How to Become an Artful Activist by David James Savarese

Deej courtesy of America ReFramed

We all hope to make meaningful change in the world, but is it possible? And if so, how?

Each of us has the capacity to make our world a better place. Knowing and believing that is called “self-efficacy.”

People say too much time is spent listening to fear. They’re right. Making yourself mad or afraid about something isn’t what makes for change. Hope—not fear–is what drives our self-efficacy.

I use artful advocacy to change people’s misperceptions and unfounded assumptions about the way schools segregate kids. Confronted with a new idea in the form of an angry protest, people often get defensive and fearful. I’ve found that art can lower people’s defenses and open their eyes to new ways of both seeing and being, allowing my perceived adversaries to become my fresh-thinking allies.

Very strong emotions often confound us by sabotaging our best intentions. Maybe you’re afraid your idea will offend someone you really like or depend on. Making a poem—or play—speak for you can allow you to say what you’re feeling without having to be there for their response. In this way, art allows you to explore emotions without losing yourself in them.

Art can also offer you room to create an alternative world. By trying out something new you might creatively show people that their assumptions about you or the world we live in are unfounded. Allowing them to make these discoveries on their own is more effective than dictating what they ought to think or feel.

I leave viewers at the end of my documentary film Deej, with the reminder that “Hope lives on—messy, imperfect.” I say this because hope takes work. We need to nurture it by meaningfully engaging with others about what matters. Each success fosters our belief in ourselves.

But not every encounter ends with success. Obstacles are inevitable. How we respond to those obstacles determines whether our self-efficacy and hope grow. It’s ok to be disappointed when something gets in our way, but before long we want to pick ourselves up and carry on.

Albert Bandura wrote that “people who regard themselves as highly efficacious act, think, and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious. They produce their own future, rather than simply foretell it.”

Hope lives on—messy, imperfect.

Please check out the new Documentary film, Deej, below.

David James Savarese Headshot.jpgAbout the Author: David James “DJ” Savarese (Oberlin College ’17) is an OSF Human Rights Initiative Youth Fellow, the co-producer, narrator, and subject of the documentary Deej which is being rebroadcast this week on America ReFramed (WORLD Channel) and will be streaming for free until January 1, 2019 at His poems have been published in various literary journals and his essay ‘Passive Plants” won the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s (ASAN’s) Harriet McBryde Johnson Award for Nonfiction and a Notable Mention in the 2018 Best American Essays. Other examples of his artful advocacy can be found at

Robert Rooy Headshot (1).jpgFilm Credits: Deej Documentary Producer, Director, Videographer, Editor, Robert Rooy. Robert Rooy was an assistant director on more than forty films. He has also worked as an independent filmmaker in more than twenty countries creating media with and for international development, human rights and environmental organizations.

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