Slacktivism

“Slacktivists don’t raise money”

“Slacktivists aren’t informed”

“Slacktivists aren’t connected to the cause”

“Slacktivists aren’t real activists”

“Slacktivists don’t accomplish anything”

I have some SERIOUS issues with KONY 2012, but this is still interesting information. Click through to enlarge

I’ve heard and read these complaints a million times over.  How many times do we need to see a campaign like the one launched to restore Planned Parenthood funding when Susan G. Komen Foundation pulled out?  Over $400,000 were raised rapidly, Komen went back on their decision, and at least one board member was fired/resigned.  That strikes me as a lot of money and accomplishment for a bunch of people who, “don’t care,” and “can’t accomplish anything.”

I would like to point out that the TOMS Day Without Shoes (which appears to have accomplished nothing more than clogging my inbox) is considered “activism,” while buying something BOGO is “slacktivism.”  I have an inherent problem with the term slacktivism, but I also have issues with how we define it. I don’t thinkwe have to choose between one or the other, and I think there is far more overlap within these groups than is usually portrayed.  How often do I have to go to protests to maintain my credibility?  How many times can I tweet about a cause before I shift into “slacktivism” territory?

Traditionally, buying BOGO, purchases where a percentage goes to a cause, signing an online petition and donating via “like” or text message are all considered Slacktivism.  Isn’t my money just as good if it comes via text?  In the paraphrased words of my friend Eduardo, we all have to wear clothes, so they may as well mean something and do some good.  Isn’t my slacktivist clothing accomplishing more than your sweatshop-produced, unsustainable stuff?  Isn’t my support for a petition just as good online as in person?

Not only are these things as good, but I think they’re better.  Change.org can gather way more signatures than I can on foot.  People are more likely to donate when it is convenient, and a text or like is nothing if not that. I’m buying clothes and other products anyway, so shouldn’t everything I buy go to some good cause, whether its breast cancer research (which has mobilized this method quite well), AIDS medication in Africa or university apparel made by a unionized workforce earning a living wage.

Then there is the other category of Slacktivism.  The “likes” that aren’t attached to a donation. The shirts that say “Occupy” and serve only the profit of an individual.  The act of sharing a video like Kony 2012.  This isn’t armchair activism, this is not really giving a shit.  Can’t we please just separate the two?

I think it’s unrealistic to expect people to take hundreds of hours out of their time to go to rallies and protests and knock on doors and gather signatures.  But why should we?  I think about the schedule of someone like my mother, who works full-time and is involved with her family and community.  There are several causes about which she is passionate, including MS research, Breast Cancer and women’s rights.  Sites like change.org allow her to be informed and to inform her online network about the causes that matter to her.  She can post the link and recruit signatures while she makes dinner.  She can shop for my Christmas present and support small businessnesswomen in Africa at the same time.  Why shouldn’t we harness the power of caring yet busy individuals?  Of course we still need the employees at NGOs, advocacy groups and in public policy, and we need the weekend warriors to make a powerful, physical statement for news cameras.  But my mother’s donation to Planned Parenthood is just as good as those of “real” activists.  To ignore the power of modern media and a busy but empathetic public is foolishness.  If online and in-person activists work in concert and organizations harness that power and direct it to the proper systems of power, I see this as a gain for activists everywhere.

So please, banish the term slactivist from your vocabulary.  How about we get back to the causes instead of trashing on other people who just want to help advance them?

My Life is Different

In the last week, I’ve had a few thought-provoking incidents.

When picking out go-to attire for a woman’s closet, I was thinking of a scarf, black and white cardigans, and skirts that go to the knee.  In my mind, everything was lightweight and flowing, and colors and patterns are encouraged. They all said LBD and plain black suits.  I explained myself: you never know when you’ll end up in a mosque, or meet with a dignitary who would be insulted by bare shoulders.  I thought this in all earnestness, and have given this “must-have” list to many fellow travelers.  They looked at me, mouths agape, and someone said, “is that what your life is like?  Do you just like meet princes and stuff every day?”

Well, not every day.  But often enough to bring the damn scarf.

For jewelry, I was thinking of my funky fork bracelet from Cuba, a scarf that benefited women in Thailand, or politically snarky Cold War-themed earrings.  The other responses were along the lines of Tory Burch flats, animal prints and “nude pumps.”  to me, that sounds like the tag line of some crummy skinimax flick.

Yesterday in class someone gave me a hard time for writing out “His Excelleceny the American Ambassador to Canada.”  People were laughing and the professor asked why.  It’s over the top they said.  While i know in part they only said this because they were offended that I called their paper over the top, they were also genuinely surprised by the terminology.  My partner assured them we looked it up, but internally I was agitated.  We didn’t need to look it up.  I did to make her feel better, but i knew i was right, because I use that terminology.  To be clear, to say Mr. So-and-so the ambassador to Canada is like saying Mr. Clinton, who used to be president.  It’s not just a job, it’s a title; that title is forever.

I didnt end up defending my word choice because I was so incredibly taken aback.  “I know you say it’s right, but it just sounds really pretentious,” they declared

And that’s when I realized it: no one else in that room had ever met an ambassador before.  Just like no one in that other room had been inside a mosque before.  A quick tally has me at nine different embassies in the last five years.  Not that I always meet the ambassador.  It’s usually a chargee d’affairs or something, but you always brief everyone for the possibility, and I have met several ambassadors.  I won’t even bother to count all the various houses of worship.  How is this not everyone else’s life?  Aren’t they bored?  How do they fill their time?

My life is different.  It just is.  I spend dusty days riding vans down pock-marked roads in the field.  I find myself in four- and five-language chains of translation.  I prepare for modesty and have rules about giving gifts or money, or allowing people to use my camera.  Why?  Because this isn’t new.  This is my life.  Eaving the US, travelling eveyr other weekend or so, packing at a the last minute, this is who i am.  Learning what poverty looks like in this new place, counting heads, cursing people out in a foreign language when necessary.  constantly knowing nothing, being an outsider, feeling useless.  Meeting royalty, fighting over minutiae the likes of which most people have never imagined, debating whether to feed a starving person.  Greece, the alleged armpit of Europe, felt luxurious to me.  I felt guilty just for being there.  It’s not all good or all bad, but it is definitely my life.  And it is definitely weird to most people.

Honestly, i wouldn’t have it any other way.  And that’s the bit that has me stuck.  Because so much of that life doesn’t account for what else is my life: playing school with Bridget, watching Zach and Cody with DeDe, tea and old standards with my grandmother.  Weddings and funerals in spades.  Holidays that range from 30 to 90 people.  Walking places alone at night that would make my mother’s skin crawl, bars where they know my name and order, sports teams that make your world and break your heart.

FAs I look forward, it seems like it will be starkly more difficult to reconcile these two odd pieces of my life.  for one thing, model un will be gone forever.  No more debate, no more conference, no more “mom!”, no more winning, no more neurotic, competitive delia.  No more mentoring, no more embassies, no more overnight trains, no more brand new crop of friends every semester.  That UNA part of me will never come back.

I will no longer have a partitioned life, a clear timeline and financial capability to leave, purposefully, for a little while.  I talked the other night with a friend about the need to be relevent, to do the things that I consider “work” all the time.  So often when people ask, amazed, “why did you do that?” that answer is, “because it’s my job.”  When taking care of delegates and advising students to go abroad isn’t my job, what will be left?  When I don’t have readily available ways to matter to the human race, to contribute, what will be left?  He’s right: I can’t be happy if I’m not doing my work.  It is a passion.  But what if no one will allow me to do that work and pay the rent?  Worse, what if they won’t allow me to do the work and not pay the rent?

When I don’t have this insane workaholic schedule, the one I started at age eleven with science team and forty hours a week at school, who will I be?  When there are no lectures, no charity events, no competitions, no meetings, what’s left?  And what good is all this experience and education, this thoroughly different life, these five fractured languages, if I never use them to help anyone?