Political action refers to the use of social and cultural resources for the purpose of changing a political situation or influencing electoral outcomes. Activists are people who rally behind common claims or objectives, which may be aimed at promoting a particular ideology or reforming perceived corruption within society or industry. There are many different forms of political activism, including economic, social, and environmental. Those who participate in political activism typically do so full-time and as part of their core business.
In the United States, the majority of political action occurs in the form of a political action committee (PAC), which raises money from members to direct toward election campaigns that support or oppose specific candidates. The first PAC was formed in 1944 by the Congress of Industrial Organizations to raise funds for President Franklin Roosevelt’s re-election campaign. Federal law places strict limits on the amount of money that corporations, unions or individuals can give to individual candidates. However, PACs can pool these resources to exceed the contribution limits by soliciting contributions from a large number of people.
Some PACs are affiliated with connected organizations, such as corporate or labor unions, and can only accept donations from those who are members of that organization. Other PACs, known as nonconnected committees or super PACs, are independent of any affiliation and can accept unlimited contributions from both individuals and corporations. Regardless of whether a PAC is connected or nonconnected, it must file regular financial reports with the U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC), which include the names of donors and expenditures.
There are several factors that influence an individual’s political participation and the intensity of that involvement. The first is long-term, such as an individual’s underlying political beliefs and ideology. Second, there are short-term influences, such as campaign issues and debates, which can shift an individual’s political orientation.
The activities of political activists can range from protesting to lobbying for change in public policy or laws. Other types of activism, like literary activism, seek to promote and defend specific ideas in the written form of a book or other work of art. In the case of economic activism, it is often used to pressure businesses and consumers to adopt certain ethical standards or practices, such as supporting companies with similar values, or by encouraging boycotts and divestitures to penalize companies that don’t meet these requirements. There are also new types of digital activism, which utilize information and communication technologies to facilitate decentralized networks of people engaged in self-organized and leaderless forms of contention. This is sometimes referred to as hacktivism or cyber-activism. Lastly, there is the emergence of social movements that are based on a specific ideology, such as those advocating for LGBT rights and climate change. All of these new forms of activism are a significant addition to the existing repertoire of tools of contention of which political activists can choose from. Moreover, they all reflect the changing nature of global politics in the 21st century.