Columns / Discourse / May 26, 2010

What’s Wrong with Knox: Astroturf activism

First off, the term in the headline is not my own term. In high school my wonderful political science teacher, Larry Desotell, used it in a class that I have not forgotten since.

This term comes from the more popular term “grassroots activism.” “Astroturf Activism” is the growth of “easy” activism. In the past, to be an activist, one would have to put forth much more effort than is needed today. Today we can just sign a petition or get on some mailing list to then feel like an activist. No longer do we have to march on the streets to be labeled an activist. No longer do we have to be active with activism, which clearly goes against the meaning of activism.

This week, I wanted to yell at Knox students about this “Astroturf Activism,” but I have failed to come up with sufficient backing with recent marches like Take Back The Night and the march against the Arizona immigration law. I am proud to be at Knox when people are willing to put forth effort and march for their opinion. When we let “Astroturf Activism” take over we give up and become more ambivalent to issues around us.

When you walk through Seymour gallery and people try to get you to sign a petition, don’t just sign it because they say it is a good cause. Do research, form your own opinion, and acknowledge all sides of the argument. Only then should you sign it and be willing to take the next step to be active for the cause. Don’t sign it then move on with your life. Sign it and try to change it.

In no way am I condoning the extremist activism that can be found around campus at times. Vandalism hurts the impact of your voice to other citizens and to the people of power. It never helps. Extremist actions should only be partaken in when there is absolutely no other means and I doubt any issue at Knox or in the USA has gotten to that point in the last twenty years, despite all the problems that fill our lives.

Don’t turn into the average citizen and fall trap to “Astroturf Activism.” So, Knox, stay active, keep marching, stay loud! And when you graduate, refuse to become ambivalent!

John Williams


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