I read recently that it's impossible to be an activist without living in a constant state of grief, and I agree. People of conscience willingly expose themselves to the suffering in the world so they can act upon it, and in acting upon it they realize how very small they are. There are days when I sit at my keyboard heartbroken, knowing there isn't anything more that I can do than I already have, knowing it isn't enough in the face of the great machines of industry and apathy. But I post another social networking update, fill out another petition or send another letter anyway, believing that action is better than inaction.
Which brings me to the subject of slacktivism. I've also read a great deal recently about the fruitlessness of those social networking updates and the pointlessness of petitions, and I agree with that to some extent as well. When social networking updates and petitions are the entirety of an activist's work, the effort amounts to a kind of emotional masturbation; expose yourself to some awful injustice, sign a petition, post what you've done to your Facebook wall and treat yourself to the ego-boost that follows. Conversely, social networking updates can help to raise consciousness about the issues, and petitions are powerful in the right hands. Still, it's important to make those efforts count for something more than your own ego, and it's important to do more than sit in front of your computer believing that if you just type the right thing, the world will change.
Another important consideration in online activism is the matter of what I call torture porn; those horrifying images of (usually) animal cruelty that often find their way onto social networking feeds. When questioned, the people who post these images defend them by saying that others should willingly expose themselves to the suffering in the world in order to understand how ubiquitous and cruel it is. I agree. If you haven't seen Earthlings, you need to watch it, all of it, all the way through without turning away. You need to let yourself sob and cry out in rage and think about where your own life fits in the context of what you've seen. But you need to do it when you're mentally prepared for it, not when you're on your lunch hour at work, or feeding your baby, or checking your messages before bed. The violence of these images is some of the worst you might ever see, and you will never be able to un-see it. For the record, I lit a candle and prayed all the way through Earthlings, non-stop, while I cried. It was the only way I was able to keep watching. That's why I rarely expose my social networking feeds to these sorts of images and always both hide and label them when I do. That's also why I carefully monitor my own exposure to them so that I see enough to understand a given issue but not so much that it ruins me.
So what does all of this mean for my own activism? It means I want to refine my online work to make it as useful as it can be without exposing my social network to anything it wouldn't want to see during a lunch hour. To that end, I have decided to gather the best activism alerts I encounter and post them in a single blog entry, no more than once a week. In that entry, I'll certainly label and link to articles about animal violence and violent images from time to time, but I'll also summarize the issues and give readers the option of acting upon them without exposing themselves to that violence. If I'm pointing you toward petitions or letters, I'll make sure they're generated by respected organizations that have the ability to capitalize on your efforts. If I'm generating my own alerts as I did last night, I'll do my best to make them clear and easy for you to follow. This means I won't be posting any more activism alerts directly into my social networking feeds, but I have a suspicion they're mostly ignored anyway, and I want to be useful to the people who want to act on the issues. And of course, it also means that my activism continues to evolve offline as well, through my work for Hope for Wildlife, my vegan advocacy and my efforts to help create a more sustainable world.
It's true, I've changed since I've come to Nova Scotia, and I will never un-be the activist I have become. I believe deeply that my work on behalf of the environment and on behalf of animals is more important than any other work I might do, so much that Sean has had to talk me out of abandoning my writing career and going back to school more than once. Those people who befriend me in life and online are going to be exposed to my activism, and unapologetically so. I try not to preach, but neither will I be silent. I don't think I could live with myself if I said nothing about the suffering I've seen and continue to see.