Check-Box Activism

There seems to be no shortage of upset and outrage these days. On a positive note, people do seem to want justice and equality. However, each person seems to have their own definition of justice and equality. Each side is going to war with an enemy that exists only in their own mind. The left is possibly more active than ever before, or so it seems, yet they are not solving any of the issues they are protesting. Police fatally shooting minorities is still just as large a problem, Occupy wall street is now a laughing stock of the elites and inequality is soaring. What happened to the MLK civil rights era style organizing? Obviously we will never have another MLK, but that is no reason to throw out effective tactics. Both sides have lessons to learn and responsibility to bear for our current state.

With all the outrage on both sides we need to back up and see where we have all gone off the rails on common sense, and honest effectiveness. Honest effectiveness is included because if we are objectively honest with ourselves, trying to gut each other on social media is not actually an effective or successful political strategy. You will never, and have never brought voters to your point of view from argument, this is a psychological concept, you trigger people to dig their heels in. With that being said, common sense tells us to occasionally get out of the trenches and check out the big picture. The classic business line- “there is a difference between working in a business and working on a business. If you only work in the business you can’t work on the business.” We all seem very angry and highly motivated, we’re going at it everyday online, but to what end? From the left and the right, it’s easy to see neither are making progress, even where there is overlap like in the case of a second stimulus package. So how is our energy and political engagement being diverted from what we want? More importantly, why don’t we care?

The idea of Check-Box Activism is based on a psychological concept of Jaques Lacan about why we engage in empty or symbolic gestures, or actions that have no real consequence. Think about the fact that we give and value gifts based on their uselessness- repurposing an old tool into artwork that hangs on the wall. All of our actions are actually directed towards this symbolic realm the messages we are sending are more like this, “I’m not really giving you an expensive or useful gift, but a priceless gift that I worked on to let you know that I care about you and our friendship, the gift is just a medium” And to the receiver we see the a grandparent receiving a piece of artwork from a grandchild, they will hang it up where it will be on display to proudly tell visitors, “my grandchild made that for me, it took hours and hours” with the real meaning “My grandchild made that for me because I am that special and because they love me that much.” 

Prior to social media, if you wanted to take a symbolic gesture that signals to everyone what you believe, you could go organize or actually volunteer. The only actions available were in private(inaction) or public acts of expression and engagement with the Government. Now we have a “Brave New World” style apparatus in social media that is doing a classic Bruce Lee redirect of our energy against us. Before social media to calm that internal desire to take action, and to clear your conscience you had to take action. Now we see tragedy and want justice, so we go online and retweet about climate change, we take our bags to the store, and an internal switch flips that says “I have done my part”. We feel internal pressure release with an “ahh” and hear the CHECK of crossing an item off a list. On its face it appears that we are lazy, yet that simply is not the case. 

So why do we spend our time in frivolous ways? Every person feels societal pressures in some way, it just depends on your upbringing and specific family culture. If you are a young person in virtually any group, you feel the pressure to go to college, get a great job, buy a house, get married, and possibly have kids. While pressures mount personally, we see constant news about climate change, wildfires, refugee crisis, migrant crisis, sex trafficking billionaires, big money taking over politics, completely public corruption, you fill in the blank. Not only are all of these legitimate, they are being forced down our throats at a rate never seen before with social media. What could the effects be on a brain constantly exposed to emergency and tragedy? Prior to the media, the bad news received was to the extent of your neighborhood. Then with Newspapers and eventually TV, you start getting non-local news. This beckons the question, are we capable of emotionally handling an entire country’s tragedies? We certainly didn’t evolve that way, now we are asking ourselves to not get overwhelmed knowing every tragedy on earth. Oh yeah, and there is an algorithm studying which topics will engage you the most and put it in your face 24-7.

There are so many people and causes screaming in our face to take action that an active tension is built on a daily basis. This makes you feel guilty, anxious that one day you could look back and regret not taking some action. And then…… you make a Facebook post, bashing real people. When we look out at potential options for being active, the only thing we see is that social media icon, and it is so effective because it clears your guilt as if you took action or stood up to a bully defending something innocent. This is Check-Box Activism, of all the things on the list of pressure-

  • Get a house
  • Volunteer more
  • Ask for a raise
  • Do something about climate change
  • Exercise more
  • Do something about racism

The two vague, yet threatening items serve as a distraction from our immediate life and they can be crossed off from the couch. With one post about what you believe and what you’re against, your conscience clears and endorphins flow. CHECK

Justice Piñata

Since 2016 it has felt like a nothing but defeat after brutal defeat for the Progressive left. It can be hard to lift your chin up, especially after we saw the Democratic establishment rip a victory away from Bernie for the second time. Yet there are things to be excited about – We had a real contender fighting for the people in the presidential race, voters below 45 are overwhelmingly in support of Bernie’s agenda, Gen Z is the least racist group of Americans in history. 

If there is any lesson we need to heed it is that of overused strengths-

“Overused strengths become weaknesses.” 

That might sound silly, how could being totally against racism ever be a bad thing? In the hands of the media and corporate Democrats nothing is sacred. When a mass of people have genuine motivations and beliefs that they believe so intensely they would take action on them, people in power zero in on it. The last thing Nancy Pelosi wants is this massive group to organize for economic rights, or anything that would cramp their style, or life-style. 

So what would the Dems in power want to see? A movement of chaos that focuses it’s hatred on Republicans and causes that have no clear legislative agenda. They champion cancel culture just as Republicans use Christianity. “ If you are with the Republicans, you are for rapist and chauvinist pigs!” vs. “If you are a Christian you can’t support the Dems because that is you condoning baby murder!” 

Pretty insane right? These are logical fallacies. We should think more of our citizens and neighbors than to think they pull the voting lever saying “ boy I’m so glad male dominance and inappropriate behavior are going to lead this country!” So where does this connect? It is easier for corporate dems to back cultural issues that have no legislative agenda than to ever support a bill that favors workers over their corporate donors. They have the easiest group to distract- we really do want justice worse than any recent generation. They have the ultimate landscape to do so – Social media. They have the ultimate straw man to distract us from what we really want and need – Donald Trump. My god how many times have we knelt to power and made concessions to corporate dems because trump was looming in the background? 

Because we are so primed up for justice, we run into traps and waste effort constantly. This is where the idea of a justice piñata comes in- essentially we all have our sticks ready to fight, we hop on Facebook and BAM a story of injustice with Trumpers is in our face, Justice Piñata. Spoiler alert, these are always No Legislation-Attached issues, completely hollow. Yet, we are swinging our hearts out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, striking our neighbors in wild blows. Even though it is pretty apparent if you can step back and take off the blind fold, you are not doing a literal thing playing activist online. Every zinger divides the country further, and solidifies the Trump vote further. We keep swinging, similar to the potential Biden administration, we have no idea if the piñata is entirely hollow, yet we tell ourselves our favorite candy might be in there! Biden might pass the Green New Deal! Surely a Dem will end this police brutality? Surely he will be better than Trump? 

We are a special generation- we all carry a big stick! Remember to use the responsibility wisely. If you share enemies with someone, make them a friend. Don’t swing on working class conservative voters, just like us, they are being completely misled by their corporate run party, and the corporate Dems seek to actively destroy and silence them. We will never build bridges silencing or dismissing people who hold views that we judge as wrong. Even if someone is racist, they will only dig in until someone sees them as a human and helps them get free of that poisonous mentality. Remember, that mind set is toxic for them and affects their life as well. We are taking the exact opposite route of Nelson Mandela- he knew you couldn’t throw every employee of the racist white administration in jail, even if they were racist, because they were victims of the same system. Had he done so, the country would have done an immediate reversal and had the African majority dominating and mistreating the white population that treated them horribly. While they would have completely deserved it, Mandela knew the individuals of the nation were separate and not responsible for the system that was forced upon them. By extending a bridge to his white counterparts, he brought on a peace that no one ever expected, ending apartheid. 

Consider this final thought – Trump voters are just as scared and worried for the future as you are. Hitting fellow Americans over the head will not lead to justice or legislation. This is an empty piñata.