A pink ribbon. An inspirational YouTube video. A group of women dancing. What do these things have in common? While they are symbols of important movements, they are also symbols of a dangerous trend in activism: “slacktivism.”
Slacktivism, as the name suggests, involves supporting a cause on an individual level without doing much to support the big picture. Fred Clark, a Christian blogger, claims to have invented the word, defining it in reference to small movements that can positively affect society. Though it is well-intentioned, its danger rests in the relegation of significant issues to a symbol, color or image. Symbolism can effectively raise awareness, but it does not directly help solve the problem itself and can ignore more serious aspects of an issue. Unfortunately, slacktivism and the instant gratification it provides are new and prominent trends for activist groups.
The vastness of social media makes these acts incredibly easy. You can share a picture to let your Facebook friends know you care. Twitter has a hashtag for every cause. But what is the actual effect of these actions? Though social networks allow the easy spread of information, a problem arises when the only support for a cause is a photo with a few thousand shares. While it is satisfying and convenient for the individual to show concern for an issue, those in need of support receive little benefit.
Not all slacktivism occurs online. On Valentine’s Day, One Billion Rising came to Brown in an effort to end violence against women. The movement and its founder, Eve Ensler, intended for one billion women around the world to dance in support of the one in three women who will be victims of violence during their lives. It provided empowering opportunities to share stories and stand in solidarity against the abuse of women worldwide, and though I can not speak for all women in judging its effectiveness, I believe it is a worthy and well-intentioned cause.
But it is here where One Billion Rising falls into the slacktivist trap — dancing does little to solve the issue of violence against women worldwide and the symbol of dancing is not a response to some of the severe acts of brutality that affect them. While One Billion Rising effectively raises awareness of the violence many women face, awareness is only the beginning of the solution to a global problem — a truth that applies to many activist groups that rely on symbolism to address problems.
There are plenty of ways to provide more effective advocacy. Write letters to legislators and public officials who can put issues of public interest on the political table. Donate money to a cause rather than just talking about it, but only after researching where the money goes. V-Day, the organization that sponsors One Billion Rising, raises $4 million annually through college and community events for domestic violence and rape crisis centers. One Billion Rising at Brown took donations for the Sojourner House, a center for domestic violence victims in Rhode Island. Despite value in awareness and empowerment, the additional value of financial support cannot be ignored.
Throwing money at a problem is not always the solution, though, and some do not have the resources to donate. Education on a cause is another effective method of garnering support, as it allows people to make choices based on information rather than based on who is shouting the loudest. While slacktivism can inspire discourse on important issues, it often does not lead to conversation on how to take further steps of support. After dancing, what can participants in One Billion Rising do to further empower women and prevent violence? In the long run, informed commitment is more valuable than celebration and spectacle alone.
Activist groups like V-Day and One Billion Rising are vital parts of culture both here and outside of Brown. American society alone would not be the way it is without groups that fight for a causes that impassion them. But to make the difference that many others have, activist groups should do more than promote symbolism. I support One Billion rising, but I also support taking action above and beyond passive acts. Since slacktivism and its convenience are probably not going anywhere any time soon, it should become the gateway into more direct, informative and effective forms of activism. Through dance alone, One Billion Rising will not solve a problem, but one billion educated and committed individuals have the potential to change the world.
Gabriella Corvese ’15 thinks we should consider other ways to end violence against women and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org