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Hashtag activism a powerful force, when followed by action

a hashtag or a petition is a good start, but it must be followed up with engagement towards further action.

computer-userThe hashtag crusaders, The Saturday Paper, MIKE SECCOMBE, 9 May 15 …….Should those concerned about effecting real progressive change worry that simple identity politics is supplanting real commitment?

Or have the means of expression simply changed? Maybe the hashtag is the digital age equivalent of the bumper sticker, and the online petition the equivalent of the street march. Maybe younger people are just as committed – in many cases marginally committed – as they ever were.

If that’s the case, the future for progressive change organisations is perhaps not so dire. Certainly more people respond to hashtags than ever put stickers on their cars. Proportionally, many more people have signed on to GetUp! petitions in Australia than rallied in Central Park in 1982.

“Change.org has 2.8 million people who have used their platform, so it’s not a small proportion of the population at all,” says Rebecca Wilson, deputy director of the Centre for Australian Progress, the organisation hosting the Melbourne conference……

On the other hand, she says: “Every organisation that has an email list will tell you their membership is heavily female and middle aged or older. So it’s partially true that it’s often older people engaging. But they have the time and the resources.”

The evidence is ambiguous. What is increasingly clear, though, is that while modern means of communication such as social media can be a powerful tool, they are not a substitute for more traditional means of activism. And those seeking change face the same old problem of turning short-term protest into long-term campaigning.

“It’s too reductionist to say that there is clicktivism and then there is legitimate advocacy,” says Anat Shenker-Osorio, a US-based communications consultant specialising in cognition and linguistics.

There is, she says, “some truth” to the criticism that if you make something too easy you encourage a glib and superficial response. “But the issue is actually a lack of human-to-human engagement. The thing that sustains motivation is the creation of connection and community. The trouble with online actions is that they don’t engender that connection.

“We have for too long focused on protest instead of movement building.”

Building a movement

Annie Kia, community engagement co-ordinator for the anti-fracking Lock the Gate Alliance, emphasises the point.

“Lock the Gate has raised a very powerful social movement because we work the grassroots – face-to-face conversations, lots of door-to-door engagement, stalls, leafleting towns, inviting people to meetings. It’s important to get people to group up, to self-organise. That brings dynamism.

“We have something the corporations don’t, which is collective intelligence. They have PR departments.”

The other important thing, she says, is to have a clear focus on an issue, particularly when your movement encompasses a variety of people. In Lock the Gate’s case, that ranges from conservative farmers to unreconstructed hippies. “It would be true that many of our supporters are very supportive of a variety of other issues, but we stick to our issue.”

Social media is a great help in organising, but, says Kia, much of what they do harks back to the techniques “of Gandhi and Martin Luther King – non-violent civil disobedience”.

That’s not to say hashtag activism cannot be a powerful force, particularly when you are trying to begin a discussion on an uncomfortable issue, says Wilson.

She cites the case of Michael Brown, the black man shot last year in Ferguson, Missouri, despite the fact he was unarmed and apparently surrendering to police.

#HandsUpDontShoot, she says, “completely changed” the debate about relations between US police and citizens of colour……

And as Sam McLean says, you engage people by offering “a low floor and a high ceiling”.

That is to say, a hashtag or a petition is a good start, but it must be followed up with engagement towards further action.

“It’s like, ‘You’ve already done the easy thing, now let’s talk about what hard thing we’re going to do together.’ ”http://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2015/05/09/the-hashtag-crusaders/14310936001854?utm_content=buffercf00a&utm_medium=social&utm_source=Twitter&utm_campaign=buffer#.VU_XTI6qpHz

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May 13, 2015 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, opposition to nuclear

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