Activist. What’s in a name?

1969. Activist was defined as “a person who does things with decision and energy.”

2018. Activist is defined as “a person who uses or supports strong actions (such as public protests) in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.”

My, how times have changed. The term now feels a bit more rigid—


As self-labelled activists, it’s something that’s constantly on our minds. Is this a term that accurately describes who we are? What we do? What we stand for? Do we even have the right to use it in reference to our work?

Well, hold on to your britches, kids. This is only the beginning of a longer run of several probing, soul-searching posts.

We asked a few friends what came to mind when they heard the word “activist.” Responses were along the lines of “a proud, passionate, determined person who advocates for a cause,” but also “a loud, aggressive liberal fighting for a cause.” Oof. We can think of a few of right-of-center friends who might take offense at the latter. But to what extent does the stereotype dictate the reality? Does “activist” still function to bring groups together, unite forces and create change? Or has it become a loaded word that causes people to shut down or run in the opposite direction to avoid association?

The perception of the word “activist” matters because causes only advance when people join together. There is no Lone Ranger solution when it comes to creating serious, systemic change. Advocacy, or progress, is dependent on networks—conversing, collaborating, teaching and learning. And that’s what we do. Our work is rooted in making the community a better place for everyone through the strategic development and implementation of participatory brands—campaigns, visual identities and communication that brings people together to push towards a common good.

Mothers and children being separated.
The loss of innocent lives to gun violence.
The push for equality.
The push for equity.
Better health outcomes for everyone.
Access to good education and healthy food.
We care deeply about these issues.

We’re deeply invested in moving the needle in areas that impact the lives of those around us and allow them to stand on their own legs, without political baggage and preconceived notions holding them back. And as a result, we’re deeply invested in understanding whether conversations associated to “activist” are lost in the noise, whether causes associated with the term lose momentum, whether people labeled as an “activist” are ignored.

It’s important to understand the weight of the term we’re collectively using to describe ourselves. So we’re raising the questions and searching for answers.

To our fellow activists and non-activists, what does an activist look like to you? Is it Martin Luther King Jr., Emma Watson, the person marching through the streets, the person yelling, your neighbor, your mom or you? What does one do? Write a letter, make signs, march, yell, have conversations, donate, educate? Does it have to be just one thing or can it be a combination?

Does the word repel or interest you? Does labeling it one way retract or diminish the efforts or its meaning to others?

We believe that every voice, be it whispered or screamed, can be the voice of an activist. We believe there are no parameters or criteria, and think the word itself helps people to understand exactly what it is we do. But there are two sides to a coin and some, or many, of y’all might have differing opinions.

Take our survey and tell us a little something, anything, about your thoughts on activists here.

Take our survey

What are we doing here? Less existential crisis and more an investigation of what it means to be activists in 2019, we’re diving deep into the work that is so pivotal to who we are and what we can all do to make the world around us a better place. This post is a part of something bigger and you are too. Read on and join us.

The Black Sheep