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Slacktivism to activism: the tides of change

By Harry Gable-Newkirk
On March 10, 2014

Last week, more than one over a thousand students attended a protest outside the White House for demonstrating against a pipeline that will transfer oil from Canada to America.
Initially, Obama declined the permit to create the pipeline, which slowed progress. However, it was more of a symbolic decline than a full shutdown of the idea. The TransCanada Corporation revised the initial parameters of the project to be more environmentally friendly. These new parameters were approved by Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. As time progresses, the tangibility of the pipeline increases, causing over a thousand students from numerous colleges to gather outside the White House. Hundreds of those students were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. These students were simply looking to express their concerns in a peaceful and pointed manner, but many were reprimanded.
It's disappointing that this has been dubbed the largest peaceful civil disobedience protest of our generation. In the grand scheme of things, a thousand students is not a significant number, especially when juxtaposed with the protests of older generations. The vitriol that was once instigated social change has essentially vanished. Maybe we are seeing the seed of change and the resurgence of physical activism, but it's simply too early to tell.
Unfortunately, this kind of activism and willingness to press the government and put ourselves in the way of the law really has faded in recent years.
Armchair activism, or "slacktivism," has replaced the traditional active disapproval of government policies. Going outside and making our voices heard has completely disappeared. We as a generation have replaced our voices with "liking" and "sharing" on Facebook. Instead of physically contributing to causes, we sit behind our keyboards and click away our problems. We assuage our guilt and lack of forceful motivation via the use of social media.
Societal issues that are dealt with using this social media slacktivism often fade from the public eye. Eventually people stop caring, even if their initial reaction was disgust or anger. After someone shares an article or makes a status, they feel they have done their part in helping the world. These issues vanish, almost into thin air, until another problem arises and then the cycle continues.
One of the largest examples of slactivism is the KONY 2012 movement. Massive amounts of teens and students that were connected to social media participated in the KONY 2012 media circus. Participants of the KONY 2012 movement shared the invisible children video along with numerous other articles that painted a picture of events happening in Africa. The project's legitimacy as well as the creator's integrity, eventually fell into question. The KONY 2012 movement overtook the web, and the youth of our nation felt collectively satisfied with their contribution to the world, even though they were simply sharing a video. At the end of the day, this armchair activism did basically nothing but fuel a sense of freedom from guilt. Plans to neutralize Kony have been in motion long before the events of KONY 2012.
However, it is possible that the tides are changing. We've seen it in this protest and we can only hope to keep seeing it in the future. I'm not saying, "grab a pitchfork and take to the streets,"-that's simply an absurd and unrealistic situation. If we continue pressing issues with our voices and not our keyboards, a difference can be made. It's quite possible even with physical activism, for the status quo to hold, the chances of our voices actually being taken into account grows tenfold. It's far more comfortable to lay in bed and click than to go outside and have your voice heard. It's been ingrained in our generation to act this way. It's something that has been said, and should be said, until our shortcomings finally click within all of us.
Unfortunately, Obama has not released any statement about the protest. It wouldn't be surprising if he never released a statement. Waiting for issues to fade is a simple and effective way of dealing with problems. This is especially the case if constant pressure is not applied. We can only hope that these types of peaceful active protests will continue, not just for this issue, but with new issues that will inevitably arise.
 


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