The last two weeks have been concentrated shit sleet, and because none of that is traumatic enough, let’s also unleash a cluster of activism shaming. ‘Slacktivism’ has always gotten the puckered end of the stick, and I’ve never paid that shame prod the slightest bit of attention. But lately, peeps are skipping about, casting ‘protests don’t do anything’ stones alongside their ever shiny slacktivism pebble and generally running amuck in the slick trenches of kumbaya sewage.
Let’s be clear about what it means to help. I’m not going to argue that shame is never helpful, because I very horrifyingly think that it is sometimes more than helpful; I think it is sometimes necessary. Shaming becomes unnecessary and destructive when ownership has already been taken. If someone is out there, with their mind, heart, and arms open, shaming them is not only destructive; it is flat out abusive. Telling someone that their method of helping is bullshit is a slippery slope as is, and when you pair it with a misunderstanding of how activism works, you wind up injuring the cause whilst stroking your ego.
Slacktivism gets confused with people spreading information and tools via social media. I’m guessing people like to assume folks who use social media to uplift certain voices and issues are all talk and no game. And that’s probably true for a lot of them. But to then lump the very real educational and action promoting trends in with the superficial fair-weather commitment of a bunch of folks completely misses what social media does best: it gets word out quickly, and enables people to weigh their involvement with whatever is being posted without judgment. This is important, especially recently, with protests popping up every other second, and people everywhere itching to get involved. The ‘secret’ weighing is also important, particularly when you consider how fraught a conversation is with even the barest hint of white fragility in there.
I can’t even address the stupidity and ignorance (BOTH) in claiming a protest does nothing. Hush. No.
I think our desire to find the most helpful way to be involved is natural. And, for a lot of us, important for so many reasons. Some of us have very honed and specific skill sets; we can be moderately helpful in a bunch of ways, and immensely helpful in a select few. Some of us cannot afford (financially, physically, emotionally) to be front and center all the time, or even some of the time. Some of us need to see our individual impact in order to believe it. For some of us, finding the most helpful way is not just about being efficient; it is about being able to stay in the fight.
Activism is wonderful because it is flexible. We can find our most helpful ways without shaming others; activism isn’t one way or another. It is all of them. We don’t have to shame people for wanting their voices heard. We don’t have to shame folks for signing petitions, even if we think phone calls are better. We don’t have to tell people they’re lazy for broadcasting on Facebook. We don’t have to tell people that marches and protests are ‘soft’ and useless.
We can let all of these things exist within activism. We can let new folks try different things out as they get more involved. We can push for ways that we have found over the years and highlight why we prefer those ways. We can support our peers when they have the awful conversation with people who will never listen, even if we are focused on helping in other ways.
We can remember to listen, always, to those who have walked this path their entire lives, to our brothers and sisters of color and creeds that do not fit in the safe space of our current regime.
It doesn’t have to be about shame, this time. People want in. People want to step up. We are all on the same damn staircase. Let’s climb it together.