whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books
Kajal Odedra is the Executive Director of Change.org UK, the world’s largest platform for change. Kajal has been campaigning for over a decade; from working as an advisor for Ada’s List to improve the STEM industry for women, to founding the People of Colour Initiative. Kajal is also a talented creative writer, graduating with an MA in creative writing from Goldsmiths in 2017.
Do Something: Activism for Everyone is Kajal’s first book. whitefox chatted to Kajal about the inspiration behind the book, the campaigns closest to her heart and the impact digital and social media is having on accessibility in activism.
Kajal Odedra grew up feeling like an outsider. As a woman of colour in the predominantly white Midlands, opportunities for making change weren’t given to her. She quickly came to realise that the people running the show are intent on keeping power in their small, exclusive group, and became determined to do something about it.
After twelve years as an activist and campaigner, Kajal wrote Do Something: Activism for Everyone to make the tools and tactics used by the people in power available to everyone. With the rise in social media, the younger generations are more involved with politics than ever before, but there still remains a universal feeling of uselessness when it comes to making real change and putting a stop to injustice. Do Something is a tool book for anyone who’s always wanted to make a change but hasn’t known how.
In Do Something Kajal discusses the power of social media in giving agency to marginalised voices and rebalancing the opinions that dominate mainstream media. “Growing up in the time before social media, I struggled to be heard in a country where our institutions are dominated by privileged white men. But whilst the institutions and who controls them hasn’t really changed, our ability to be heard has.”
After graduation Kajal began working with The UK Youth Parliament, where her experience of empowering young voices taught her the importance of providing space for individuals to speak for themselves, rather than having others speak for them. “Social media is an incredible thing for accessibility; it has given marginal groups the opportunity to speak up, and they’re killing it. These groups are more capable of creating change and being brilliant than the people in power.”
People with disabilities, people of colour, LGBTQIA+ people, women – those who may not have the environment or community to harness physical collective action – are now making political, cultural and social waves online. Kajal makes note of the fact that statistically more men than women initiate campaigns on Change.org, but more women win them.
But while social media has given a voice to the voiceless, they are still controlled by forces outside of their control. As young people begin to speak up against the injustices happening in society, they are squashed down once again by harmful stereotypes that Do Something: Activism for Everyone works to untangle.
“Using jargon to intimidate and patronise is a weapon used by the privileged in society. Terms like ‘snowflake millennials’ exist because those in power feel threatened by the new wave of young, political voices. If you get a bad bit of press when you’re campaigning, celebrate because it’s clearly working; you’re having an impact. Just stay in your lane and keep going.” Kajal continues, “by making activism sound as inaccessible as possible, there is less opposition. Words like ‘activism’ and ‘political’ carry so much weight now, weight that has been forced onto them.”
Do Something: Activism for Everyone undermines these associations that have been forced on activism. “Activism doesn’t have to be protesting on the streets or chaining yourself to a building. It can be as simple as writing to your local supermarket, publishing a blog or even signing an online campaign. Activism is about storytelling – if you can talk from the heart, you can harness a community, mobilise them around you and win a campaign collectively.”
As the Executive Director of Change.org UK Kajal is changing the way activism operates both on and offline. The concept of clicktivism, which allows people to interact with activism simply by engaging with an online campaign, is making activism more accessible within the public domain and to a new audience.
Kajal references an ongoing campaign that is close to her heart. In April 2016, charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard when on holiday visiting her family in Iran. Her husband, Richard, has since been campaigning for her release, gaining over two million signatures on the online petition. “It’s a heart-breaking campaign but the support for Richard and Nazanin has been incredible. When I spoke to Richard about the campaign, he mentioned the impact it has on him when he reads comments of support; they help him to keep going.” It was only after Richard went public with his campaign – despite the authorities’ discouragement – that the Prime Minister began to engage with Nazanin’s case. “It just goes to show, the little contributions you make – they matter.”
Kajal’s new book is her latest piece of activism. Written in plain English, Do Something: Activism for Everyone is exactly that: for everyone. “What would mean the most to me is if this book got into the hands of the people who wouldn’t usually read something like it; those who don’t feel that their voice matters. This book is for them, to show them that we need their voice, and that we can all be activists in some way, big or small.”