Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Activism, slactivism, and political speech

I'm not usually one to go for grand gestures of support. 
  • I never changed my Facebook icon to a cartoon character to raise awareness for abused children. I wasn't aware people didn't know about the issue, especially my web-savvy friends on social media.
  • I don't click "like" or start groups in Facebook in support of the current cause; I didn't Tweet about Kony2012. I'm fairly certain if I want to influence policy, my best bet is to write my elected representative or take to the street and protest.
  • I don't forward status messages and dare my friends to change theirs if they care about people and/or me. I see that type of bandwagon slactivism as something akin to bullying as it implies I'm somehow lacking if my priorities don't align perfectly with the crowd. Plus, given the way my Twitter feed rolls continuously and how arbitrary Facebook already is about showing me the statuses of the people I follow, I would not be so quick to judge the character of others based on whether they happen to see the picture of a child with cancer roll through their timeline. 

In general, I'm pretty skeptical about the efficacy of posting anything on social media in the hopes of significant social or political change. The chances of my changing my status or Tweeting of making a significant difference is minimal. I have two things in my possession that I know can make a difference: my money and my time. Neither of those have a darned thing to do with what I share on social media.

There have been two occasions I have participated in these sorts of online demonstrations of support.
  1. The Speak Loudly Campaign: The #speakloudy Twitter hashtag actually did draw national media attention to the 2010 banning of Speak, Twenty Boy Summer, and Slaugherhouse Five in Republic, MO. Many people in our country don't realize there are groups of folks who want to limit what people can view and read. We tend to think of ourselves as somehow beyond that; but we are not.

    Yet, even this year, the Chicago Public Schools ignited controversy over a directive to remove the graphic novel Persepolis from its library shelves. After significant negative press on the Internet and mainstream media fueled in part by a social media outcry and after student protests, CPS released a statement clarifying that the book was removed from the 7th grade curriculum. The statement also says something about "special training" for high school teachers who want to use it. That seems like an underhanded way to ban the book, even still.

    The only way to fight censorship is to speak out; I suspect the #speakloudly hashtag will be used for this issue again, and I will participate each time.

  2. The = sign on Facebook: I know that my icon won't make a bit of difference on the SCOTUS. But, I can't remain completely silent on this issue, either. I'm not asking others to join me; I'm just publicly declaring my support for same-sex marriage. Two people who are in a loving, committed relationship ought to be able to have that relationship recognized legally. As I posted on my Facebook status:

    "I know too many people who have been in committed, loving, long-term relationships who cannot enjoy the same legal protections and social benefits I do simply because the person I chose to commit my life to has different genitals. That's silly.

    I did not marry to have children. That ship has more than likely sailed in my life.

    I married to be with the person I love in a societally and legally recognized union for the rest of my natural life. I cannot imagine that such a union of two people can be harmful, regardless of the genitalia those two people have."
I'm not entirely certain what else I'll speak out about; but it won't be something I'm not passionate about or something I do just because others are doing it. There's an element of risk in public discourse, especially for someone in public education, if one forgets that the Internet is not private. So, I reserve my opinions in most cases when in the public sphere (except regarding education policy), and I don't discuss my personal political beliefs in the classroom at all.

In these two cases, I will speak out, as is my right as a citizen. I don't suspect my speech will change anyone's mind, but I appreciate the rights I have to express my opinion in this small, civil way.

And in a couple of days, my icon will be back to its original bee as I await the decision of the court. I have great faith in our courts and in our system. It's not perfect; but it gives us the opportunity to speak our minds and adapt our government and laws to a changing world. For that, I'm grateful today.


  1. As an educator, I find your comments about political views on social media spot on. FB is far from private.
    Your essay on why you support same sex marriage, or marriage equality for all, is well reasoned and clear.
    I absolutely despise those FB repost-this-to-prove you're-not-a-scumbag kind of sappy, poorly written, reactive...what could I call it? Ah, you gave me a new term: slactivism.
    Thanks for a good read.

    1. Thank you for coming by and commenting!

      This slice of life challenge has made me quite a bit more thoughtful about what I see. I'm really starting to enjoy the regular practice of observing and interpreting.

      I wish I could take credit for the term slactivism. I'm not sure where I first encountered it, but it's a wonderful descriptor of those sappy "join me publicly" statements. I have no problem with statements of belief, but when it's appended with a guilt trip, I'm not going along for the ride.

  2. I am in complete agreement. I don't tend to do the grand gestures of support, but this was one I can't ignore. And, like you, I knew full well my support can have ramifications - in public ed and in a tiny, rural, conservative town. But this is what I stand for. I cannot believe that in 2013 we still don't see everyone as equals. Sad.

    1. I'm constantly amazed by the people who firmly believe they know no one affected by this. I read the Senator Portman story with interest (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/15/us-usa-portman-gaymarriage-idUSBRE92E0G020130315) because it's just further proof that until issues like this only affect someone else, it's easy to be polemic. I give Portman credit for being able to publicly discss his change of heart and the reasons, and I give him son tremendous credit for writing about his own story in the Yale Daily News (http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2013/03/25/portman-coming-out/).

  3. I agree. I believe facebook is not the place for me to be political, but I posted my support as well and this is why. All day long, I'd seen more and more people posting the red and pink equal logo. Over and over again it appeared.I didn't pay attention until my friend Sofia posted it with this comment:
    Just realized that several people "unfriended" me after I changed my profile picture. Hmmmm. The question is: were they really "friends"? That enraged me. To "unfriend" someone who is supporting a cause they believe in! What is going on? Immediately, I posted my support on her status and on my page. It's time that we all stand up and say enough. Thanks for your thoughts!

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Michelle. I think many of the people we "friend" on Facebook are fair-weather acquaintances. People do not like to be confronted with opinions contrary to their own, and I don't count myself apart of that. I think that's why I have such admiration for people who are willing to think about issues and publicly admit when they have changed their views.

  4. Another thought provoking post. I also like the term "slactivism." I was reluctant to get on Facebook in the first place and now it seems so "trendy" and "join the herd" oriented. Being able to repost, share, or like things, just because it seems others are joining that bandwagon, doesn't interest me much. Thanks for pointing this out.

    1. I don't like the bandwagon aspect. However, there are some people I'm glad to have contact with, even if it's on ht periphery of their lives. That part, I like. But, I could do without the feel-good slactivism.