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Photo: Sepperer Markus

They’re profound thinkers who spoke powerful words.

BUT THEY ALSO llived their lives as an example, putting these words into action every day. From Africa to the Americas, here are quotes from 20 famous–and not so famous–people, living and dead, who spent their lives thinking about and contributing to social justice movements.

1. “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” -Audre Lorde

2. “We must not allow ourselves to become like the system we oppose.” -Archbishop Desmond Tutu

3. “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” -Eleanor Roosevelt

4. “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”- Paulo Freire

5. “People must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other.” -Jane Jacobs

6. “We have a world to conquer…one person at a time…starting with ourselves.” -Nikki Giovanni

7. “We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

8. “It is not enough to be compassionate – you must act.”- His Holiness The Dalai Lama

9. “The people are the only ones capable of transforming society.”- Rigoberta Menchu

10. “Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good; try to use ordinary situations.”- Jean Paul Richter

11. “There will be no Homeland Security until we realize that the entire planet is our homeland. Every sentient being in the world must feel secure.” -John Perkins

12. “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.” -Helen Keller

13. “Take your easy tears somewhere else. Tell yourself none of this ever had to happen. And then go make it stop. With whatever breath you have left. Grief is a sword or it is nothing.” -Paul Monette

14. “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.” -Reinhold Neibuhr

15. “During times of universal deceit telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” -George Orwell

16. “To be human, at the most profound level, is to encounter honestly the inescapable circumstances that constrain us, yet muster the courage to struggle compassionately for our own unique individualities and for more democratic and free societies.” -Cornel West

Photo: Amor Ministries

17.”If you are trying to transform a brutalized society into one where people can live in dignity and hope, you begin with the empowering of the most powerless. You build from the ground up.” -Adrienne Rich

18. “Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two.” -Octavio Paz

19. “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” -Elie Wiesel

20. “The more you move, the stronger you’ll grow….” -Ha Jin

Feature photo: eneas

Activism + Politics


About The Author

Julie Schwietert

Julie Schwietert Collazo is a writer, editor, researcher, and translator currently in New York, formerly of Mexico City and San Juan.

  • Tim Patterson

    Love it. All great – this one is my favorite:

    15. “During times of universal deceit telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” -George Orwell

  • Colin Wright

    Really inspirational! Retweeted!

  • Turner

    “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”
    Edmund Burke

  • Eva

    Great post, Julie.

    #2 hits me hard, these days…

  • Sunaina Chugani

    Another nice one:

    Hesitation to act because the whole vision might not be achieved, or because others do not yet share it, is an attitude that only hinders progress. – Gandhi

  • Abbie

    Love them!

  • michaela lola

    Very inspiring Julie! I like the one by Ha Jin a lot…

    If I may add, my personal faves are:

    “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss

    “Be better than you were yesterday…” (I don’t know who said it, but I like it..its so simple.)

    “I accept that there will be disparities in the world. I accept that life is not fair. I accept that resources, power, opportunities will not be shared equally. But I hate that we live in a world that these disparities are based not on the limits of people’s abilities, but their circumstance. That’s what I want to help change.”
    – Brendan Baker

  • Steve

    Great quotes. I may print out #19 and hang it next to my computer.

  • Bill

    Wow, those were awesome quotes. If I can add my favorite quote as well,

    “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
    - Mahatma Gandhi

  • Shreya

    8. “It is not enough to be compassionate – you must act.”- His Holiness The Dalai Lama

    this really resonates…as an arts student who is trying to find ways to put change-making into effect I do realize it’s not enough to just write a poem about the death of a favorite tree or an angry blog post about oppression – while these are vital, I want to go one step ahead and see what else can be done…having a voice is a privilege that I want to use for its rightful purpose

    thanks Julie, this is a wonderful post. there’s a power in words. great quotes.

  • The Trolling Grammarian

    Quote functions as a verb; quotation is the noun. So, it should be “20 quotations…” in which the author quotes.

  • Jeffrey

    Really great! I have always admired Eleanor Roosevelt so much. The only one I disagree with is 14, but otherwise these are insightful.

  • Typical Charlie

    “This generation will have to repent – not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people!” – Martin Luther King jr

  • Jacob Black

    Interesting read – thanks for this, found you searching on Google.

  • Cris

    “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman

    • admin

      Thanks for sharing that one, Cris. I love “Ask yourself what makes you come alive.”

  • Emma

    “If you feel helpless, go help someone.” Aung San Suu Kyi


    If u rest,u rust

  • Bill Rainbird

    Life is but a cherry bowlies.

  • Quotes to Inspire You

    Famous quotes to inspire you , Friendship, Love, Life and many more quotes at

  • Ludy Tatlonghari

    very beautiful intellectual quotes can transpire ones character….

  • Henry Swaka Faustino

    amazing quotes so inspirational.

  • Pow Ëll


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