Activism is a loaded term about which people get really angry. I am not a historian or social scientist, so the clarifications below are what I’ve been able to source. I advise you to find out for yourself.
Activism refers to the collective actions of a group of people, to promote, impede, direct or intervene in social, political, economic or environmental systems, in order to change them.
Always, whichever aims these groups have, other activist movements or groups will have aims that are in opposition to those. This is the origin of the expression that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
These groups are most effective when they involve large numbers of people, in the form of collective action. Sustained collective action (in other words, over a long period) is called a social movement.
There is a sliding scale of activism in terms of levels of activity, impact and effectiveness, participation and support, and aggression.
Peaceful activism includes lobbying, petitions, patronage, boycotts, rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, hunger strikes, expression through art, etc. All activist groups will change and evolve the longer they continue.
Activism which continues over a long period without successfully attaining a set goal, or without completing its activities, tends to evolve into civil disorder movements, then to political terrorism, then to terrorism. From street protests, an activist group can move from acts that are a public nuisance, to arson, planting bombs, assassinations, torture, hostage-taking, murder, coups d’état, etc.
Historically, there are been activist movements that have been said to have succeeded, and others that have failed. One example is the French Revolution that started with protests and violent actions by a mob. The end result, after much bloodshed, was The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen de 1789), set by France’s National Constituent Assembly in 1789, which formed the foundation of the independent, democratically governed French State. However, successes merely perceived, since there are many concomitant decisions and events that contribute to achieving social, political, or economic changes.
A useful paper on the subject is “Is ‘One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom
Fighter’?”, by Vilde Skorpen Wikan, dated Nov. 29, 2018, rtrvd. May 1, 2022