Monday, June 28, 2010

activism and relationship

In recent years, we've come up with new ways to communicate with each other. Well, it's pretty much what it's always been ~ talking and writing. It's just that now we have so many ways to do that besides face to face and on paper. Phones, e-mail, text messaging, videophones, social networking sites. And now we can even pair our social networking with advocating for those things we're in favor of.

For instance, I love that Facebook activism got Betty White to host SNL ~ heck, I even put my name on that petition. It seems like there's a group on Facebook for just about everything. Want more people to fly the flag?, start a group. Want to see who else doesn't like Glenn Beck?, start a group. Want more people to support the local produce movement and backyard farming?, start a group. Want to protest the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?, start a group. Want to fly a flag in support of (or opposition to) Glenn Beck watching Betty White on SNL at a dinner party where you serve produce you've purchased locally so that not as much BP oil is purchased?, start a group on Facebook.

I'm not sure Facebook activism is anything more than helping people to feel like we're making a stand for what we believe in while we're wasting time staring at laptop computers. It's placation of our individual desire to stand up and be noticed, but it doesn't require any actual sacrifice on our part.

The recent trend in text message giving is similar, in my view. Whenever we're away from our computers, it seems like many of us are keeping track of everything we can on our mobile handheld computing devices (née cell phones), and so our activism might as well go along with us. And companies have come up with an ingenious way to receive contributions ~ just send a text with a particular message to a particular number, and a few dollars will be added to your cell phone bill. Presumably this money will be given to some agency that will presumably do something beneficial for someone using the money you've just given. It only cost you a couple dollars, and you'll likely never notice it anyway since (if your parents don't pay your bill,) you probably pay it automatically with a credit card. The sacrifice is a little greater than what Facebook activism requires, but it still allows us to give money from a restaurant or subway car ~ and it still doesn't require, or confront us with the necessity for, any change in ourselves. We do not come face to face with the problem we think we're addressing, but we sure feel good that we've done something about it.

On the other hand, giving 10% of your income to the work of a community that are part of and believe in requires an actual change in perspective, and perhaps lifestyle. Or traveling to a place where change needs to happen can work profound change in us. I can't imagine anyone who has spent time mopping oil off of beaches coming home and deciding to drive more. I can't imagine anyone who's spent time listening to Mexican farmers talk about how the results of n.a.f.t.a. have forced them off of their family farms and into urban poverty could come home and not make changes on their own dinner table. I can't imagine how spending just 10 minutes talking with that guy on the corner with the cardboard sign, finding out what his story is, wouldn't alter your afternoon commute, even if it's just your own compassion and tolerance of those who hit some bad luck.

We were created for relationship by a triune god who defines relationship. Facebook and text messaging are great, but only insofar as they enhance the times when we're actually with one another.



  1. Social networks have brought awareness and acknowledgment to justice issues which have gone fundamentally ignored in rural America. Even if some people are not actually doing anything, they know about an issue, whereas just 10 years ago information about issues such as human trafficking, fair trade, institutionalized racism and urban poverty were limited to whatever books the town Wal-mart or library carried or what the nightly network news choose to air.

    Although relational activism would be preferable; people can not be helped, justice can not be found and problems can not be solved until people know a problem exists. Social networking and the internet have done wonders in that regard. People who otherwise, would not have become activists, have.

  2. There you go, seeing the positive side where I see only the negative. Thank you for that perspective, and reminder, Brie Marie.