For her latest book, Do It Anyway: A New Generation of Activists, author, teacher and speaker Courtney Martin wrote in depth about eight activists, including a prison social worker, a climate change activist in Detroit, a former soldier fighting to end violence against women in the military; an actor struggling to use her celebrity for social change.
Martin, also the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women, will visit Smith this week, for two events hosted by the four centers for Engagement, Learning and Leadership.
On Wednesday, April 13, Martin will give a multimedia presentation about her book, beginning at 7:15 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room. On Thursday, April 14, Martin will offer a workshop, “Writing and Social Change,” beginning at noon, also in Neilson Browsing Room (register via email).
Martin recently responded to questions about her book and activism.
Gate: What does activism mean to you?
Courtney Martin: Activism is essentially about advocating for the world you believe is possible. It is about being kind to everyone, curious about everything, and taking strategic and sustainable action. It is about closing the gap between your values and your daily behaviors. It is about trusting your own outrage. It is about creating transformational community wherever you go.
Gate: Please describe your personal history around activism. When, how and why did you get started?
CM: I suppose it depends on how we’re defining activism. I was sort of born with an intense, observational nature, so I think I’ve been aware of suffering and interested in confronting the forces that perpetuate it from a very, very young age. I first started moving beyond the tame, community service-type models when I went to college and became involved in anti-racist work, like protesting Amadou Diallo’s murder.
Gate: What types of activism are you currently engaged in?
CM: I’m a writer and speaker, primarily, so I approach social change through the written and spoken word. I also consider the mentoring I do, the money I give away, and my constant obsession with introducing potential collaborators forms of activism. I started the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy and I also just organized a massive international summit on body activism.
Gate: How did you go about identifying the subjects for your book?
CM: It was a very organic process. I knew I wanted to cover a wide range of demographic categories and types of work, so I just sort of wandered around on the Internet and talked to friends and friends of friends. Everyone came to me in different ways. The limit of writing such long profiles is that I couldn’t choose very many people. The reward was that I got to go very in-depth with their stories and really reveal some of the often-overlooked nuances of this kind of work.
Gate: What is your advice to students who want to become actively involved in helping others?
CM: Don’t be so invested in big successes, but instead focus on failing really well. Activism is a lifelong struggle, and as such, requires some patience, humility, great collaborators, and a good sense of humor.