On Internet Petitions, Virtual Marches, and Slacktivism

Want to make a difference? Get off your ass and do something.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from an acquaintance who was spreading the word about Fair Tax and the Online Tax Revolt. It said, in part:

This email is for everyone who pays federal income tax. This is NOT about politics. High taxes affect EVERYONE. The tax system is broken – Help fix it! I have never sent such a large mass email, but this is so important for America that I hope you will forgive this one, short intrusion into your life.

I am doing these things
1)I am learning about the FairTax (See for yourself: http://www.fairtax.org/ )
2)I am showing my support by joining the April 15th online march to Washington; I can’t make it in person, but I can make it from my computer (See for yourself: www.OnlineTaxRevolt.com )
3)I am telling everyone that I know

I am asking your help. Please, please, please help. Learn about the FairTax, show your support for the online march and spread the word. Every American can help in this way.

In a way, I guess I’m helping him spread the word. But that’s not my purpose here. My purpose is to discuss slacktivism.

What is Slacktivism?

Slacktivism, as defined by Wikipedia, is:

Slacktivism (sometimes slactivism) is a portmanteau formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts also tend to require little personal effort from the slacktivist.

I recommend reading the entire entry. It includes examples of what qualifies as slacktivism, just in case you’re not clear on it. It also includes several links to other resources that make good reading, if you’re interested in how words are created and come into our vocabulary.

Internet Petitions and Virtual Marches are Slacktivist Efforts

This isn’t the first time I’ve received an appeal to join an online effort in support or denial of some cause. I usually get petitions — I can’t tell you how many I’ve received over the years. Snopes.com has a great page about Internet petitions that uses the word slacktivism. If you read it, you’ll learn that “signing” something online is a complete waste of time — for you, anyway. What it does do is add your information to a mailing list that the person who started the petition can use for whatever he needs/wants to, which might include spam or selling to spammers.

Read More Here about Slacktivism
I’ve written about slacktivism in the past, but I just didn’t have a name for it. Interested in reading a couple of my classic rants? Try “Support Our Troops” (1/23/05) and “Support Our Troops” (11/25/07). (Honestly, until today I didn’t realize these posts had the same name. They are, however, ranting about different things, both related to the brave men and women we’ve sent to the Middle East.)

Now I’m not saying that all people who start Internet petitions are spammers. I believe that some of these people really do think they’re making a difference. And I’m pretty sure the people who forward the petitions to me via e-mail think they’re making a difference, too.

But the brutal truth is that slacktivism does not get results. What gets results is repeatedly writing to legislators and sending it via snail mail (to start a paper trail), physically attending meetings and marches that get mainstream media attention, and volunteering your time and efforts at events that help spread the word and fire other people up to do the same. These are not slacktivist efforts. They take a real commitment to a cause that goes beyond five minutes of your time. They prove you’re serious and really want to make a difference.

Sending an e-mail message to everyone in your address book imploring them to submit their name, address, and zip code to a Web site to join a virtual march does nothing but make you feel as if you’re doing something — and possibly annoy the people in your address book who know better or don’t share your views.

I’ve Been There — I Know

I was a local activist here in Wickenburg for several years. I went to Town Council and Committee meetings and spoke up. I started petitions and got signatures. I wrote letters to the editor of the local paper and articles on my site about the town, wickenburg-az.com. I attended citizen action group meetings and helped them create materials to spread the word.

On some issues, we really did make a difference. When a developer tried to con the town into handing over our rodeo grounds so they could put a golf course on the land, I was one of about 100 people who attended a Planning and Zoning Meeting and spoke up against it. The developer was unprepared for the onslaught and didn’t have much to say in defense of his plan. Not only did the project stall, but the Town Manager and Town Planner who had considered the plan were subsequently fired. Now a For Sale sign stands at the frontage, offering some other developer the opportunity to build yet another subdivision we don’t need.

Although our petition to stop a housing development at the end of Wickenburg Airport’s runway was rejected on a technicality, we managed to stall the developer long enough so that he missed his window of opportunity. The housing bubble burst and demand for tract housing at the approach end of an airport runway dried up before the infrastructure was completely put in. Yes, he scraped the desert clean in his 40 or so acres of land, leaving an ugly scar on what was once pristine desert. But the project went bankrupt, leaving angry investors behind. I’ve heard the greedy bastard left town. Good riddance. I hope the same fate befalls the sardine-like housing project across the road and its developer.

Neither of these efforts would have succeeded if people like me had just sit on their asses, content to click a few buttons on their computer screens. It took a lot of real work, but in the end, it was worth it.

Don’t Be a Slacktivist!

Feel strongly about something? Isn’t it worth more than three minutes of your time? If so, get off your butt and do something about it. You can make a difference, but only if you really try.

2 thoughts on “On Internet Petitions, Virtual Marches, and Slacktivism

  1. Good post. Hopefully, people get motivated to genuinely participate in the process. Are you aware that the two aforementioned developers(using the term loosely)are conspiring to place a commercial horse boarding operation into a residential zoned area that is too small to be truly functional, and within the protected area of a municipal well head? I believe the parcel to be a portion of the failed development that was abandoned due to being on the runway centerline. It was unanimously rejected by P&Z, but appears to have caught the fancy of the town planner, and will forge ahead to Council. People better get motivated, or an end-run is imminent.

    • Tom: Deaf ears here. I’m not an activist in Wickenburg anymore. Got tired of carrying so much weight and losing sleep. When housing prices rebound, I’m outta here. If you or anyone else feels strongly about something going on in Wickenburg, you can fight it without me. I honestly don’t care what they do to this town anymore. In the 14 years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen them pretty much destroy what I thought was good about it. I’ll find what I liked about Wickenburg in some other small town.

What do you think?