You can’t make a baby by kissing.
This metaphor sounds weird, but bear with me. You can’t make a baby by kissing just like you can’t end poverty or elect a president or gain civil rights by joining a Facebook group or tweeting or forwarding an SMS.
But, like those first tentative gestures of affection, Facebook and Twitter and SMS are a place to start that can lead to something grand and life-changing. They are a first point of contact, a place to say “I believe this” “I agree with you” “this should change” and finally “let’s do something about it.”
Big change always starts small, and today that small start often happens digitally. Yes, like kissing, sometimes digital actions go nowhere. Sometimes you don’t even get a second date. But this does not mean there is anything wrong with digital tactics. It just means that change is difficult, the powers that be are arrayed against it, and activists often lack the strategic and material resources to achieve their goal.
To call digital activism slacktivism is to fundamentally misunderstand how change is achieved. It implies an incorrect belief that change just happens, and if you try something and don’t succeed, the tactic is worthless. But change does not just happen. It never has and it never will. Change is a process. And, because that process of change begins in the imperfect present, it needs to start with what is small and possible, with a blog post, with a tweet, with an email.
So let’s be honest about what’s not working, criticize tactics constructively, and get better at making change. But let’s not mistake the beginning for the end. Let’s stop referring to digital activism as slacktivism, but rather as digital tactics that may succeed or fail in a range of ways, but often move us closer to our goal. To quote the great Tracy Chapman:
Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Or at least that’s how it begins.