Yesterday, it happened to me. It could happen to you, too. (Or it already has.) My brother nominated me for the #IceBucketChallenge.
I’ve heard and read quite a bit of criticism about this particular campaign and others like it along with a hip, new addition to the urban dictionary: slacktivism.
Critics are calling the #IceBucketChallenge “narcissism disguised as altruism.” In her Vice article Dumping a Bucket of Ice on Your Head Doesn’t Make You a Philanthropist, Arielle Pardes writes that “this is the crux of millennial ‘hashtag activism,’ where instead of actually doing something, you can just pretend like you’re doing something by posting things all over your Facebook.”
I understand Pardes’ frustration. The majority of ice bucket videos I see when I scroll through my social media feeds are quick, funny blips of self-inflicted discomfort that neither mention what ALS is or where to donate to fund more research. At the same time, the last I read, ALS research & assistance orgs have reported donation spikes that reach into the millions–double digit millions, at that.
So, while I agree that dumping a bucket of ice on your head doesn’t necessarily make you a philanthropist, I still can’t drink the hateorade people are passing around about this campaign and others like it. I was glad to be nominated for the #IceBucketChallenge, which I used as an opportunity to learn about ALS, as well as the work the ALS Association is doing and I shared some of that info in my video (below).
This punch we’re serving up around the #IceBucketChallenge is spiked with the same moral superiority and ableist prejudice thrown at online organizers (hashtivists, if you will) working to change the conversation around race, class, gender, and sexual orientation (among other things) through blogs and social media channels. When we drink and pass this punch, we are essentially saying that the only way to affect social consciousness and make change is by pounding the pavement. That real activists hold up protest signs, not hashtags. Real philanthropists drop dollar bills, not truth bombs.
I just can’t agree that the road to transforming our collective awareness is so narrow.
I suggest that, instead of criticizing online action, we pause and see what we can learn from it, listen to those participating in it, and build upon it when campaigns such as the #IceBucketChallenge (or more political hashtag campaigns like #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, or #NotMyChristianLeader) make their way into our circles.
I, for one, am grateful to live in a digital age where people in all corners of the globe are able to dialogue with each other about important issues, report events as they are happening on the ground, and shape how we talk to each other about the need for political and social transformation. Thanks to the #IceBucketChallenge, I learned what ALS is and how to donate to ALS research programs. Thanks to #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, I have become more acutely aware of the deadly mix that is racism, police brutality, and white supremacist media bias. Thanks to #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, I have expanded my understanding of intersectional feminism. Thanks to #NotMyChristianLeader, I have become more sensitive to the trauma experienced by marginalized individuals and groups in the church.
Hashtivism has changed how I see and live in the world. And I know I’m not the only one. If you ask me, the only lazy or ineffective thing about online activism is the blanket criticism of it.
Don’t like what you see on your feed? Do something about it. Reading what others have to say, sharing your observations when relevant, and starting conversations with your friends–whether online or offline–is one way to begin. Is that “philanthropy”? Is that “activism”? Is that “organizing”? Does it really matter?! It’s dialogue. A place where change is born.