Tag Archives: activism

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?

ONE

A few weekends ago, I was one of the volunteers at the U2 shows down at Gillette.  Greenpeace, Save Burma and the ONE Campaign were also there, which made for some nice camaraderie amongst the volunteers. 

It was an experience I will always remember and never trade, but in a way, it was so disheartening.  I spent the day out in the hot sun, approaching strangers and beseeching them to care about this woman with a strange name who lives so far away and is rarely on the news.  I was polite to people who were rude, I engaged with people who were argumentative and I tried not to piss anybody off.  I did my best to cram as many facts in as I could, once they agreed to sign and were finagling the clipboard. 

But after all that, Bono did more. 

He waved his magic wand and brought us all on stage with her face covering our own.  He sang the song he wrote for her, and played an informative text overlay on the jumbo tron.  He got the crowd of people, previously drunk or disinterested, to put on their own masks of her, and to care. 

But does the ONE campaign really hold up?  Or rather, does it stay true to its ideals?  Yes, it raises money.  But the premise is that we each only have one voice, and if we each raise that one voice, there will be a million voices all crying out for the same freedoms and protections.  But not all voices are equal.  There’s a reason Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle do the ONE ads, not me and my dad. 

It was an emotional weekend, and for the first time I truly felt like an activist.  But it put into perspective a few things, like how many hundreds of hours of photocopying and data entry balanced out the joy of being on stage with U2.  Or more importantly,  the fact that no matter how hard I worked, Bono could write a check and give a directive and do more for Daw ASSK than I ever could in a lifetime of activism. 

For Bono, it doesn’t matter that he’s not a politician.  He’s an average Irish guy with an amazing voice, great songwriting skills, and some really talented friends.  But he has made himself so relevent to the non-profit and activism world, as well as to popular culture, that governments listen to him.  Average people listen to him.  There’s a reason people signed my petition if I said Bono asked us to be here, Bono wrote Walk On about this woman, Bono supports us. 

What he says matters. 

Which brings me back to my high school dream: I should either be president, or Bob Dylan.

Activist

The weekend of September 20th was phenomonal.  In the words of my father, “Nobody is gonna believe us.”

September 20th is my dad’s birthday, and he and I spent it by collecting signatures for Amnesty all day and then watching U2 from the inner circle at night.  Oh, yeah, and we walked on stage.  With Bono.  It was more amazing than I thought it could have been, and the best free birthday present ever. 

The second night I went to Gillette with Alex, cuz my dad works for a living and that was an exhausting day.  So that means I spent two full days immersed in Amnesty and Save Burma and U2.  I actually got a bit jaded from seeing them so much, which was kind of weird.  But it was by all accounts an amazing weekend, and not just for the reasons you would think. 

The second night, I was legitimately choked up while walking on stage, Aung Sun Suu Kyi‘s face in front of my own.  I finally felt like I was really doing something worthwhile, and I had this little moment of oh, so this is my life now.  I’m a girl who does the solidarnosc fist and wears peacock feathers in her hair because they symbolize democracy in Burma.  I’m also the only one (besides Alex) who knows what CEDAW is and can properly explain our petition about it.  I kind of like being this person.  Hm.  I could totally be this person, for real life, not just for coop.  Hm. 

It was englightening to speak to the monks, both of whom were in their early 20s.  These are people who have given up the comforts of modern or family life for ascetism and service to their people.  I really enjoyed seeing people my age who were so committed to their faith and their country, and on such a different path from where I am. 

One of the monks had a digital SLR, his only luxury item.  He explained that it was not frivolous at all.  Since the warrant for his arrest was issued due to his part in the protests, he can’t go home.  Instead, he travels, taking pictures and telling his story, trying to save his country from afar.  The camera is just his way of doing the work he was called to do, adapting to this new circumstance. 

I’m no monk, but I’d like to think that my path isn’t as far from his as it first seems.  Because right now, I’m a professional activist.