Near the end of The Cosby Show there was an episode with ‘Cousin Pam’ where she was helping some older people from her old community to go shopping where the Huxtables lived. It seemed the same grocery store had cheaper food in their neighborhood than the old one. When it was explained to them why the price discrepancy could have occurred (poorer neighborhoods have no competition so they have little recourse for substandard service) the young people were upset but initially did nothing. Cosby and the other older people complained about the youth of today, voicing outrage and doing nothing.
I thought about that when I heard a talk on a progressive radio station talking about the activism during the crisis in the gulf and a few other episodes that have occurred in the past year. One of the old school protesters didn’t have kind words for modern activism. He said clicking a button on Facebook or Twitter was not a way to get your message heard.
I have to agree with the notion that today people are more willing to retweet or click to send money rather than do the footwork to protest, however I know from experience the momentum of protesting can break down on all sides. A few months ago, February to be exact, the internet was abuzz with the Compton Cookout that occurred at UCSD. Like many people I was fired up about the incident and was slightly encouraged by the resulting activism by students. As time went on and more incidents occurred, I had to go through my own mind of other incidents that occurred on campus. The pattern was always the same; initial outrage, promises of action to be taken and months later the incidents are forgotten. True to form, the same thing has happened here. I tried to rally people online to forward messages I was writing and to voice encouragement to the students but that effort was met with mixed results. I found it disappointing that more people forwarded viral videos and achievements in online games than was done for this incident.
On the other end, the students who were rightly outraged by the incident had an attitude of weekend athletes rather than fighting for a cause. A highly publicized sit-in lasted only a few hours, because it was the weekend. The students said they would be back after the weekend and very few showed up for the continuation. You would hard press to find any recent information about the incident.
This is very similar to what is occurring with the Gulf gusher. I have seen many requests to retweet articles about the animal life dying, about sending a message to BP or the politicians, but with the massive ecological issue going on few people are actually going to the areas to help. Every day I will find at least 10 tweets or Facebook messages asking to resend information. The outrage is circular, because the focus of the retweets and Facebook pleas have been given to people already upset about the issue. Where the problem lies is no one seems willing or able to fight. Just like with the incident at UCSD, people aren’t willing to get their hands dirty.
Admittedly, in these situations it can be hard to know where to begin, but I think it’s a false sense of accomplishment to think clicking a button is going to solve the problem. That isn’t protesting; that isn’t getting your voice heard.
We have to be more proactive. We have to let our voices be heard by the right people. Yes, we may even have to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. I recognize not everyone can just uproot and go help but we must do more than click on a button and think we have done something good. We are watching politicians listening to the squeaky wheels and assuming that is the will of the people. That ain’t necessarily so. We must use the power of our voice, the power of the individual and the power of the group to again voice our concerns and if necessary take action to make things right.
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