Discourse / Editorials / April 18, 2012

Thoughts from the Embers: Slacking on activism

This week is Earth Week and the Alliance for Peaceful Action Symposium, two events that draw on Knox’s traditions of social awareness and activism. From Occupy Wall Street to KONY2012, the past several months have been huge for political and social movements and Knox students have eagerly gotten involved.

Still, Knox is not immune to the trend of promoting causes on the Web and then going no further. Many members of our generation never get past clicking the “like” button, on Facebook thereby allowing slacktivism to substitute for true action and, in turn, true change.

Thanks to social media and other Internet platforms, many people have chosen to take their passions for issues online. Resources such as Facebook and Twitter can be instrumental in spreading the word about an issue or rallying people behind a common goal, as the 2011 uprisings across the Arab world illustrated.

However, social media can also masquerade as activism while having little actual effect on policy. While posting a video to your Facebook page may enlighten the ten friends who have scrolled through their news feeds to find it, its efficacy in bringing about change is minimal. How many of us have shared articles and videos on Facebook addressing women’s rights over the past month as tensions over aspects of the Affordable Health Care Act have boiled over? How many of us have actually called our representatives? How many of us have actually made our own voices heard?

Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to raise awareness. As seen with KONY2012, the Internet enables us to spread the word about causes to thousands of people in a matter of days. Knowledge is a necessary precursor to change and increasing it is something that social media can do remarkably well. However, the prevalence of this sort of online activism tends to act as a substitute rather than an impetus for action.

Many people (justifiably) ask, “Can I, as a single person, really bring about change? What more can I do besides reposting an article online?” The answer: a lot, as some Knox students are showing through Earth Week and the APA Symposium.

To be fair, many of the Earth Week and Symposium activities are centered on spreading awareness. Their value, though, lies in getting students out of their rooms and into a conversation. From discussing issues with visiting activists to participating in the community garden workday, these events not only plant ideas, but also inspire students to be engaged in implementing them.

True, activism is not always successful. Despite its initial mass appeal, KONY2012 fell apart after questions were raised about the accuracy of its messages and the honesty of Invisible Children’s financial practices. Still, strong activist movements can influence culture and ways of thinking. While the Occupy Wall Street movement has thus far caused little change in economic policy, it has sparked a discussion that has reached the highest levels of government.

President Obama has considered “the Buffett rule;” thousands of Americans have adopted the notion of the 99 percent. Change does not happen overnight, especially in politics, but the embers are now smoldering thanks to the efforts of the men and women who took action in the real world, not just the virtual one.

If you’ve already participated in an Earth Week or Symposium activity this week, our hats are off to you for taking the initiative to get involved and participate in a dialogue about how to create change. If you haven’t, there are still plenty of activities planned for later this week. Use this week’s events to go out and become inspired by those around you.

The TKS Editorial board

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