By Erin Furman
An activist can perform many roles. It is the doctor volunteering at a free clinic in an impoverished neighborhood on the weekend; the lawyer working pro-bono to bring down a major corporation for polluting the water in a small town. It is the working mother participating in walks to raise money for breast cancer research; the group of students organizing a “Relay for Life” at their high school.
A common thread among these individuals is that they perform the work for free. Through volunteering, they are able to contribute to the cause of their choice.
For those seeking to develop a career out of activism, finding a job is not as difficult as it may seem. Outside of law and medicine, fields which require very specific degrees and seven or more years of schooling, possible areas students may enter are social work, government and international positions, environmental, and community organizing.
Adrienne Esposito, the Executive Director of the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, says of the life of an activist, “It’s a choice.” It may not always be glamorous, but your role is to ultimately protect the public and hold the government accountable for its actions.
Esposito co-founded the CCE in 1985, and since, it has grown to six offices located throughout New York and Connecticut. Its focus is on the environment and public health as it relates to environmental issues. According to Esposito, the CCE has tackled issues such as energy planning, water protection, recycling and air quality, among others.
After graduating college, Esposito joined the world of non-profit work via canvassing. As a canvasser, she traveled door-to-door to try to educate the public about environmental issues. Canvassing and interning are the two most common ways through which most people begin their careers in activism.
According to Esposito, the role of a canvasser is to distribute information, petition, fund-raise, and get the public involved in an issue. Working in full-time, paid positions, canvassers are able to work on campaigns directly with the people. They can also create a network of contacts with professionals in the fields with which they are interested. This can lead to other job opportunities.
Students who wish to pursue activism as a career need to be focused, determined and willing to learn. “The amount I learned working here in my first year [with the CCE] was twice as much as I learned in my four years of college,” said Esposito. At the same time, it is important to note that financially, activism is not a well-endowed field. “If you want to make a lot of money and live a cushy lifestyle, this is not for you,” said Esposito. It is hard work that involves long hours and a meager pay, but for those who are passionate about what they do, money is generally not a deterrent to keep them from doing what they love.
To find out about job and internship opportunities relating to activist work, the web is a good resource to check out. Most non-profit organizations have websites and are willing to work with student interns. One site to check out is Idealist.org, as it has links to tens of thousands of organizations in 165 countries, including several on Long Island. It also has an in-depth non-profit career center with hundreds of internship and job listings.
Ultimately, activism is a rewarding field, as it gives people the opportunity to fight for what they believe in. Just remember: “This is not a cakewalk,” says Esposito. “You have to work hard and love what you do.”