In an age of slacktivism & clicktivism, we need gentle protest more than ever
The list of issues that need to be addressed in the world today seems impossibly long; from large corporations exploiting workers to swell their profit margins to the small, everyday acts of discrimination carried out across the world. So, what can we do?
Start a conversation on social media and hope it trends, channelling your aggression into sharply worded tweets? The social media power-hitter Suey Park has done just this, bringing widespread awareness to issues such as racial discrimination. Unfortunately, such approaches often to lead to clicktivism, facilitating nothing more than people voicing their opinions to an audience which already agrees with them.
You could organise an international march across all the major capital cities, bringing thousands of people to the streets in a furore of defiance and rebellion. But to what end? The Occupy Wallstreet movement exemplifies this approaches possible shortfalls; originating in Kuala Lumpur, it ended up spreading to 2,600 cities across the world in a demonstration of disgust at the increasing wealth of the top 1%. But what difference is actually made when these techniques are used? We raise awareness… we let out some pent-up emotion… and then often people carry on with their lives, the issues at hand remaining unchanged.
The marches earlier this year in Mexico City (against violence ) and New Delhi (against corruption) are further examples of impressive but ultimately ineffective protests. The purpose of a march should be to engage those who are against your cause and ideally to sway their opinion. Yet, as Moisés Naím points out in an article for The Atlantic, ‘anti-government marches routinely show an intimidating sea of people furiously demanding change’, ultimately undermining their messages of unity and acceptance. Secondly, one of the things that makes social media such a powerful tool for resistance also harms its efficacy, as Zeynep Tufekci of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University explains:
“Before the Internet, the tedious work of organising that was required to circumvent censorship or to organise a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum. Now movements can rush past that step, often to their own detriment.”
Though online petitions can attain millions of signatures in a matter of hours and groups larger than previously possible can be amassed, the speed and momentum of such gatherings often mean they are rushed, lack structure and ultimately fail to deliver. So, when the most commonly accepted tools of peacefully protesting seem to be failing us on certain issues, what are the alternatives?
This is something that Sarah Corbett, Founding Director of the Craftivist Collective, has given much thought to. As a disillusioned and fatigued activist herself, Sarah began looking for ways in which she could reframe the common methods of protest, to create campaigns that really work. Aiming to shift the way perceive protesting, Sarah has been the core motivating power in the growing ‘gentle protest’ movement, which seeks to change the common ‘us versus them’ dynamic:
“What if we turned the ideas of power upside down, turned away from the desire to control others by force and encouraged those in power to try to always use their influence in the most loving way possible?”
Drawing from the great gentle protestors of the past, like Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt & Mahatma Gandhi, Sarah is part of an on and offline community dedicated to exploring new, intriguing and creative ways to connect with those whose stances she is opposed to. Based upon the basic belief that those in power, for the most part, want to do some good in the world and need only to be guided in the right direction, the approach differs from the cynical, aggressive stance so easily adopted when protesting. Whether it is embroidering handkerchiefs to present to the M&S board members at a company AGM or ‘shop-dropping’ messages into clothes in high-street brands notorious for unethical practices in the sourcing and manufacturing of their products, Sarah has dedicated the past few years of her life to developing an array of practices and methods.
As Sarah says in her upcoming book How To Be A Craftivist: the art of gentle protest, ‘gentleness is not weak, it requires self-control in the face of anger, injustice and sadness’. This is the ethos Sarah has extrapolated upon, adding creativity and tactical thinking. Sarah looks to make critical friends rather than aggressive enemies. After all, shouting at someone does not encourage debate and ultimate understanding; for that, you have to listen, empathise and engage with them.
It is for this reason that 1215.today partnered up with the Craftivist Collective to create the 6 week ‘School Of Gentle Protest’ course, exploring the ever-expanding array of gentle protesting methods. With weekly lessons, an offline workshop and fun homework (honestly!) such as films, articles and playlists, the school explores the history of the gentle protest movement, looking at those who are accomplishing amazing things today with a view to encouraging you to look ahead at what your future as an activist could be.
To access all the full School of Gentle Protest course head to: http://1215today.com/features/ultimate-gentle-protest/
More information on the Craftivist Collective & it’s Founding Director, Sarah Corbett: