Social change usually means working for full equality and rights of all people, and especially through changes in policies and systems. If you’re looking for some inspiration, these quotations might help you to make a difference and fight for what’s right. Through the words of some of history’s greatest thinkers and activists, you’ll explore what others have thought about making positive change in the world.

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Without revolution, civilization comes to halt, because with complacency arrives indifference, and with indifference comes the fall of civilization.

— Abhijit Naskar, Revolution Indomable

We cannot reform institutional racism or systemic policies if we are not actively engaged. It’s not enough to simply complain about injustice; the only way to prevent future injustice is to create the society we would like to see, one where we are all equal under the law.

— Al Sharpton

Philosophy, law and ethics, to be effective in a dynamic world must be dynamic; they must be made vital enough to keep pace with the progress of life and science.

— Alfred Korzybski

I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.

— Alice Paul

This is how change happens, though. It is a relay race, and we’re very conscious of that, that our job really is to do our part of the race, and then we pass it on, and then someone picks it up, and it keeps going. And that is how it is. And we can do this, as a planet, with the consciousness that we may not get it, you know, today, but there’s always a tomorrow.

— Alice Walker

Organizing is the process of coming together with other people who share your concerns and values to work toward a change in some kind of policy, usually of the government, but also of universities, private companies, and other institutions whose policies affect and shape our lives.

— Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

Anything that reaches toward the sky must have a strong foundation to hold it up. That’s how I think of movements — movements reach toward the sky to achieve what has been deemed impossible.

— Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

If we perpetuate the same dynamics that we aim to disrupt in our movements for change, we are not interrupting power and we are not creating change –we are merely rebranding the same set of practices and the same dysfunctions.

— Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

We are fighting for a different world, and we are building new muscles to do so.

— Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

When people come together to solve problems, they do not automatically become immune to the ways society and the economy are organized. We bring the things that shape us, consciously and unconsciously, everywhere we go. Unless we are intentional about interrupting what we’ve learned, we will perpetuate it, even as we are working hard for a better world.

— Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

There are very practical reasons why multiracial movements are vital to building the world we deserve. Segregation by race and class has been used throughout history to maintain power relationships. Segregation, whether through redlining or denying citizenship, helps to create an other, which helps in turn to justify why some people have and other people don’t. It reinforces the narratives that make unequal power relationships normal.

— Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

The world that we imagine will not come into existence if we are not courageous enough to challenge power where it operates at the largest scale, impacting the lives of millions, even billions of people.

— Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

It is hard to understand how a compassionate world order can include so many people afflicted by acute misery, persistent hunger and deprived and desperate lives, and why millions of innocent children have to die each year from lack of food or medical attention or social care.
This issue, of course, is not new, and it has been a subject of some discussion among theologians. The argument that God has reasons to want us to deal with these matters ourselves has had considerable intellectual support. As a nonreligious person, I am not in a position to assess the theological merits of this argument. But I can appreciate the force of the claim that people themselves must have responsibility for the development and change of the world in which they live.

— Amartya Sen

Silence is a powerful enemy of social justice.

— Amartya Sen

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

— Anne Frank

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

— Arundhati Roy

The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination- an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past but who may really be the guides to our future. To do this we have to ask our rulers: Can you leave the water in the rivers, the trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain?

— Arundhati Roy, Broken Republic

Tomorrow belongs to those of us who conceive of it as belonging to everyone; who lend the best of ourselves to it, and with joy.

— Audre Lorde

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never allow us to bring about genuine change.

— Audre Lorde

The true test of the American ideal is whether we’re able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them.

— Barack Obama

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

— Barack Obama

Hope is essential to any political struggle for radical change when the overall social climate promotes disillusionment and despair.

— bell hooks

The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, ‘My country, right or wrong.’ In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

— Carl Schurz, Senate speech, Feb. 29, 1872

My Country! When right keep it right; when wrong, set it right!

— Carl Schurz

I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: ‘Our country — when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.’

— Carl Shurz, Speech, Oct. 17, 1899

Thinking about profound social change, conservatives always expect disaster, while revolutionaries confidentially expect utopia. Both are wrong.

— Carolyn Heilbrun

The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.

— Cesar Chavez

Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.

— Cesar Chavez

When the mother of the race is free, we shall have a better world, by the easy right of birth and by the calm, slow, friendly forces of evolution.

— Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It doesn’t matter how strong your opinions are. If you don’t use your power for positive change, you are, indeed, part of the problem.

— Coretta Scott King

There is a spirit and a need and a man at the beginning of every great human advance. Every one of these must be right for that particular moment of history, or nothing happens.

— Coretta Scott King

The woman power of this nation can be the power which makes us whole and heals the rotten community, now so shattered by war and poverty and racism. I have great faith in the power of women who will dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to the task of remaking our society.

— Coretta Scott King

I can’t help but believe that at some time in the not-too-distant future, there is going to be another movement to change these systemic conditions of poverty, injustice, and violence in people’s lives. That is where we’ve got to go, and it is going to be a struggle.

— Coretta Scott King

Love is such a powerful force. It’s there for everyone to embrace — that kind of unconditional love for all of humankind. That is the kind of love that impels people to go into the community and try to change conditions for others, to take risks for what they believe in.

— Coretta Scott King

The country is in deep trouble. We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.

— Cornel West

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.

— Cynthia Occelli

Evangelicalism created a safe harbor for white people who wanted to be counted as Christians without having to accept what ecumenical leaders said were the social obligations demanded by the gospel, especially the imperative to extend civil equality to nonwhites.

— David Hollinger

Albert Camus, a great humanist and existentialist voice, pointed out that to commit to a just cause with no hope of success is absurd. But then, he also noted that not committing to a just cause is equally absurd. But only one choice offers the possibility for dignity. And dignity matters. Dignity matters.

— David Simon

The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

— E. B. White

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

— E. B. White

When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

— Eleanor Roosevelt

When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right.

— Eugene V. Debs

The name of Robert G. Ingersoll is in the pantheon of the world. More than any other man who ever lived he destroyed religious superstition. He was the Shakespeare of oratory — the greatest that the world has ever known. Ingersoll lived and died far in advance of his time. He wrought nobly for the transformation of this world into a habitable globe; and long after the last echo of destruction has been silenced, his name will be loved and honored, and his fame will shine resplendent, for his immortality is fixed and glorious.

— Eugene V. Debs, at the funeral of Robert Ingersoll

If it had not been for the discontent of a few fellows who had not been satisfied with their conditions, you would still be living in caves.

— Eugene V. Debs

Actually, the world and America is upset and the only way to bring about a change is to upset it more.

— Fannie Lou Hamer

There is a city to be built, the plan of which we carry in our heads, in our hearts. Countless generations have already toiled at the building of it. The effort to aid in completing it, with us, takes the place of prayer.

— Felix Adler

Don’t agonize. Organize.

— Florynce Kennedy

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

— Frederick Douglass
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