On Online Activism

In celebration of the new year, I’ve just unsubscribed my email address from a ludicrous number of action alert lists. You know, those activism groups that send you petitions and appeals for donations. I know what you’re thinking: why turn down the opportunity to make a difference in the world with your voice? But I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this whole saving-the-world thing, and I think this decision has the potential to actually increase my impact.

These groups have their hearts in the right place, no doubt. They’re making it easy for civilians to fight the good fight on every issue from gun control to wilderness preservation to consumer protection. The thing is that when you’re receiving, oh, forty alerts a day, it becomes tedious and discouraging to keep signing all of them. I’m interested in generalized research on social change because I cannot, in good conscience, put all of my energy into one cause. So I decided to drop all of them. It was a heart-wrenching process, really–while the people running these organizations haven’t mastered the art of efficiency, they sure know how to guilt trip (armed with pictures of puppies and children, of course). And their names! Unsubscribing from a group called Save the Oceans seems somehow akin to personally dumping toxic waste onto a beach.

Activism can seem like the only thing we have in our toolbox for creating positive impact. I don’t think that’s true. It makes much more sense to improve the world by fully cultivating and applying your potential rather than hammering yourself into the existing mold. For me, right now, this means discovering the deeper mechanics of social change and learning how to effect it in a big way. For you, that could mean anything. Even signing online petitions. I won’t hold it against you.

P.S. The one site I’m keeping on my radar for right now is Change.org, which is very user-friendly and does a wonderful job of making social impact accessible (and it’s centralized!!). If letters and petitions float your boat, I highly recommend giving Change.org a shot.

P.P.S. Have a healthy and prosperous 2012, everyone!

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