“Why, That’s Terrible!”: How To Sell Me On Your Activism

SuffragistsI deal with a number of people who are either up-and-comers or fairly well established in one form of activism or another.  I count a number of them as my friends.  Some of them are better at promoting their causes than others.  Here’s what I’d like to tell the ones who want to get better at it.

These are things that you should spend much time preparing:

  1. Tell Me What’s Wrong
    This is where all activists start, and unfortunately where many of them end. Ending here accomplishes nothing besides getting your readership uselessly riled up. If you end here, the best you will get from me is a “Why, that’s terrible!” as I resume what I was doing before I gave you my attention.
  2. Tell Me Why It’s Wrong
    This step is oddly missing in even well-thought-out activist plans. Some problems are not obviously problems to everyone. Mad Cow Disease is not a problem to vegetarians, for instance. Tell me why it’s wrong on as many levels as you can. If it affects me personally, or someone I care about, tell me. If it affects a large percentage of the world’s population, tell me that too. I am more likely to agree with you that something is a problem if it’s bad at both a personal and a global scale.
  3. Tell Me Your Plan To Fix It
    I cannot emphasize this step enough. If you have no plan to fix the problem, you are wasting my time and getting me riled up for nothing. What’s worse, now I think you are expecting me to come up with a solution for you. That’s how my brain works; I hear of a problem, and I naturally want to fix it. But unless I am related to you or I am paid to solve your problems, I am disinclined to come up with a solution. If you don’t have a plan, don’t even bother opening your mouth or writing that blog post.
  4. Tell Me How Your Plan Fixes It
    Again, this falls under the “what’s obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to me” category. Be able to tell me how your plan will actually fix the problem. Examples of successful past projects are good. If you can’t, we’re back to “Why, that’s terrible!” again.
  5. Tell Me What You Want Me To Do
    We’ve gotten this far; great! You still have my attention. Now what do you want me specifically to do? Let’s get one thing clear: I am not going to give you every minute of my spare time, nor every dollar of my disposable income. But I’m sure you want me to do something to help out. What is it? If you can’t tell me, then I’ll really be upset, because you have simply strung me along this far.

Examples of Good Activism

Susan G. Komen For The Cure

Probably the best-known breast cancer awareness organization around. They have the five points above down pat. They have a tab at the top of their page called “Understanding Breast Cancer” that says What’s Wrong and Why It’s Wrong; the page I linked to says their Plan To Fix It and How It Fixes It, and there’s another tab called “Get Involved” that tells me What They Want Me To Do. Exactly what I need to decide whether I help them out or not.

Some specific examples of feminism

Those of you who are active in the skeptical or feminist communities probably know of this as “Elevatorgate”. Somewhere in that video I linked to, Rebecca Watson mentions that she was approached in a closed elevator by a strange man who asked her up to his hotel room.  She said no, the elevator stopped, the doors opened, and they went their separate ways. Why this is a good example of activism is that she succinctly covers all five points in the span of maybe 20 seconds. What was wrong was that he propositioned her in an enclosed space. This was wrong because it made her feel creeped out. The solution, and what she wants me to do, is simply “don’t do that”. How that solves the problem is, in this case, truly obvious.

Examples of Bad Activism

Occupy Wall Street

From their About page, OWS is “fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.” The first part is never shown to be bad, and the second part is… what, protesting against something that already happened? So they’ve already lost my enthusiasm at step 2. But let’s go on. Do they have a plan? All I know about them is that they set up protest areas and just… I don’t know, set up tents there. Why do they think whatever plan they have will work? And lastly, what do they want me to do about it? Donate? Why? Camp out with them? Like I said, no one gets every minute of my spare time, so don’t even ask. So they fall into the bucket of organizations who start, and end, with a declaration of what’s wrong.

Michigan Protects Theists’ Right to Bully Gays

Good description of the problem. No effort put into why it’s a problem. Plan, efficacy, and personal action nonexistent. So theists can legally bully gays, you say? Why, that’s terrible!

To get on my good side:

Just don’t leave me hangin’. Don’t make me feel like you’re asking me to do your thinking for you. And for goodness sake, don’t try to guilt-trip, browbeat, or insult me into action, because that will never, ever, work.



4 thoughts on ““Why, That’s Terrible!”: How To Sell Me On Your Activism

  1. Nice piece of work. It shows clearly what you are looking for–what, on some level, all of us are looking for–from an activist; examples of successes and failures to meet these guidelines; and what you want the failures to do in order to stop failing.

    Well done, I look forward to future entries.

  2. The problem with OWS is simply that they are a leaderless movement. Without a leader or leadership group, a coherent declaration of intent and solution is pretty hard to define.

    Overall, good points.

  3. Your description of effective activism reminded me of a start-up project that immediately engaged me, now situated at http://embraceglobal.org/. Not a big interest point for everybody, but the low-cost premie warmers for the third world probably hit on all of your suggestions…what’s the problem, why is it a problem, what they’ve done to improved the situation and how it materially works, and how I can help. They engaged me in their concept, prototype and testing, and potential impact. And they got money from me by doing so! On the flip side, I also have only been able to get luke-warmly interested in Occupy Wall Street. I know they have some really important goals and issues, but the messages seem so diffuse that the movement as a whole hasn’t grabbed me as I might have expected; I’m more likely to support more-defined offshoots.

  4. Well written and concise. I also never got the Occupy movement. Most people who work at most jobs are just doing it for the money (would anyone work at in a fast food place, if they were not paid). So what is wrong with people on Wall Street just doing it for the money? What do you want them (Wall Street) to do that is different? No one including the people on Wall Street wanted to loose money. If you have an idea that will put people back to work and make money for all, get out of your tent and tell people about it. A warning: most ideas to save the world have been tried a long time ago and most have failed.

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