Activism Is Not a 4-letter Word | Vocabulary Not to be Feared

by | Dec 14, 2016

Our brief lexicon to politically charged words you’re likely hearing more often.


The week of the Presidential election here in the U.S. it occurred to me how delicately and tentatively friends and acquaintances were approaching some heavy-hitting words and phrases – vocabulary typically associated with politics and global affairs. Likely, these words had not been a part of their everyday vernacular. The words weren’t unfamiliar, they were just uncommon to use. Yet, here we ALL are facing systemic breakdown in our own countries and around the globe. I personally feel the plight of the world more than ever, and through my own work and studies I also know the irrevocable power of words.

So I thought – how can we aid in destigmatizing these words that may feel taboo to some? How can we help those struggling with communicating their intense experiences of the world right now? How can we assure people in our intimate spheres that becoming activists for causes they feel passionately about should be liberating, not terrifying. Maybe if we start simply – by defining a few words, even humanizing them, and pondering and questioning those definitions. Maybe that’s a good enough start.

I quickly tabulated a few words on a piece of paper, which admittedly weren’t common in my daily vocabulary either, but were already on the verge of becoming integrated.  Words are this astounding gift, which I am thankful for and in awe of, in equal measure. Words make or break a person’s day at times. Words cause the broken and lonely to feel less so. Words mingle with instruments to create some of the most meaningful pieces of art in the world. They dance on paper, in screens, and across buildings – inspiring, delighting, and even terrifying. Fake news organizations know this. All of us active on social media know this. Yet, I think we take it for granted. So here are a few words and their accepted definitions we hope you’ll not shy away from employing if the time seems to call for it, or at the very least understanding more profoundly.

(And as a footnote, as I completed this post – long after I’d conceived of it – I came across an article with a similar title on and had to share!)

Activism (noun): The doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.  Reference

Dissent (verb): To differ in sentiment or opinion, especially from the majority; withhold assent; disagree; to disagree with the methods, goals, etc. of a political party or government; take an opposing view. Reference 

Protest (noun and verb): An expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid; to give manifest expression to objection or disapproval; remonstrate.

Peace (noun): A state of tranquillity or quiet: as freedom from civil disturbance; a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom; a state or period of mutual concord between governments; a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or in a state of enmity. Reference

Crisis (noun): The turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever; a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function; an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life; an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.  Reference

Refugees (noun): A person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc. Reference

Humanitarian (adjective and noun): Having concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people; of or relating to ethical or theological humanitarianism; pertaining to the saving of human lives or to the alleviation of suffering; a person actively engaged in promoting human welfare and social reforms, as a philanthropist. Reference

Progressive (adjective and noun): Favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters; a person who is progressive or who favors progress or reform, especially in political matters. Reference

Nasty (adjective): Disgustingly filthy; physically repugnant; difficult to understand or deal with; psychologically unsettling. Sidenote: Not commonly associated with women…until this year. Reference

Repress (verb): To keep under control, check, or suppress (desires, feelings, actions, tears, etc.); to reduce (persons) to subjection. Reference