Social Activists

  1. definition
  2. examples and/or illustrations
  3. other useful sources
  4. bibliography


A social activist according to the Oxford dictionary is defined as: “a person who works to achieve political or social change, especially as a member of an organization with particular aims.”

Activist. (n.d.). In Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Retrieved from http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/activism#activist__13

A movement that strives to achieve social justice is executed through social activism whether by individuals or organizational groups. Often demonstrations of activism are done without monetary and ranking expectations or gain, but rather an important marker in the growth of human development (UN). Volunteering and activism are discussed interchangeably, as many activists are volunteers and volunteers aim to achieve activism (UN). Social activism stems from willing and dedicated volunteers as outlined in the United Nations pathways for human development journal: [Social Activism] plays an important role in providing leadership, defining areas for engagement and mobilizing individuals. That said social activism depends on the contribution of volunteers to effect the change it seeks.” (pp. 7)

Volunteering and social activism promote human development and social change (2008) UN volunteers, retrieved from: http://www.unv.org/fileadmin/img/wvw/Volunteerism-FINAL.pdf

Cancian (1993) defined activism as “challenging inequality by empowering the powerless, exposing the inequalities of the status quo, and promoting social changes that equalize the distribution of resources.” (p. 92) Therefore, social activism is a multifaceted in procedure and goal, but many common denominators are involved to properly define what is involved in this type of social action.

Cancian, F.M. (1993). Conflicts between activist research and academic success: participatory research and alternative strategies. The American Sociologist, 24(1), pp.92-106


Examples and/or Illustrations

There are an infinite amount of causes for activism internationally and activists exist in every country, unless the fundamental freedom of expression is denied, in which case there is likely a social activist somewhere working toward helping these exceptions. Causes can extend from aboriginal rights, poverty, the environment, global peace, and so many more which demonstrates the sad reality of the problems faced in the world today. For each cause there are demonstrations and fundraisers to raise money, which will aid in the efforts towards the cause. Specifically however, there have been many Canadian social activists who have had a great deal of influence nationally and internationally and have been recognized for their efforts and social change. Some of the famous Canadian activist, such as environmentalist David Suzuki and the legend of raising money for cancer research, Terry Fox, have gained global recognition and are household names for their impact on society. 


Other Useful Sources

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under section 2 allows acts, which relate to activism, freedoms which are fundamental to human development. Primarily, freedom of expression laws and peaceful assembly, when united are the rights, which protect demonstration of social justice, even if they contradict the government as that right is protected under democratic rights. 

Constitution Act, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) Retrieved from the Department of Justice Canada website: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/page-15.html

During the G20 summit in 2010, many social activists were arrested by Toronto police for allegedly causing riots, though not all arrested were being at all violent or vandalizing. Many charges were laid against people who police assumed by their attire were ensuing riots, however only a handful of convictions were made. Torontonians did not agree with the G20 world leader’s meeting for various reasons, and it is factual that there was much chaos in the streets downtown, known as the black bloc tactics, however it is also true that Toronto police misused their authority. A class action by a group of people who were arrested by police during the G20 consequently began to achieve justice to the social activists who were victimized, falsely imprisoned and generally, wrongfully treated by the police. The plaintiffs in the class act had many complaints about the execution of serving and protecting police officers put forth during G20, a female plaintiff even claimed an officer used excessive force to overpower her.

Good v. Toronto Police Service Board, Ontario Superior Court of Justice. (2013) Retrieved from the Canadian Legal Information Institute website: http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2013/2013onsc3026/2013onsc3026.html