Activism of Bits / Activism of Bodies

Australian digital campaigning organization GetUp! is getting heavy criticism.  The organization, similar to in the US, is fighting the privatization of public broadcasting and some people aren’t happy about it.  Their members aren’t just being called “clicktivists,” a familiar taunt, they’re being called “sheep.”

A GetUp! staffer recently defended the group and its tactics.  “Online activism is about so much more than clicking” writes Sam McLean.

Some 120,000 Australians signed our petition for better mental health funding – but that was never going to succeed alone. But those who signed then used the internet to organise 120 candlelight vigils in local communities, to meet with local MPs and share their stories, to raise more than $200,000 to fund a TV national advertising campaign, and to install a giant candle message on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. All organised by clicking.

Bits and bodies exist within the same world. Activists need to figure our how to combine them, not choose between them.

Zeynep Tufekci of UNC Chapel Hill has written about “breaking digital dualism.”  Online and offline space are analytically different, but exist within the same world.  “Bits and atoms have different properties” she notes. “[T]heir current integration creates many novel configurations we have not yet adapted to as societies.”

An e-petition is often a good idea, but so is physically visiting a decision-maker or holding a rally.  Activism requires tactics that rely on bits and tactics that rely on bodies.

We are not in a battle between online and offline activism.  We are struggling to find a mix that is effective.

Activists, who are more interested in results that rhetoric, understand this.  It’s commentators who muddy the waters, presenting the activism of bits and the activism of bodies as a cage match, when it’s really more of a collaboration.

Image: Flickr/robef


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  1. Pingback: A literati roundup: Noam Chomsky to Postmoderns: Over-Inflated “Polysyllabic Truisms”… | Erkan's Field Diary

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