*previously published in the Thistler*
I can’t think of the last time the word ‘activism’ has been thrown around so much, and by all
sorts of people too. Everyone from the folks who say it with self identifying pride, to the extreme
opposite of spoken disdain from non-activists, and everything in between. But, is there such thing
as a non-activist? In fact, with the varied meanings, I really can’t think of anyone who isn’t an
activist at some point in their life. The kind of activism one engages in, is what I am interested
in talking about.
One of my favourite quotes is by Buckminster Fuller: “…To change something, build a new
model that makes the existing model obsolete” and I actually pretty much believe that, it’s the
sort of activism I put most of my day to day energy in to. But, it doesn’t stop me from marching
and protesting, boycotting and resisting. One thing that is certain for me is, no matter what
form of activism I engage in, it has to be with people, face to face, in a community and with
lots of freedom.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:
Activism, in a general sense, can be described as intentional action to bring about social, political,
economic, or environmental change. This action is in support of, or opposition to, one side of an
often controversial argument.
The word “activism” is often used synonymously with protest or dissent, but activism can stem
from any number of political orientations and take a wide range of forms from writing letters to
newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially
patronizing businesses, rallies, street marches, strikes, both work stoppages and hunger strikes,
or even guerrilla tactics.
In some cases, activism has nothing to do with protest or confrontation. For instance, some religious,
or vegetarian/vegan activists try to persuade people to change their behavior directly, rather
than persuade governments to change laws. The cooperative movement seeks to build new institutions
which conform to cooperative principles, and generally does not lobby or protest politically.
Working with others to work towards radical change, particularly for social justice, is extremely
rewarding to those who do it. In my opinion, engaging with others in any form of activism is at
its best when meeting face to face. Organizing, and in the end, the outcome (how many people
show up, and other markers) is contingent on how real the relationships are, and I do believe
that that can only happen in a physical space, where people meet, organize, debate, discuss, make
art, plant seeds, and so on. With this, I think it’s the way that one can truly feel part of any
movement for radical change.
I am not down on technology and certainly not down on the Internet. Email has without a doubt
helped with organizing the meetings, rallies etc., but I am sceptical how much things like facebook
and twitter have helped the more radical movements, and I am not even talking about the hours
of wasted time it provides for us who use it (!) This is a larger discussion and way too big for this
short piece. I am thinking lots about this, though, so there will be more about it in the future.
But for now, I have a few things to say on the topic, and I do realize I am leaving lots out…
There’s no question that social media does work in many remarkable ways. But as far as I can
tell, it helps sustain the status quo, it’s undoubtedly great for politicians to mobilize voters, for
example, and I know there are many other examples on the personal front, particularly for promoting
things and people. Connecting to people outside your immediate community/city is also a
wonderful outcome of social media, and certainly has proven great for garnering loads of support
and solidarity in the struggle for social radical change. So, it can be said that lots of great things
have come forth since the advent of new media, but is it really adding to the success of the
movement for radical social change in a real tangible way?
I haven’t personally done the stats or the research about social media’s effects, or the lack thereof,
and if no one has I hope someone does soon. I have asked most of my activist friends about it,
and many agree with my thoughts on this, although for now I can only speak from personal experience.
In a nutshell, I don’t see it helping the movement for radical social change, maybe I will
be proven wrong, but I somehow doubt it. It is good old fashion analog face to face meeting in a
physical space where we come together to engage, learn and connect; it’s where the movement can
truly germinate. Cyber relationships are too tangential and therefore not strong enough or committed
enough for radical change to take hold. Just as important, the real relationships that are
needed to foster the change so it truly blossoms and sustains itself, happen best face to face.
I have to chuckle a bit at this, because I am someone who is actively on all sorts of social media,
I am not against it, just curious and extremely sceptical at its function for supporting and
contributing to radical change. In the end, radical change/activism aside, I pose this question:
how does social media support people in having a real feeling of belonging? I’d say not so great.
But it may prove me wrong yet.
Cyborgs may change all that, but for now I’ll take meeting in a room, probably in eastvan,
and most definitely at the thistle, where I can be face to face with the fellow resisters.
And, as always, see you in the streets!