A time for Slacktivism
the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions. Characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.
There are many positive stories that have emerged from our current scenario. Touching acts of kindness, wildlife in cities and social media fun. However there are also a disturbing amount of acts of selfishness. Be that from clearing out supermarkets or taking advantage of cheap flights and no work to act carelessly. This behaviour, while deplorable, has unfortunately trickled down from our governments. In 410 AD, the Emperor Honorius supposedly told the leaders of Britain to ‘look to her own defences’, and the governments of today seem to be following this ‘look after your own’ mentality.
The Great Leveller?
This results in a lot of ‘war rhetoric’ coming from governments (predominately the men), and in this imaginary war against an invisible enemy they claim that this virus is a ‘great leveller’, another classic line from the war annuls. However as Emily Maitlis pointed out on Newsnight, it is far from the great leveller. If anything it shows that the disparity between the haves and have nots is huge.
This, on its own, is not a problem. Having the world redefine what and who key workers are is fantastic, should the sentiment remain in place. The problem is that everyone is still in the ‘every man for themselves’ mentality. We are looking at the disparity within our own society only, on national levels or Western/European/North American levels and nowhere else.
We look at those above us, the celebrities and leaders and complain that they shouldn’t complain. This ignores that there are others out there, who may be looking at us, thinking exactly the same. These others can be found anywhere, from Calais to Samos. Much like our frontline workers they are at a far greater risk than us on our sofa. While standing at our doors and clapping the workers is a nice sentiment and all, they deserve it without doubt, but that five minutes could be used for something else, like signing the petition for #leavenoonebehind.
Most people probably feel a bit ambivalent towards petitions. Do they make a difference? What difference does one signature make? What harm can it do to sign it, it takes no time. I’ll do it later.
Many countries have a petition system in place, even the EU has one. However most, it would seem, act through change.org. From the top ten e-petitions in the UK in 2017, even though six of them made it in front of parliament, not one was successful. The most successful petition in British history called for the canceling of Article 50. In spite of the over 5 million signatures the government line was that 5 million was less than the 17 million who voted for Brexit, so no.
The previous UK champion was the 1990 Ambulance Dispute, which garnered some 4.5 million signatures and some success in Parliament. However, much of the success was down to the action that accompanied it, canvassing, strikes and a well organised media campaign. This raises the question; at a time when we are unable to physically take part in ‘extra action’, can a petition from the couch actually achieve anything?
Click For Change
To answer that we need to switch our focus away from the largely unsuccessful government e-petitions to change.org. The website boasts an e-petition success every hour, over 40,000 successes in almost 200 different countries. It is almost impossible to get a victory percentage for petitions in general. However the ‘victories’ on their website offer a slither of hope to ‘slacktivists’. These petitions often gather far fewer signatures to make an impact, but do so by being more precise.
Many believe that the more specific a petition is the greater the chance for success is. For example, a protest petition such as ‘ban Trump’ may not get time in parliament. It did however, show enough disfavour for the tour to be toned down. For example, a petition to stop the ‘tampon tax’ only gathered 20% of the signatures the ‘ban Trump’ campaign did, but it was successful.
Successful petitioners are quick to point out that a petition alone is not enough. Instead it acts as a focal point for the media and encourages others to step forward and do something about the issue. It could provide the media with a voice, someone they can actually talk to as opposed to merely an idea. The injection of a human to an argument, paired with online traction is enough for them to get involved. In the current climate this is essential in that there are voices out there that need to be heard, but whose screams cannot be heard over the continuous storm of the virus. Newsrooms around the world are currently inundated with opinions, updates and forecasts from their own doorsteps and homes. This leaves other concerns lost at sea.
In this respect, one could see a petition as a virus in itself. The idea behind the petition would be a distance thing to most governments, but as it gains traction online, some may start to take notice. Much like a virus a petition would affect some but not all. The transmission of the virus petition could slowly spread. First regionally, then globally, and eventually someone in your country will get it. They may not be patient zero but they may become the focal point that the local media needs for the government to finally sit up and take the virus/petition seriously and start imposing measures. No one took the virus seriously until a certain number had been affected locally. At a time when there is no option for more poignant measures, slacktivism is the only measure we can resort to until we are once again allowed on the streets.
The scientists are still hard at work trying to understand exactly how this virus works, spreads and ultimately dies. What is understood is that distance from our fellow humans is required, and some studies are showing that ‘clusters’ are a cause for it’s spread. These clusters, events essentially, then go on to spread it to further clusters. Therefore the consensus has been to distance yourself from others. We are fortunate that we can, there are many who can’t.
The talk of the virus being a great leveller is false. The poorer you are the more at risk you are. Cramped up in tiny apartments and overcrowded blocks and slums, the idea of staying two metres apart in such a small space is unthinkable. It is also this lower bracket who are more likely to have to work, to have to leave the house and thus be more at risk. They essentially live in clusters, and there is a military term for that, which begins with cluster- as well.
Like most, I find myself glued to coverage of the virus. From my studios, yet not so scientific observations, I can inform you that it takes roughly a week for a nation to start to appreciate the value of key workers, (from the beginning of isolation.) A week and a half to see the disparity.
Two weeks to start thinking abroad; whether worrying about a holiday or looking for hope and three weeks before they start being concerned about these more marginalised clusters.
The problem is, that even though people are asking for information on these marginalised groups, it is not enough. In a recent Independent article on the ‘success of Greece’ in fighting the virus, very little ink is spared for the refugees on their shores, instead the focus is on the success and the hope. I am not one to be denying anyone the light at the end of the tunnel. But as the UK media looks to Greece for hope, where are the refugees stranded across the continent going to get their hope?
The answer of course, is you. Currently there is a petition going around #leavenoonebehind that is trying to change that. Critics are quick to point out that the petition is solely focused on the Camp Moria on Lesbos and doesn’t cover the rest of the camps.
We learnt earlier however that the more specific a petition is the more chance it has of success, by targeting Moria, the #leavenoonebehind team are selecting one, probably more renowned example to bring the plight of refugees in general to the fore. Their hope is that this one petition will bring the plight to the fore. They hope it will gain traction online. That the media will notice and that the moral pressure will force governments to react. Governments are looking to their own. However if their own start looking to the plight of those stranded in cluster camps, a ticking cluster bomb waiting to happen, then maybe, they will start thinking to send resources to where they are needed, rather than other developed countries. So if you are to spread anything this lockdown, sign and spread the petition.
picture credits all belong to the author