I have a confession to make: for many years, I was a ‘clicktivist’. I cared about lots of issues, but my activists efforts never went further than signing an online petition or retweeting a tweet. I felt guilty about it, yet the only alternative I could think of was to get involved in the protests on the streets – and that just wasn’t something that had ever appealed to me.
What I failed to understand, though, was that I didn’t necessarily have to fit into the activist ‘box’ – or my idea of what a typical activist looked like – to make a difference. Most of the dialogue surrounding activism seems to be around these two extremes, the clictivist and the protester, but I’ve found that there is a middle ground. And it’s all about activists playing to their strengths.
My new book, The Armchair Activist’s Handbook, takes a look at the different options out there, and charts my own attempts to find approaches to fit my life. Because there came a point when I was fed up with clicking on petitions, and it occurred to me that I probably wasn’t alone in feeling stuck. The book is a response to that.
Richard Reynolds is one of the people I met who has done things in his own way. He started transforming patches of unused land (or ‘fighting the filth with forks and flowers’, as he puts it) in south London largely because he had a desire to garden in a built-up area. But because people loved his approach he’s made guerrilla gardening famous and inspired people around the world to take action to improve their own streets.
There’s also Courtney Carver, who decided to tackle her excessive fashion consumption with Project 333 and in the process prompted hundreds of others to do the same; her dedication to wearing no more than 33 items over three months on a rolling basis has been an example for like-minded fashion lovers to follow. Or there’s Sarah Corbett, who has used her skills with a needle and thread to spark the Craftivist Collective.
Karina Brisby, meanwhile, draws on her experience as a digital strategist to run Blog Action Day, an event that encourages bloggers who might not normally focus on social issues to blog for good. Last year, nearly 4,000 bloggers from 111 countries came together to discuss ‘The Power of We’. For 2013, the theme is human rights.
These people are not only passionate about their causes but also the ways in which they’ve chosen to approach them. They’ve used what they’re good at to have an impact. So I no longer feel guilty for not attending marches, and I’ve moved beyond petitions. I think both these things can be valuable, in their own ways and in particular circumstances, but on the whole I reckon my talents are probably better used elsewhere.
I’ve found actions that I’m comfortable with, and that’s no bad thing. Activism can be fluffy, it can be friendly, and it can be fun – without necessarily being any less effective than more extreme approaches. It makes sense to think about what you love, what you’re good at, and work from there.
Ruth Stokes is a freelance writer and editor specializing in the environment, social issues and travel. To find out more about The Armchair Activist’s Handbook, visit www.silvertailbooks.com