In contemplation of activism. (And defense of slacktivism?)

This semester I'm taking a geography class, Environment and Society. In our first class the professor asked us each to introduce ourselves and say where, on the "environmentalism" scale, we each identify. The general consensus was that as products of the 90's, we are totally down with recycling, believe climate change is happening, like to go hiking, but are too broke, as college students, to buy all organic or drive a Prius. 

At some point in the trip around the room someone said something along the lines of, "I guess I don't really consider myself an environmental activist but I guess, since I recycle and like the environment, I'm an environmentalist". 


Although I had never given it too much intentional thought, in my mind the term activist is reserved for individuals currently, actively, working on a movement. Capital A, Activism is full time, no sleep, caffeine fueled, I have a bail money account, donate to my organization instead of giving me a birthday present, activism. 

But not everyone can do that. Right? There's got to be a spectrum, and we all have to be okay with there being a spectrum. 


I considered myself an environmental activists when I worked with an environmental nonprofit in New Orleans, I talked to people about environmentalism and did things like sign them up to recycle.  

Similarly, when I was working on the marriage equality campaign in Maine, I identified as an equality activist

But if someone were to ask me now, are you an equality activist? Are you an environmental activist? I would hesitate. Am I? I 100% support equality, in all forms. I get HRC text alerts. I signed every petition I could find related to Ferguson. I donate money whenever I have some left at the end of the month. But technically, am I a former activist?   

I've gone to counter Westboro protests in the past, I protested after the BP Oil Disaster. But I didn't go to the Climate March last week. I didn't go to Flood Wall Street. I never camped out for Occupy. How frequently must one protest in the streets to be considered an activist? 

Is calling someone out on sexist behavior, as I go about my day, being an activist? Is stopping on the street to sign a petition in support of planned parenthood, being an activist? Is donating monthly to an organization promoting secularism, being an activist? 

I wouldn't want to say I'm not an activist. Maybe the "if you're not with us you're against us" mantra is too deep a fear in my sub-conscious. What percentage of my time needs to be spent vigorously advocating for a cause for me to be able to use the term? 

I believe in all of these movements, their uniqueness and their interrelated missions - equality regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, religion or worldview, environmentalism, freedom from oppression, access to basic human rights, protection and honoring of the environment. But just believing in them doesn't make me an activist.

And the famed question, is incessantly sharing news articles about the causes I support, on social media, activism? 

Liberal bloggers, capital L, Love, the term "slacktivist". Calling someone a slacktivist is probably the meanest thing an activist can say. If you're called a slacktivist, you probably immediately empty your bank account into the first campaign you see. 

That being said, have I become a slacktivist? 

How does one quantify "vigorous advocating". Is there value in quantifying it? Is labeling ourselves activists, former activists, clicktivists, slacktivists, and the like helpful to our movements or does it only divide us? If it's a spectrum can you be a slacktivist and an activist at the same time? What percentage of the time should your actions be on each end of the spectrum? 



It frustrates me to see activists of one movement criticizing the activists of other movements for not being more involved. Ascribing to a more conservative definition, one person cannot be an activist for every cause. There are not enough hours in a day or days in a lifetime. BUT, of course, yes, social movements are often interrelated and support for each other will propels movements. 

This is the reason I struggle with "slacktivism" as this entirely negative concept. I cannot go out and protest every single cause that I believe in. I wouldn't have time to do anything else. What I can do is hit share on an article about internet censorship, or unionizing, or sexual assaults on college campuses, and hope that someone else reads that, becomes informed, and may be in a better position than I, to more vigorously advocate for that cause. The other "A-word", awareness 

Slacktivism is said to be damaging to causes because people think that can change their profile picture to a red equal sign and be done. But sometimes sharing videos of ice buckets ends up raising millions of dollars. 



I also don't think that slacktivism is an entirely new phenomenon. Social media has just made it more obvious. Slacktivists have always existed. I'm sure there were people that had "no war" bumper stickers in the '60s but didn't go to a protest. Is sharing a post on Facebook any different? 



More related to the purpose of this blog... This all got me thinking about the relationship between activism and academia. As an academic should you also be an activist? Can you be an activist? 

I'm obviously not the first to wonder this. Different people will give you very different answers. 

My research area is nonprofits that work in recovery. Its an area ripe with activists. They're all activists. And, activists in the traditional sense of the word; vigorously advocating for their cause. As a researcher is it my responsibility to remain on the outskirts and observe what occurs or, because I have a unique view, do I have a responsibility to be an activist. To be a voice for these groups in the larger recovery, and emergency management community? Is the act of even researching them a form of activism? Or is it slacktivism? Is it even an ism? Should it be? 

I don't have an answer yet, I'll let you know when I do. 






** You may have noticed I uncharacteristically did not include any links to further reading. You can just google "slacktivism" and you'll find more than you could ever have time to read.