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Sign for a cause, any cause, it doesn’t make a difference May 20, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.
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Slackitivism is the word I didn’t know I was looking for when I wrote the post on Overactivism.

Andrew Taylor describes the term on his blog as “an on-line trend that combines our internal need to make a difference with the personal inertia that keeps us from actually making an effort.”

This is the part where I give a high-pitched giggle of excitement (and embarrassingly enough, a snort) in the realization that they actually have a word for my thought. This is exactly what I tried to get across in my previous post.

It’s not that people don’t care anymore or don’t want to make a difference, they just seem to have adopted this idea that they can make all the changes they want, for any cause they choose, just by raising the tip of their index fingers (not even the whole thing!- for those of you who have now fake-clicked your mouse, yes I know you did, and yes you do actually lift the whole finger just a little bit, but you know what I mean).

Somehow users have come to believe that their names now, all of a sudden, hold enough weight so that if they simply attach it to a cause and don’t actually do anything else to further that cause, they have done enough to make a significant change.

 This egocentric nature of users is encouraged by the commercialization that comes with the digital revolution. Online content is increasingly based on what users want rather than on what’s necessary or important enough to be made public knowledge. Online journalists tiptoe around the ever-important user when deciding everything from the story angle to the number of paragraphs (but this is a whole other debate). And now this feeling of self-importance has crossed over into the activism arena.

Activists, or more likely, people who were until recently just targets of activism messages, are finding more and more ways to make activism easier.

Follow the logic with me: If everything is made easier then no one tries hard anymore or no one has to try hard anymore and if no one tries hard then no one is actually active and so the meaning of activism is essentially lost or changed. Supporting a cause just does not require much activity anymore in this digital age. Other than activist emails, tweets and Facebook groups, we now have the digital petition/ online petition/ e-petition.

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E(asy)-Petition

These come in the form of emails where you are asked to add your name to the bottom of a list and then forward it to as many people as you can, but there are now also sites that allow you to create digital petitions.There are also sites where you can just choose causes and then sign up on petitions that have already been created for them. Users can create whole websites for their petition in order to explain it and provide more information; alternatively petition pages can be added to already existing websites.

Check out this site for tips on how to go about creating a good petition and what to watch out for when signing one.

In the true spirit of the digital age there is now an alternative to simply signing your name as is the traditional method of petitions. Petitions can now be carried out with pictures.

Flickr is a photo sharing application that is now being used for petitions. Instead of signing up their names to emails and passing them on, people supporting the Starbucks photo petition that aims to help Ethiopian farmers benefit more from their coffee, take pictures of themselves with signs claiming their support and add it to the photo pool.

Ahem, now may I urge you to scroll up a bit and remind yourself about my comment on the egocentric nature of digital users? Of course it’s not about the Ethiopian coffee farmers, it’s about taking a cute picture of yourself and trying to hide the vanity of putting it up in a public space behind a little hand-written sign that took no more than a minute to write out, saying “I support coffee farmers.”

How are you supposed to be taken seriously?

You claim to be concerned about farmers who aren’t getting the best out of their hard work and the hardest work you put in is making sure your hair is set and you’re wearing the earrings that go best with your eyes before you look at the birdie. What are all your pictures with recently-flicked hair and cheesy grins supposed to do, even as a collective, for the Ethiopian farmers?

In her blog on cyberactivism, Sheralyn Tay says: “Online petitions are a vital part of the new wave of activism; speed and the ability to reach international audiences and large numbers make web petitions invaluable in garnering public awareness and consolidating support for activist causes.”

Granted. The digital age does now provide ‘activities’ like petitions with the means to reach extremely large amounts of people in short spaces of time. So the ‘e’ of e-petition is a plus. What about the ‘petition’ part? Petitioning, for me, is a political action that has been in decline for some time and this does not change with the digital sibling.

Alex Stevenson says on his site about UK politics (http://www.politics.co.uk/feature/rise-the-e-petition-$1224577.htm): “A 2003 survey saw only three per cent of MPs saying they thought petitions were an effective procedure. One-fifth of petitions do not even receive a reply from the government.”

Some petition sites name ‘success stories’ in terms of the amounts of signatures they get, but where’s the success in that? What has actually been done for the cause?

See next post for more on digital petitions.

digital-signing

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Comments»

1. Aslam - May 20, 2009

Agreed, but the reason behind adding a signature (or freakishly, a picture) to a cause isn’t so much a case of the ‘activist’ supporting the coffee farmer but rather a lazy effort by the individual towards joining the ever-popular and fashionable horde of people who aspire to claiming a right to some kind of worthy (or otherwise) initiative or cause…

Why get those mouse-clutching hands dirty when you can publicly subscribe to being an activist without so much as lifting a finger? Ok so you lift it a little…

Farzana Rasool - May 21, 2009

The problem is that they see themselves as activists and so feel like they’re doing something when they’re actually accomplishing nothing and this sense of participating keeps them from actually doing something meaningful.

2. handmadebyava - May 21, 2009

I think the online petitions can be useful tools I myself sign them and pass along the link. I also write letters and mail them… that’s right good ol’ fashioned stamp and envelope… to my congressmen, senators and President. I try every avenue to get the cause out there and keep it from being buried, not because its fashionable, not because its popular but because when you see a tortured child, yet another victim of the LRA and Joseph Kony or a woman in The Congo who is dying of aids after having been raped as a war tactic…. you look for any and all avenues to make it stop. I agree that the person needs to do more than just click their mouse but for those that don’t have means to go and help in another country or send money it is a way of helping, and as someone who does more than click a mouse I would rather someone sign an online petition than do nothing at all.

I don’t believe that Enough project or Resolve Uganda places these petitions for the mere “popularity” of it and think whoever looks at it that way needs to go check it out and see how much John Prendergast invests in the cause. They have petitions online simply to keep with the times. Although your point is valid, it doesn’t apply to all.

Farzana Rasool - May 21, 2009

handmadebyava you are an activist. People who click on a petition that you may create are not always. This is the simple point I’m trying to make. For people like you who are actually following up on causes and taking your signature or letter to someone who can make a change, digital tools like petitions are a great help with efficiency and with reaching larger audiences. The second half of this post will go up soon and will discuss the actual advantages of e-petitions and other digital activism tools. The benefits do not evade me.

I do not doubt that the people who actually establish petitions are doing it with the best of intentions but the people who respond can not always be described in the same way.

So I completely agree with you. For users who eventually take the petition somewhere and do something with it, amazing…but you can not ignore those that simply jump on the bandwagon and then enjoy the sense of accomplishment without ever wondering who sees their signature and if it ever makes a difference.

The one thing I’m still making my mind up on is about your point on a person signing being better than doing nothing at all. What about the situation where someone would maybe have done something more because they do feel a need to participate but now just by signing they feel like they have done that something and so will not do anything more? It’s the mindset that goes something like: “well I did sign on that petition and I do join those Facebook groups so I am doing something.” It just helps satisfy the sense of duty.

3. …but it could « Cybertreehugs - May 28, 2009

[…] pointed out by Handmadebyava in a comment on Sign for a cause, any cause, it doesn’t make a difference, there are those whose intentions are sincere. These are users who judge the success of their […]

4. ZubZ - May 31, 2009

I agree with all of the above points and as usual it is a two way argument. The one angle you’ve got people like handmadebyava who are actual activists and i picture them wearing anoraks and mobilising people and doing something for real, in this case the internet is a valuable tool to communicate with other real activists, key word being “activists” because this is where the thick borderline is drawn; yes no thin lines in this case, the difference is big. and i draw referecne to the dicussion to the pveractivism post where you got akon listening lady friends who ask you to sign anti-chauvinist and pro-womens rights posts, while discretely asking me to smack their behinds while listening to 5fm in the car.

Now again on the other hand what happened to all the activists who were in teh hundreds of thousands if not millions before the illegal iraq invasion, as well as the single mothers who protests utside the white house after their onlly son was sent to be butchered in hell whole created by imperilaist/capitalist forces, the question arises “can activists actually do anything” or are we ahving teh same results as the wrist slitting emo kid. So if real street activism doesn’t work, online petitions tend to be a conscience apeasment, in terms of achievment what sets us apart from the emo kids. perhaps anarchy is the answer dare I say terrorism (which is freedom fighting from the point of the iraqi family who’ve been blown away by depleted uranium shells, or the palestinian families who have been decimated by white phosphate, and other torture mechanisms, what happens to the justification of the iraq war due to one or two geneva contraventions, when the permanent members of the security council are the invaders and the sponsers of Afrca’s resource wars.

Ok i may have gone on tangent here, but my point is what do we achieve and my cycnical view is that activism doesn’t work on the macro scale, illegal wars will still occur by the so called security leaders(yes it does make a difference on a micro scale and i have deep respect for real activists, and they should carry on for there is a fading glimmer that micro effort can lead to macro effect)(pardon my economics jargon), or is nothing ever going to happen, and we should jus sit in our room slit a wrist and imagine the lyrics of rolling stones – painted black.

5. Farzana Rasool - May 31, 2009

you make excellent point zubz. I agree that some action needs to be taken, however small but the point is that the right intentions must be backing these actions because it’s only sincere intentions that will lead to a driving force to see the cause through and follow up on it. insincere intentions make you click a button and then check what other notificatiosn you have on facebook.

6. Button - June 1, 2009

Farzana, I have enjoyed reading your posts and appreciate the great deal you have taught us. I agree with your point that one’s actions must be coupled with the right intentions. In his book The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran writes “You give but little when you give of your possessions, it is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

I understand that online groups and petitions are useful engines for knowledge creation and awareness. But in the world that we live in, is this enough? With regards to the above quote what of ourselves are we giving when we right click? I admire individuals like handmadebyava who go beyond merely right clicking. For those who right click with the hidden gratification that their names are placed in elaborate golden frames, their intentions are somewhat worrying, they are our future.

I recently heard about a facebook group, “Yamura Zimbabwe,” one of many “Save Zimbabwe” groups. The creators provide members with details of orphanages, clinics and schools. They also indicate what resources are required by these entities allowing members to help where they can. So often we join groups and causes from which we receive no news or updates or action plans! I admire the creators of this group as they provide members with opportunities to get involved beyond the cyber world!

So as a potential solution, shifting focus from ‘right click and relax, I’ve done my part’ individuals to the creators of e-petitions and groups. As we can not rely on individual’s intentions becoming the driving force behind a cause the creators should take a more active role in educating members and should be responsible for cultivating a culture of activism by suggesting exactly how members can take a more hands on approach and give of themselves. What do you think?

7. Farzana Rasool - June 3, 2009

I love the quote, it really captures what I’m trying to say. Thank you button for really hearing me.
I completely agree with your suggestion at the end. Giving people some option besides just clicking and moving on is what’s needed. Alot of people do really want to help in a contsructive way and they just need a point in the right direction.


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