5 Books to Inspire Your Inner Activist

— by Alexia Economou


You could almost hear the sighs of relief from the climate-concerned as President Biden announced he would be re-joining the Paris Accord as one of his earliest actions in office. I’m sure 83-year-old Jane Fonda would’ve been applauding the action, as her latest book, What Can I Do?: My Path From Climate Despair to Action can confirm.

It documents Fonda’s activism during the ‘Fire Drill Fridays’ campaign – rallies that took place in the Washington, DC in the autumn of 2019 – to affect political change related to environmental protection. Each week spotlights a different concern such as Health and Climate Change, Plastics, Climate Migration and Human Rights. Fonda advises you seek out like-minded folk who are already advocating. ‘I don’t want to be an activist on my own,’ Fonda says, ‘I want to be embedded in a movement and organisations with shared goals and values.’ Rounding out each chapter is service information for how you can get involved in each climate action theme. The formula does become tedious, but readers are left with a greater understanding of how economics, politics and everyday people are connected through climate concerns.


Liam Edwards via Unsplash


The most exciting parts of Jane Fonda’s book describe the putting-your-body-on-the-line activism. Its first-hand look at civil disobedience – how to engage in it peacefully and wisely – and what usually happens to those held in jail because of it, is illuminating if you’ve never been there. ‘Getting older takes work,’ says Fonda who believes the greatest antidote to depression is getting active, ‘Putting yourself on the line is the key to staying hopeful.’ She managed to convince a number of her celebrity friends of this as they came out in support, including her Grace and Frankie co-stars: Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and civil-disobedience-virgin Sam Waterston.

Fonda believes that we get feistier and braver as we get older citing her own, ‘been there, done that’ attitude as an example of why there is less fear in taking action with age. Older women also have the time and life experience to mentor and encourage the generations after them. Fonda has been putting her reputation and personal freedom on the line since being nicknamed Hanoi Jane in the 70s. She has campaigned for racial equality, political justice and environmental protection, not to mention embedding anti-ageism plot lines in her Grace and Frankie sitcom. So who better to be your activism mentor?

There is no better time than now to get involved, and here are few more books that have come out recently, identifying issues where your activism is still required today:


Women and Leadership by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Transworld/Bantam Press £14.99

Former Australian Prime Minister Gillard and Nigeria’s former Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala, call upon their network of high-profile female friends, including: Teresa May, Christine Lagarde and Hillary Rodham Clinton, to interview for this book. Recounting their challenges and resourcefulness, the authors compile a list of eight solutions to over-coming barriers to women becoming leaders and fair evaluation of leadership fairly. Targeting these issues we can engineer a better environment for, and hopefully, open the way for a greater number of women in charge who can affect global change and fairer representation.


Loud and Proud: LGBTQ+ Speeches that Empower and Inspire by Tea Uglow et al, White Lion Publishing £18.99

This anthology of inspirational speeches from the LGBTQ+ community spans more than 150 years. Speeches that have helped change views and inspire conversations around gender and sexuality and continue to help the community with the work still to be done. Including those from visionaries and civil rights activists within the community, as well as politicians and celebrity allies. There is also a sister volume, So Here I Am: Speeches by Great Women to Empower and Inspire by Anna Russell and Camila Pinheiro.


Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century by Alice Wong, Crown Books, £12.99

When speaking of representation, those with disabilities are up against the additional challenge that not all disabilities are visible. The range of subjects is vast from assistive technologies, to injustices in fashion, medicine and prisons to complex sex and gender issues. Activist and founder of the Disability Visibility Project, Alice Wong, brings together this moving collections of contributor essays that brings to light crucial issues that still need advocacy today.


Rise Up! The Art of Protest by Jo Rippon and Chris Riddell, Palazzo Editions, £12.99

For younger activists – but also a great primer for adults new to activism – Rise Up! promotes peaceful protest in relation to human rights advocacy. It is very visual, with examples of campaigns from the last 100 years including poster examples for civil rights, peace, refugee and gender rights, and the environment. The book was developed with the expert partnership of Amnesty International, and shows how many of these issues are still on the change agenda today.


What Can I Do?: My Path From Climate Despair to Action and Women in Leadership by Jane Fonda, Penguin Press £20


Alexia Economou is a design and culture journalist, and regular TNMA contributor @thedesignfeedTW



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  You could almost hear the sighs of relief from the climate-concerned as President Biden announced he would be re-joining the Paris Accord as one of his earliest actions in office. I’m sur…