Many of my readers have probably heard the term “slacktivism” by now—a term used to characterize “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.” We will probably hear that term even more leading up to elections in November as some of us shame others of us for being “slacktivists.”
That being said, I am going to do something here that may ignite some controversy. I am coming to the defense of so-called slacktivists—some of them.
The short answer is that there are many people who don’t have the time or ability to do anything more than sign an online petition or do other online activism, and that should be respected instead of degraded.
A longer answer must explore life circumstances that result in someone not being able to do more than what many activists call slacktivism:
- Professional responsibilities. I have heard about my fair share of midday rallies and protests (and have even been at a few of them). The only problem is that such rallies can’t be attended even by someone who works a normal 9-5 job, unless that person lives in the area of the rally and is able to take a lunch break during the rally. Evenings and weekends give better access to rallies for regular 9-5 workers, but there are still many people who work weekends and/or evenings instead of, or in addition to, 9-5 work. For people who are at work while rallies and protests happen, the most they can do is what’s labeled as slacktivism, and that should be respected.
- Family responsibilities. Parents have to take care of their children and other family. Grownups have to make sure that all the utility bills are paid for their houses, or that rent is paid for their apartments. These responsibilities exist in addition to, not instead of, professional responsibilities. Some rallies have tried to take away the burden of parents taking care of children by including childcare at rallies (though I’m sure some parents would feel uneasy about the thought of leaving their child or children in the hands of complete strangers, and I might feel the same way when/if I become a parent). Once one combines professional responsibilities with family responsibilities, then there may be little time to do more than so-called slacktivism, and that fact shouldn’t be demonized.
- Physical limitations. Some people are flat-out physically unable to get to, or participate in, a rally or protest. Back when I had my bad ankle earlier this year, I was one of those people. I know many others who, like me during my bad ankle, would’ve been completely unable to participate in rallies and protests even if we wanted to. Sometimes, slacktivism is the most that some of our bodies can handle.
- Emotional limitations. There are some rallies that may be emotionally just too much for people. For example, a rally protesting gun violence may be too much for some family or friends of people who’ve been victimized by gun violence. The emotional limitations that bring people towards slacktivism, and away from what many activists view as activism, should be respected.
I acknowledge that there are, no doubt, many people who are capable of more than the signing of online petitions and involvement of online movements that is often associated with slacktivism. Such people who are capable of higher levels of involvement should be more involved. However, I hope that my list brings to mind the fact that there are probably millions of people in the United States who are unable to do anything more than what is labeled as slacktivism. Those people should not be demonized for what they’re unable to do, but thanked for what they are able to do.