Can I be an activist and still be introverted?

Whenever I hear the word “activist,” immediately, images of people bravely shouting into microphones about a cause come to mind. They are the ones who dive in fearlessly into action; marching through the streets, organizing, chanting, and communicating with others about why change must be made. They are the faces of the movement; boldly talking to press, government officials, and everyday individuals about the validity and purpose behind their work. In other words, they are exactly what I’m not.

Although the notion of being able to work towards the progression of social justice movements has always enticed me, I always tended to approach activism in an extroverted fashion. Being very introverted and pensive, I fed myself the lie that I had to change who I am to do meaningful work for causes and that I was somehow inevitably inadequate to the effort that change requires. I scheduled meeting after meeting, attended endless conferences, and even tried to do my own round of public speaking events in the hopes of convincing myself that I gained energy from this type of activist work, but all I remember is feeling like I needed a nap the entire time. It wasn’t healthy and I knew that I could do better, but I was unsure the role that introverted individuals like myself even had in movements.

Let’s be clear before any harsh judgements are made: I like people. I am not anti-social, which I think is a tragic misconception that many introverts are given. I have a lot to learn from the different walks of others, and I’m willing to hear their story, but let’s be real – it’s exhausting. After a day full of meetings, classes, and clubs, all I want to do is to plug in my headphones, pull out my journal, and take a nap for however long it takes. Interacting with people is enjoyable, but for introverts, it’s also a stark investment in our energy.

Introversion is not a bad word, but society acts like it is. Within the activism sphere, I see so many of my introverted brothers and sisters exhaust themselves because we’ve painted a structure of activism work geared towards the extroverted individuals in our circle. However, we cannot forget the role that introverts have in the progression of a movement. They’re the convincers, the ones who work one-on-one with potential stakeholders and supporters in our cause to convince them of our mission. They’re the writers and the artists, who curate public opinion through the use of op-eds, design, photography, and videography. They’re the thinkers, the ones who carry the vision of the leader by remembering the minute and meticulous details of planning actions, protests, and teach-ins. Although it might not seem like we talk much, our work creates conversations, expels stereotypes, and opens the necessary doors to lead change.

Activists, I challenge you to stray away from the socially fixated notion that all activists must be extroverted individuals who gain a sense of fulfillment from speaking and interacting with others. It’s on us to prioritize our own self-care needs; to understand what excites us and what drains us, as well as the methods in which we can be the most effective changemakers possible. I am introverted. I am an activist. I couldn’t be any more proud to be both.