At a meeting I attended last weekend, a lady told me an inspiring story, but not as inspiring as it should have been.
In a social media exchange, somebody asked her if an event on the Ferguson murder was happening nearby. Probably not, she replied, and suggested the questioner put one together. She did just that, starting a Facebook page, and hawking it on Twitter and other social media platforms. With only a few days lead time, a couple hundred people showed up. They sang, they chanted, they felt the strength that only comes from connecting with others in a just cause. And they dispersed.
Did anybody pass out a sign in sheet, I asked? Did you get the digits of the folks that showed up? I asked this because getting those digits is the first lesson in organizing 101, it’s what we did before anybody ever heard of social media. Back in the day if we got 4 people, or 40, or 400, we got those digits.
I also asked because Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, causes.com, change.org and other social media platforms DO NOT give the organizers of petitions or events ANY of the contact information on the people you’re supposedly “organizing” because the corporate social media business model ain’t never been about helping YOU do good, it’s about mapping the people you touch, the people you influence and who influence you so they can sell that to marketers.
This BAR article, by Bruce Dixon, is happily quoted not just because it’s good advice, but because one of my recurring complaints about activists is that they’re not holding themselves, and not being held by others, to account for their effectiveness. What I call “feel good and accomplish nothing” activism is just fine – if that’s all you aspire to, and are honest about it.
However, if you actually want to solve, or at least greatly ameliorate, some societal ill, you should be taking a more business-like approach to your activist efforts. That doesn’t mean not being creative, not taking risks, being unwilling to operate with a great deal of the “fog of war” (i.e., uncertainty), or being unwilling to fail (but soldier on). However, it does mean doing your best to determine cost/benefit, and doing objective post-mortems.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna describes yoga as “skill in action”. If activists were pursuing their activism as an expression of karma yoga, they would be keen to learn from their mistakes, and become what you could call “skilled activists”….
Dixon’s diary concludes with
Next week we’ll talk a little about Organizing 102… what to do with them.