Clicktivism: What are the pros and cons of online activism in lockdown and beyond?
Article contributed by Shila Ishwardat
Since Coronavirus swept across the globe at the beginning of this year, my home became my base for my work, pleasure, and activism.
As I watched the world descend into chaos.
I was left feeling anxious about what would come next: more death wrought by an invisible disease, more racism going unpunished, more economic insecurity as people lost their jobs in the thousands.
Being able to participate in activism allows me to relieve such anxieties and direct a focus; it gives me a feeling of togetherness and community, and motivates me to continue fighting.
This past year has drastically put a halt to usual methods of organizing and spreading messages about important causes.
Conferences, talks, and community sessions are now held online, and even marches have been organized on online maps (see the global #ClimateStrikeOnline).
Face to face contact is a thing of the past as discussions primarily take place online or over the phone.
Political art reconquered the streets as pavements, walls and windows became our placards of protest.
The huge turn-out for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations all over the world were an exception. For this, many millions of people did take to the streets to protest police brutality against Black people.
A strong sense of community was palpable in these demonstrations, and it helped alleviate some of the isolation I was feeling at home.
What was new, was the surge of online activism unlike any I have ever seen before accompanied the protests, as people searched for COVID-friendly ways to support the movement.
There were hundreds of petitions to sign and funds to donate to, and the movement was supported by lots of online education, with people sharing reading lists, podcasts, and art.
I'd like to put a special spotlight on the organization Black History Walks. It's a great example of an organization combining on-the-ground and online activism, offering a series of online lectures and interactive presentations during lockdown, allowing people from all over the world to tune in digitally and learn about Black History.
So what does this all mean for activism?
Moving completely online is not without its challenges.
Barriers between work, pleasure and activism have disappeared, and activism is a more lonely experience
Whilst the personal has always been political, now that both take place within the home it is even harder to distinguish.
It can be overwhelming and emotionally exhausting, and hard to have a sufficient break.
This year, activism has become a more lonely experience. Usually it's a very sociable and active community, where you regularly have the chance to meet new people. Now, instead of walking up to someone and chatting about our experiences, we close our screens and find ourselves alone again.
Safeguarding your activist community has become increasingly complex and crucial
Taking care of your community, safeguarding the online privacy and protecting your activists now that activism has been digitalised in unprecedented ways is increasingly difficult and important.
But alongside these challenges, it has also brought us
We're able to organise worldwide protests and form community connections on a larger scale than ever before
Although online activism isn't new - online petitions have long been used to attract Parliament’s attention - lockdown significantly increased the online presence of all forms of activism.
We're organising and tuning in to talks and conferences across the world; I've been able to enjoy different talks and discussions with activists and organizers that I wouldn't have been able to follow if they hadn't moved online.
We're challenging the oppressive systems which operate on a global scale
This global interconnectedness is an important and positive change.
Our history of colonialism means that social institutions the world over continue to benefit some and discriminate against others (think education, law, media). These remain unchallenged by those who hold the power to make change.
So what's the future of online activism?
We need to think about:
Building strong, real, connections in global online communities.
This will help combat feelings of loneliness.
When you're joining movements and connecting people, take those steps to actually connect with others - the extra effort to take it up another level helps to avoid burnout and demotivation in your work.
Exploring different options, including participant-led discussions
Activism has a strong bottom-up element to it, meaning that the people 'on the ground’ get to decide directions.
But in online meetings, it's often top-down. For example, an expert is invited to talk before a group discussion. We should also be thinking about discussions or events which are participant-led, that aim more at organizing than informing.
Prioritising your personal well-being
It's important that we also distance ourselves at times from the violent world we are struggling against. Distance yourself from media that disturbs your internal peace and well-being, or connect with others to share your feelings and thoughts.
Remember that you do not have to fight this fight alone. It's about finding a balance that works for you.
Considering your community’s well-being
In online meetings, set out rules and guidelines for participants to create a safer space. Anyone wanting to connect with others in an online community should be able to do so in a safe way.
Look after each other - you could incorporate group exercises into your meetings, such as a grounding exercise, like simply breathing in and out and becoming mindful of your body.
And taking privacy seriously
Protect your people. Be mindful of who you are talking to, where you're talking to them, and what information you reveal about yourself.
You can never be too cautious when on the internet. You could even consider different software before setting up your meetings, depending on your community’s needs.
Shila Ishwardat is a Ph.D. researcher in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, with a Dutch, Surinamese and Indian cultural background. She is working on a decolonial/intersectional conceptualization of the sphere of moral consideration in ecological philosophy. Previously, she has worked as a trainer in secondary schools, leading group discussions on discrimination (including racism, sexism, and homophobia). She has also worked with the Red Cross mission on Sint Maarten (Caribbean) to help reconstruct housing after the 2017 hurricane. As a political activist she has participated in demonstrations, conferences and blockades concerning diverse social and ecological issues.
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