Category Archives: Activism

Street Harassment and Traveling Advice for Women

Everyone has a lot to say about women travelers, especially if they’re solo, especially if they go somewhere in the Global South.  And really, everyone has a lot to say about women.  Some of the advice is good, like researching backup plans ahead of time so you don’t get stuck staying somewhere that makes you uncomfortable.  It’s pretty obvious and rather good advice for everyone, but at least it’s not bad.  There’s also a lot fo bad advice out there, ranging from racist to victim-blaming, restrictive to non-sensical.  Some people just can’t seem to stop themselves from sharing this advice, even if I don’t ask.  Even if they’ve never been where I’m going.  All of the advice essentially boils down to one premise: as a woman, you are vulnerable and it is therefore your responsibility to alter your behavior in every way imaginable in order to prevent other people from harming you.  If you fail in this, you will be judged for your poor safety efforts and it will be used as an excuse to make blanket statements about what women travelers should or should not do.  Its for your own good, honey.

Thankfully, there was very little street harassment directed my way on my trip to Kerala, India, contrary to the typical American view of the country.  Some of us were discussing possible reasons for this, with the most obvious being that we spent very little time on actual streets.  We were generally in our bus, and when we walked we tended to be on the grounds of a hotel or other attraction where the only people we see are staff.  Not that staffers never harass customers, but it is in their best interest to treat us right, even more so considering we are travel bloggers.  I was very rarely alone, and the group had gender parity (for the bloggers.  On the staff side, Rutavi was holding it down for team XX by herself) so it was rare for me to walk somewhere without someone who presents as a man nearby.  And of course, I do not speak Malayalam or Hindi, so it’s possible I missed some things.

I did enjoy one little insight into the minds of my male compatriots.  One night, 7 or 8 of us went out to buy alcohol.  There were only two women, myself and another blogger.  To buy alcohol in Kerala, a person needs to stand in a line at a small storefront and ask the clerk for what they want, then pay.  All of these stores seem to perpetually have a line, and line culture in India involves a bit more jockeying for position and a lot less personal space than an American is used to.  I took one look at the situation and knew that we didn’t all need to wait in line and that I was definitely not going to be one of the people who did.  It didn’t look scary, and if I needed to I could have, but it just seemed obvious to me that if I could avoid being the only woman in close quarters with a lot of men trying to buy alcohol (and some who had clearly already had their fill), than I should avoid it.  One of the guys must have had the same thought because right away he said that the two women would wait here.  Another guy was confused by this, which is how most guys I have traveled with would react.  It simply doesn’t occur to them–they have never had to think that way.  The idea of a man considering a woman’s safety without being told to (or assuming it’s either exaggeration or an excuse to completely restrict her behavior) is a rare quality indeed, and it immediately raised my positive opinion of him.  Of course, for every helpful precaution there is an annoying bit of paternalism, and one of the men came walking back to us instead of toward the store.  He was nominated on the sly to babysit us women.  I called him on it immediately, and he begrudgingly admitted it.  I didn’t mind the company of course, and the sentiment was frustrating but understandable.  It was just weird that it seemed somewhat covert.

In that story we were in one of the few populated areas where we were able to wander off.  We spent a lot of our walking around time in more rural areas, which offer fewer opportunities for harassment from a purely numeric perspective, though harassment in all forms occurs everywhere.   We are also foreigners, and while that attracts a different sort of attention, it also can cause people in the service industry to be overly deferential and more careful how they behave around us.  Sometimes that extends to average people in the country, out of a sense of hospitality or awareness of the importance of the tourism industry, or a mix of the two.

It’s imperative to remember that my experience here is not universal, and that Kerala is not all of India.  Those with different perceived gender identities and sexual orientations, skin tones, ethnic groups, socioeconomic status, castes, and physical and mental ability levels could all be treated much differently than I. There is the biggest difference that is often overlooked by travelers: those who are local likely experience their own communities in a completely different way than I do.  All this is to say that just because I have barely been harassed doesn’t mean other travelers or Indians won’t be.  Moreover, the State of Kerala is very different from other parts of India, which have their own, often more intense, histories with gender-based violence.  This is not to say Kerala doesn’t also have a problem with gender-based violence (it does; everywhere does) but it does not tend to make the headlines the way Delhi has.

When we discuss street harassment abroad, we must remember that this is not a foreign behavior, or one unique to a certain climate, region, language, religion, or culture.  It looks different from one place to the next, but street harassment happens all over the world so it should be combated all over the world.  Relegating terrible behavior to certain places or types of people lets those who harass but do not fit our mold off the hook.  It can also leave people feeling singled out instead of supported, as evidenced by some of the backlash from the story of a white American study abroad student in India this past year.

At the same time, I feel it is important for those who experience street harassment to find ways of bringing the behavior into the light no matter where they live or who perpetrates harassment.  Many women who travel downplay street harassment abroad in order to keep from worrying loved ones, to minimize racist responses from listeners, to distance themselves from upsetting memories, or because they’re so used to others minimizing their experiences.  However, when we stay silent it can feel like being victimized again.  Personally, my best tool for dealing with street harassment isn’t fighting back or preventative measures.  It’s discussing my experiences with fellow female travelers.  I have mostly given up talking about it with male travelers because their responses range from neutral to disappointing to extremely upsetting, but when they do get it, as in the story above, it brings a feeling of relief.  On the other side of things, I love it when I am able to discuss street harassment with local women in order to learn more about their experience.  Sharing these stories reminds me that this behavior is real, it is not okay, it is not my fault, and I am not alone in experiencing it.  It can also minimize the level of daily stress that street harassment piles on.

LGBTQ and women travelers receive a lot of advice from all directions, all of whom are completely confident that they know what is best.  It is a complicated mix of contradicting and often insulting or victim-blaming information.  I’m a big believer in the Hollaback! model for dealing with mistreatment of women and LGBTQ folks worldwide, which is that local communities are experts on their own experiences, and that however a person feels most safe and empowered is the right choice for them.  Translated to international travel, this means it can be the best decision for one person to travel solo, while for another it is better to arrange to travel with companions.  Or, more realistically, the same traveler could arrive at varying conclusions depending on many factors, including their comfort level with independent travel, their assessment of their own safety, and their preference.  I am equally sick of hearing women being shamed and blamed for solo travel as when they are bullied as less-than for opting to go a safer, more comfortable route such as traveling with a package tour, a touring group, friends, family, or a partner.  We really don’t need more people telling women what to do.  However you manage to feel safe and comfortable while traveling is what you should do, because I firmly believe we need to make travel more accessible, not less.

What’s your experience of street harassment, at home or abroad?  Does it match what others who live or travel to there experience?  How do you feel about all the advice people constantly give women?

Preventing Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Image credit: The Enliven Project http://theenlivenproject.com/
Image credit: The Enliven Project http://theenlivenproject.com/

Sexual assault* is being discussed publicly now more than ever, and with the president’s task force to combat on campus sexual assault as well as several lawsuits against universities under Title IX for mishandling sexual assault reports from students, the focus is more intense.  Sexual assault and gender-based violence as a whole is a public health crisis in the United States, and people are starting to notice.  It is amazing progress that people are starting to discuss sexual assault on facebook, among friends, and in major news outlets, and we need to keep that momentum going with concrete action.  While we need to work on prevention with people of all ages, including those in high school, the high rates and mobilization of activists on college campuses has brought that environment to the forefront.  For those colleges and universities looking to make a real difference, here is my advice on how to reduce sexual assault and its harmful effects on campus.

  • Train RAs in bystander intervention and receiving disclosures.  This will enable them to step in when they see an unsafe situation, and better prepare them if a student discloses to them that they have been assaulted.  Disclosure training helps a person understand the possible needs of a survivor**, how best to speak with them, which resources are available, and how to quickly ensure the safety of the survivor and connect them to resources, like medical advocates, SANE nurses, counseling, legal assistance, and university-related assistance.  If your school is in the Boston Area, get in touch with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) about their trainings.
  • Train campus security, police, health services, and any other personnel who are likely to receive disclosures.  Personnel should be well-versed in all the options and resources available to a survivor, the proper way to treat and speak to a survivor.
  • Have a dedicated office to prevent sexual violence.  This office should be staffed with people from the world of victim services and victim advocacy, and their professional guidance should be sought after and respected to improve university disciplinary and judicial practices, resources available to survivors, and campaigns to combat sexual assault.  They should have a reasonable budget and a high level of access to information and the ability to influence practices on campus.
  • Require all incoming freshmen to pass an exam on consent and resources, just as most universities require all incoming freshmen to pass an exam on alcohol and its effects.
  • Speaking of consent: update your definition in your code of conduct, judicial materials, on campus resources and the exam to reflect that all sexual acts are opt-in, not opt out.  Silence does not equal consent.  We should not be lowering the bar on consent but raising it, to enthusiastic consent.  Consenting once does not mean you consent forever, or even for the next five minutes; a person is entitled to change their mind at any time and have that respected.  Consenting to one person or to one sex act does not have any bearing on whether that person consents to any other sex act or to be with any other person, or even with that same person again.  Those who are intoxicated cannot consent.
  • Update your definition in your code of conduct, judicial materials, on campus resources and the exam to accurately reflect what sexual assault can look like, and update on campus attitudes about sexual assault as well.  Sexual assault does not have to involve a weapon or even violence.  All it takes is the threat of violence, and that threat can be communicated non-verbally.  It is sexual assault to coerce a person into sex, whether by quid pro quo, verbal threats, or merely persisting until a no becomes a yes or silence.  Silence is not consent; a coerced yes is not really a yes.
  • Work with other universities to establish best practices, like the upcoming conference Dartmouth is hosting this summer.  There should be representation of victims’ rights advocates, medical advocates, law enforcement, and survivors at that conference to give their valuable input.  That input needs to be prioritized over other concerns like the reputations of colleges or the financial cost of these measures.  That Title IX money isn’t for free.
  • Report all data as required by the Clery Act in a timely and accurate manner.  Sadly, not all schools are living up to this law.  We all have a right to know about the rate of sexual assaults on campus, and it is illegal for universities to alter or delay the data.
  • Cooperate fully with law enforcement and legal entities if the survivor chooses to seek legal action such as prosecution or a restraining order.  Many universities have not been cooperative in the past, or have attempted to keep assaults from reaching law enforcement in an attempt to protect their own reputation.  This is reprehensible.
  • Offer the survivor all options available to them, and let them decide.  Do not tell them it will make their life miserable or no one will believe them, or that it would be better for everyone if they just let it go or took time off.  Do not attempt to coerce or influence them in any way.  Sadly many universities have done this in the past (and likely still do this) in order to protect their reputation, and several are currently being sued under Title IX for this exact problem.
  • Make campus safe for the survivor as quickly as possible.  This can include anything from moving the attacker to different housing, switching the attacker’s classes, to suspending or expelling them from campus.  The attacked should be the one whose life has to change to accommodate the health and safety of the survivor, not the other way around, and these changes need to happen swiftly.
  • Do not turn a sexual assault into a “teaching moment” for the perpetrator.  Their rights are not more important than the rights of the person they violated.  While the percentage of men who commit sexual assault is quite low, two-thirds of those who do commit the crime on college campuses do so almost six times on average. David Lisak’s research shows that undetected rapists, “plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically.”  This is not an issue of mere misunderstanding, contrary to the implications of the term “date rape.”  The university punishment for sexual assault should be at least as harsh as punishments for underage drinking, drug possession, hazing, and non-sexual violence.  At many schools this is not the case and perpetrators, even when found at fault, get off with a slap on the wrist.
Image credit: The Enliven Project http://theenlivenproject.com/
Image credit: The Enliven Project http://theenlivenproject.com/

Other, less concrete actions are also necessary.  Colleges and universities need to recognize other behavior on the continuum of gender- and sexuality-based violence and get proactive, such as by ridding their campuses of sexual harassment, street harassment, and misogynist events or attitudes on campus.  Students and on-campus groups should not be allowed to make shirts depicting women as pigs on a spit, or gather in groups to chant degrading things at women.  A community that does not tolerate degrading behavior that is considered non-violent is a less welcoming place for perpetrators. Moreover, a community that fosters open discussion on these issues, such as in town hall meetings, student and faculty senates, school publications, and by hosting relevant on-campus events is a community that actively wants to improve safety for all of its members.

We are a long way from eradicating this crime and its widespread affects, but if we want to get serious about ending sexual assault, it’s time we focus on all aspects of this public health epidemic and get down to business.  Universities have at times been progressive leaders in this country, on the cutting edge of doing the right thing.  It’s time they live up to that reputation and prioritize the people within their communities over alumni donations and their reputation.  Personally, I think universities that take effective, proactive measures will be rewarded, as our culture has recently shown that we are no longer willing to ignore this crisis.

What measures have I forgotten to include?  Do you know of any campuses doing a particularly good job, in one area or another?

*I use the terms sexual assault here to encompass all manner of sexual crimes, including rape.  Personally I find the distinction between whether someone penetrated a person while they performed sex acts on them without their permission to be an artificial one, used by antagonizes (and survivors themselves) to attempt to downplay the serious nature of the crime. 

**I use the term survivor where most newspapers, universities, and lay people would use the term victim.  It comes from the community of people who have experienced these crimes and those who advocate for them.  There is already enough dis-empowering messaging in discussions of sexual assault, making the empowering term “survivor” preferable.  A victim is a passive person in a crime.  A survivor is someone who has actively striven to make it through something horrific, which is an accurate depiction of every survivor I’ve ever met, and more accurately reflects the on-going nature of recovery.  Not everyone self-identifies with this term and it is best to honor their wishes on an individual basis, but when speaking in broad terms I prefer to use the term survivor. 

***Top image CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Walk for Change

UPDATE on 4/7/2014: This post was updated to reflect my 2014 donation page. I’m proud to share that quotes from this article have been featured on BARCC’s print ads, MBTA ads (share a picture if you see it on the red line!), and the back of the Walk t-shirts.

This April, I will be participating in Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s Walk for Change.  I first learned of the organization last year, during my final semester at Northeastern, when I got involved in some related activism.  BARCC is a local organization serving the Greater Boston Area with counseling, a 24-hour hotline, medical advocates, and lobbying power.  They do good work for little pay, and their services are invaluable for the people who need them.  I will be joined by an amazing group of women who are strong, bold, smart and high-achieving.

I’m walking because I have heard so many stories that break my heart, stories of things that never should have happened.  But instead they happened again and again, often to the same people, and they will keep happening.

I am walking because I shouldn’t be afraid to name the organization I was with when I learned about BARCC, nor should I be afraid to name what we were protesting.  But I am.  I am afraid to write about it, to mention it to fellow Northeastern students and alumni, or to associate myself with it online.  Because when a group of young men and women and some of their teachers stood up and said we would not have our university associated with a group that treats this wretched violence so casually, that treats the safety and well-being and freedoms of young women so casually, members and fans of the organization set out to make us feel insane, overly sensitive, ugly, and unsafe.  They pursued us relentlessly online, insulted us in the comments and in person, wrote threats, posted addresses and personal details, and surrounded us at our protest.

I am walking because those people won a little bit, when those threats were so serious they were taken to the police, and some people were advised to stay home and stay offline.  And they won a little bit when they made us afraid, and when they made us feel small, and when they made me feel like a Super Bowl party or a sports bar was one less place where I could be safe and happy.

I am walking because I should have been able to think of at least one fellow student at Northeastern with whom I felt comfortable sharing our plans for the protest: a person I could trust not to invite the trolls, or tell me I was wrong or stupid, or downplay the importance of this issue.  But I couldn’t.

I am walking because there is no magic formula to keep ourselves safe, no right time of day or night to go out, no right type of person or situation to avoid, no dress code, no secret signal not to send, no magic way of saying no that will be honored by everyone everywhere in every situation no matter what, no appropriate number of drinks to have or companions to walk us home.

I am walking because people tell me that it cannot possibly be true that a woman is more likely to be attacked if she goes to college, because people tell me I must be lying, because people claim no one they know has ever been sexually assaulted or raped, even though we know that statistically, for a person my age, that is nigh impossible.

I am walking because I have sat in a car while men screamed out the window at women walking home alone in the middle of the night.  I said nothing while they yelled, “slut!” at women who had no way of knowing whether the car would slow down and someone would come to harm them or not.  I said nothing while they laughed about it, because I was tired of being their punching bag and I was afraid of what they would think of me if I kept standing up for the women they called sluts.

I am walking because the American legal system, the military, the lower house of congress, much of the media and far too many doctors have utterly failed the country and their humanity on this issue.

I am walking because of Delhi and Steubenville, and because those communities are not unique.  Because when an 11 year old was raped by 18 men and teenage boys, the New York Times saw fit to report only on those wondering where the girl’s mother was, and saying how grown up her clothing and makeup was.  Because a fake girlfriend received more attention than a rape victim who committed suicide.  Because so many at Penn State rioted to support its football team and its coach, instead of stopping to think about who the real victims are.  Because our collective first thoughts after an accusation are always to wonder what she was wearing or drinking, whether she flirted or was promiscuous, whether he is gay or weak, and to say what a horrible thing it is to ruin someone’s reputation, and to frantically repeat the words “Duke Lacrosse” like it’s an incantation.

I am walking because everyone’s right to a good time and their right to free speech and their right to make crappy jokes and comments is not more important than our right to feel safe or our obligation as human beings to treat one another with respect and a sense of compassion.

I am walking because there are too many bystanders, too many who see it as someone else’s problem, and too many people who call themselves “good” and “nice” while ignoring the jokes, the threats, the injustices, and the violence that happen in our own communities.

I am walking because it is a big deal, and it does happen in all kinds of places and to all kinds of people, and I’m sorry bringing up these issues bums people out but good lord, imagine what experiencing them firsthand must feel like.

I am walking because sometimes using your voice, showing your presence, and providing support for those fighting the good fight is the only thing any of us can do, and that is a very important thing.

I am walking because what they want is silence.  What they want is compliance.  What they want is fear, and what they want is power.

I am walking because no one can be silenced, no one should live in fear or shame, no one should ever be or feel powerless, and because we will not go quietly.

I am walking because I can, I am walking because I feel I must, and I am walking for those who cannot yet walk for themselves.

Donate

Does Voting Even Matter?

Okay, so full closure: for the last month, I’ve been a one-woman Get Out The Vote campaign.  I helped my UK/US dual citizen intern register for her first ever Presidential election.  I made sure my ex-expat coworker was properly registered.  It has gotten to the point where people have blocked me on facebook, and people have told me to stop speaking and have walked away from me mid-sentence.  I’ve even stooped to rewarding friends and family with food for their political participation.  And it all started with my near-nervous breakdown when a friend told me he had never voted.

So yeah, this matters to me.  But is that a surprise?  I watched the entirety of West Wing in real time (if you know my age, you know that’s a little strange) and many times since then.  My dad and I made a tradition of watching election returns together.  I signed my first petition and wrote my first letter to a member of congress before I could drive.  I’ve been to political rallies on three continents.  I worked for Amnesty International.  I’ve devoted thousands of hours to Model-Whatever, AKA a very elaborate game of political pretend.  I have spent years studying this stuff formally, and I spend my leisure time reading what other people would consider textbooks.

So yes, when you tell me, “It’s just politics,” I do take it a bit personally.  Not just because of my years invested thus far, but also because of what is at stake.  No matter what side of the issues you fall on, the two mainstream candidates have (or have had) differing opinions on gay marriage, reproductive health (including rape and sexual assault), the economy, the tragic deaths in Libya, how to handle the crisis in Syria, the automotive bailout, unemployment benefits, and healthcare.  These are all major issues, regardless of what you believe about them.  My physical body (and that of all women) is quite literally up for debate.  People’s rights, whether they be to have less government intrusion or to have government validate their partnerships, are at stake.  So yeah, this matters.

When I read an article like Alice Chen’s, I think it ignores these facts.  Whether we “give permission,” by voting or not, the federal government still has the ability to make it much harder for me to receive medical treatment that I need or may need, at a price I can afford and at an availability that is reasonable to my time and budget.  Moreso than her ignorance of this, or her belief that Social Security is a program for “poor people,”  I feel like her broad strokes of the anti-vote attitude does a disservice to my intelligent, kind, intentional, politically active friends who feel that this presidential election is not inclusive to their needs.

Legitimate arguments against voting in the Presidential election:

  • 3rd party candidates aren’t included in the televised debates, or most mainstream media coverage, despite being on so many ballots
  • Campaign finance makes things a mess, and especially affects 3rd party candidates and many people who could more realistically represent America
  • Electoral college
  • Pursuant to that, living in a Red State or Blue State is pretty disenfranchising
  • Voter ID laws in some states have disenfranchised some voters
  • Gerrymandering has disenfranchised some voters (to be clear: both sides do this.  It is despicable either way.)
  • For many impoverished or elderly Americans, getting to their polling place is not realistic.  Reliable, affordable transportation can be a problem, and while it is illegal, many jobs will find a way to punish a worker who misses time to vote.  This is also despicable.  Can we have elections on Saturdays?

These are all legitimate grievances.  As someone who cares about politics, yes, this pisses me off.  I am of the belief that we should all have easy access to polls and accurate information, and it should be incredibly easy for us all to vote.  We should all have a voice, and every voice should matter.  (Incidentally, that’s part of why dismantling the electoral college is more complicated than it first appears–but that’s for another post.)

That being said, here’s a list of ways you can make your voice heard in American politics and American political thought if you feel like the Presidential Election isn’t serving you well:

  • Vote for local ballot questions
  • Vote for state and local political races
  • Vote in mid-term and local elections
  • Write to your state and local politicians about issues that matter to you
  • Visit your state and local politicians to discuss issues that matter to you
  • Get as educated as you can about the issues
  • Educate others about the issues
  • Write op-ed pieces for local and national publications
  • Donate money to a reputable organization that will represent your voice (not all lobbyists are bad!)
  • Become a local politician
  • Attend political rallies and carry out actions
  • Volunteer with an organization that represents your values
  • Sign a petition that represents your values

I realize that many people do not have time for these commitments, such as the people working three jobs to feed their family, just trying to scrape by.  To them I say, god bless you for doing your best.  I hope it gets better for you.  To all of us with enough time to be able to read what I’m writing, to have enough time to comment and be on facebook and twitter and go out to bars, I say step it up.  Because if you have enough time for those things, but not enough time for these things, then you’re not politically disenfranchised.  You’re just not prioritizing politics.  And that’s your choice.  I disagree with it, but it’s not my life.  But not prioritizing politics is not that same as feeling disenfranchised by the Presidential Election.  So please stop pretending it’s someone else’s fault that you’re not involved.

When I think about the people I’ve met, the people with no right to citizenship in any country, or the people risking their lives to vote, or the people who have suffered physical violence because they attempted to make their voice heard, I just think how despicable and how privileged it is for someone to choose not to be involved in any way.

Why should you prioritize this?  Well, if you’re in Massachusetts, we are voting on medical marijuana and the issue of physician-assisted suicide.  Those are super controversial.  Very few people have a “whatevs,” sort of attitude toward those.  I think if you really took the time to look, you would see that so many of the issues at stake in this, and every election, are personal and controversial.  If, when and how anyone has a child is so personal and such a huge commitment, that it deserves a lot of thought.  What we do about this wretched economy of ours will affect everyone in this country, much as it already has.

I hate the dismissive sound of someone telling me, “it’s just politics.”  The sound of someone telling me not to cause a problem, not to stir the pot.  I suppose if you’re someone whose rights have never been threatened, someone who can afford to weather every storm, someone who doesn’t have a target on their back right now, someone who isn’t bothered to care about how we treat other countries, or the prisoners in our own, then yes, you have every right to not care.  To tell me to sit down, shut up, go along with the status quo, and just let everyone have a good time.  But not everyone is having a good time right now.  Not everyone in America, or the world, of even in our little state of Massachusetts.  And whether I’m that person whose rights and whose livelihood is at stake or not, I will always be that person who cares.  I will always be that person who speaks up.  And regardless of whether I choose to vote in the presidential race or not, you can bet your ass I’ll be that person finding a way to affect whatever change I can, no matter how minuscule.

So go ahead.  Tell me to shut up.  Let’s see what happens.

Happy Election Day.  Happy Democracy.  Make your voice heard, whatever that means to you.

 

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?