if a certain type of club isn't on campus it can seem impossible. If you are interested in environmental groups in your area, ask your environmental science professor if they can direct you to possible outlets. Go online and search for feminist or democratic women's groups in your area. Pay attention to what people say in class; the girl you haven't talked to all year in your science class could have interned for the senator you want to get in touch with. Meeting people like you is also a great way to network, so don't be afraid to engage with others.

Hold a rally or protest: If you have enough people believing in your cause, don't be afraid to cause a ruckus. As long as you aren't being violent, showing power in numbers can be incredibly brave and attention-grabbing. During college, hundreds of students from my school got together for a major march in Washington D.C. about the war in Iraq. It brought us together for a cause we all believed in, and we were able to use our united voices to make a statement. Protests and rallies don't have to be on a large scale. You can do it outside on the quad or in the downtown area of your local city. Make t-shirts, carry signs, and walk for a cause you believe in! For more information on how to successfully plan a rally, check here.

Stay educated: If feminism is something you believe in, go after books that highlight women's issues. If you believe in helping the needy, research online the best outlets for you to get involved in throughout your community. Read the news and stay up to date with current events. (We make it easy!) When you're in class and your professor talks about something you aren't familiar with, ask for more information on the topic and ask why it's important to them. Staying current and interested will keep the passion alive for being an activist.

You have to start somewhere in order to get your voice heard, so don't be afraid to stand up and speak out. You never know who is listening or what change you could bring about. Like Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."