‘Sedentary Activism’, or: The Art of Taking to the Streets From Your Chair

It is a truism that the internet has increased the ease with which we locate information and communicate with other people. It is also obvious that a great deal comes to our attention that we might otherwise never have discovered. This is particularly true when we do not simply stick rigidly to those areas that please us, but occasionally venture, via a chance link, a chance mention, to other realms.

Here, I am focusing on four sites that I have come across (almost by chance) that encourage us to act positively, as opposed to simply scanning information or clicking a Facebook button. I want to mention a few of my favourites that have become particularly successful in what they do.

Firstly, and in no particular order (as they say on Strictly Come Dancing), there is AVAAZ, https://secure.avaaz.org. Launched in 2007, its Home tagline has the words ‘…the campaigning community bringing people-powered politics to decision-making worldwide.’ It’s stated membership, at the time of writing, is 45,715,591 members.

Although based in the USA, Avaaz is active globally, campaigning on issues (usually suggested by members) such as ‘climate change, human rights, animal rights, corruption, poverty, and conflict.’ Although it is not without its critics, whose comments regarding its possible ineffectiveness and the ‘slacktivism’ of its participants are very pertinent to all such engagement, the issues raised are often ones that had not necessarily been covered in the mainstream press.

For example, some years ago, I was not aware of how far the Monsanto chemical company had moved in monopolizing the use of its products, which in some cases have been deemed carcinogenic or harmful to the environment; and how, recently, this same company have tried to renew a licence for a product scientifically considered to be unsafe. Along with many thousands of others I signed the petition to stop the company from doing this, and it may be that this petition has had an effect. Crucially, I had researched a little beforehand, so that I was not simply ‘clicking’ before moving onto something else.

I think this is an important point. The ease with which someone can click a response might indicate very little real engagement with the subject, or even a misunderstanding of the information. At the very least, and as far as possible, ‘armchair activism’ should be founded on ‘fact’, tricky as this can be to verify.

Change.org (https://www.change.org) – ‘The World’s Platform for Change’ – was founded in 2007. Its core activities are that of petitioning, i.e. the enabling of ‘over 100 million users’ to express their concerns over a range of issues, and the hosting of other organizations such as Amnesty International. Its stated mission is to “empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see.”

To that end, they have been party to hundreds of campaigns, covering justice, human rights, education, environmental protection, animal rights, health, and sustainable food.

‘Victories’ include an end to eggs from caged hens in certain supermarkets, to the tax on tampons and female sanitary products. Campaigns are many and varied: currently there are hundreds across the world.

MoveOn.org is ‘an American progressive public policy advocacy group and political action committee.’ Formed in 1998, MoveOn.org has raised millions of dollars for candidates it identifies as “progressives” in the United States. Like Change.org, it also runs a petition Website and has a membership of 7 million.

Although its actions are directed primarily at ‘American’ issues, these may frequently impact –economically, ethically, morally or politically – on the rest of the world.

A recent example is the call for Congress to ‘deliver a clean Dream Act to provide legal protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants so cruelly impacted by the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA.’ Another is encouraging the creation of ‘a bipartisan independent commission to investigate Donald Trump and his administration’s foreign entanglements, business conflicts of interest, and violations of federal ethics laws.’

SumOfUs is ‘a community of people from around the world committed to curbing the growing power of corporations.’ Their stated objectives are to have dealings with only those companies that ‘respect the environment, treat their workers well and respect democracy.’ Other issues are raised, however.

A recent campaign concerns the welfare of horses. The introductory statement reads: ‘Big pharma is making huge profits from the torture of horses. Thousands of horses are raised purely for the purpose of having their blood extracted and sold.’ Emotive material, but supported by information that can be researched and checked. Others cover action to reduce the amount of plastics pollution in the world; transparency in political decision-making regarding UK trade; the banning of harmful insecticides; Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

Here are just four examples of the kind of organisations that can be followed and supported. There are many others, but linking to any one of these opens access to information on others.

There is one problem, though: through joining this type of site, you are laying your in-box open to daily issues, updates, calls for action. They can become overwhelming and sanity-threatening. The only remedy, it seems to me, is to ‘unsubscribe’ from some of them, but visit their web-site as frequently as you wish. This way, you have some degree of control.

Happy keyboard petitioning!

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