Tag Archives: university of regina

Why the ‘Activism vs. Slacktivism’ Debate is Irrelevant

Activism vs. Slacktivism

Social media campaigns have been widely critiqued for reducing activism to hitting the retweet button or sharing a Facebook post. This article suggests that slacktivism can be counter-productive, as sharing on social media might lead you to feel like you’ve done your part and absolve you of the responsibility to do any more. Similarly, Sarah Ross challenges her readers to be critical when they see online activism and asks, “are you willing to go further than the click of your mouse?” Zachary Sellers is also a critic of social media campaigns, claiming that they are ineffective, that they spin messages to their advantage, and that they are more about advertising than action.


Photo Credit: Elijah via Compfight cc

I think these critiques are valid and often true, which makes me critical of my own participation in social media campaigns. Is my retweeting and online support always backed up by concrete action? And does it always need to be? Isn’t is also important to speak out about issues to show that they are important and need to be addressed? I know that what I choose to say (and not say) sends a message, so I wonder about the implications of refusing to participate in social media campaigns. Does that silence send the message that those causes are not important? These are questions I’m still wrestling with, and I welcome feedback in the comments section below.

Despite criticisms, it is obvious that some social media campaigns have been critical in raising awareness of issues, creating discussion, generating political will, and bringing about action. 40 million tweets from #BlackLivesMatter were analyzed and found to have been essential in driving conversation about race, criminal justice, and police brutality. The #BlackGirlMagic movement has led to debate, discussion, and supportive communities, which has furthered the topic of representation of Black girls. #MMIW has been used to share stories and to put pressure on the government to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.


Vigil for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women on Parliament Hill, Oct. 2015

Photo Credit: patimbeau via Compfight cc

So, the main distinction between powerful social media activism and ‘slacktivism’ that I’ve seen emphasized is that online activism is powerful only when coupled with real world activism. I wonder about this. Is it like a formula?  

social media campaigns + real world action = meaningful activism?

I’m not so sure.

Problematic Real World Action

Although I understand the importance of retweets being backed by real action, I think it’s also important to point out that “real world action” can also be problematic. Volunteering and charity work can sometimes perpetrate racist, sexist, classist, ableist attitudes and reproduce stereotypes about the very people the work is supposed to be helping.

Examples of this:

Recently, 5 Days for the Homeless took place at the University of Regina. For this campaign, five students slept outside for five nights to raise awareness about homelessness and to collect donations for Carmichael Outreach. It faced a great deal of criticism for sensationalizing homelessness and reproducing stereotypes about homeless people. You can read Carmichael’s response to these critiques here.

My point here is that the activism vs. slacktivism debate is basically irrelevant, as both online and offline activism can be equally problematic and oppressive. Instead of choosing sides, we should be critical of all types of activism campaigns so that we can work to break down oppression and avoid contributing to it. I will be the first to acknowledge that we will often fall short, make mistakes, and contribute to oppression without meaning to. The important thing is acknowledging this when it happens and not say things like: “But I didn’t mean to reproduce stereotypes about homeless people…” or “But I was only trying to help those poor children in Africa!”

Good intentions don’t matter when they are coupled with oppressive actions. In order to do anti-oppressive work, we have to acknowledge our implicitness in oppression and work against it at every turn. This means being critical of ourselves and the way we structure or take part in activism campaigns, in both online and offline spaces. 

So how do we move to meaningful activism (online or offline)?

I’m not pretending that I know exactly how we do this or that there are clear steps to “doing activism right.” But I think the most important thing here is that we must operate in solidarity with the people we are advocating for.

Whether it’s through participating in social media campaigns online or taking action in face-to-face spaces, we need to focus on the experiences of those who are marginalized. Instead of focusing on ourselves – our feelings, our good intentions, the cookies we receive – we need to make marginalized voices and stories the driving force behind the work we do. If we don’t listen to these voices and stories, how can we understand the issue or know what work needs to be done?

We need to continuously educate ourselves on the issue we are working against but not expect those who are marginalized to do the educating. They already have enough burdens without us making it their responsibility to teach us about the oppression they face. We also need to continuously educate those who share our identity. For me, that might mean engaging White people in conversations about race or engaging able-bodied people in conversations about how disability simulations can reproduce stereotypes.

Many of these ideas about how to move to meaningful activism came from these great articles:

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know by Jamie Utt

How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’ by Mia McKenzie

The Case Against ‘Allies” by Mychal Smith

I’ll end with this quote, from Jamie Utt’s professor:

“If you choose to do social justice work, you are going to screw up – a lot. Be prepared for that. And when you screw up, be prepared to listen to those who you hurt, apologize with honesty and integrity, work hard to be accountable to them, and make sure you act differently going forward.”

These are our responsibilities – to be critical of all the social justice work we do (both online and offline), to focus on and work in solidarity with those we are advocating for, and to learn from our mistakes and do better going forward.

The Opening (of my epic chess quest)

Here are a few things I have started doing in my epic quest to improve my chess game:

  1. Playing live Chess online against other players on Chess.com.

I play chess against real people rather than playing against a computer because my goal is to eventually play chess against people face to face, so this seems like better preparation.  Also, playing against a computer just seems lame when there are so many people out there wanting to play chess!

Just to give you a bit of background on ratings – Chess uses an Elo rating system, which basically means your level is represented by a number.  When you win games, your rating goes up. When you lose games, your rating goes down.  Simple enough.  However, when you first start playing you are given a provisional rating (an approximation of your level) and the increment at which your rating goes up/down is much larger. (If you win, your rating goes up a lot, and if you lose, your rating goes down a lot.)  This helps you find your legitimate rating.

Anyway, I am trying to find my legitimate rating, and it SUCKS. Chess.com starts you with a rating of 1200, which is a way above average chess rating!  So basically, I have to keep losing games (and therefore, losing rating points) until I can find my level and my legitimate rating.  After losing my first game, I was so frustrated… You have to watch this video in order to understand my situation.

Picture me as the adorable baby elephant, trying so hard, even though success is clearly hopeless… The dog is all the awesome chess players I am forced to play against.  Amused, they easily dance around me.  All I can do is make frustrated noises, as bystanders laugh.  (I apologize for the dramatic interlude, but would appreciate your sympathy regarding the discouraging beginning of my quest.)

  1.  Doing Tactics Puzzles on my Chess.com account.  

Tactics puzzles are basically where Chess.com throws you into a possible chess game situation and you look at it and pick the best move as fast as you can!  So it’s a short sequence of moves that usually involves an attack or a capture. With my basic account, I get 5 free tactic puzzles per day.  I’ve been doing my 5 every day, and I like it because it’s fun and it doesn’t take much time to do. At first, being timed stressed me out but now I try not to pay attention to the time and to just focus on whether or not I can find the move.

If you’re brave and want to try a few tactic puzzles, this link gives you 10 free demo problems to try!

  1. Watching instructional YouTube videos.  

Here is the first one I watched:

This is the first video in a five video series called “Everything You Need to Know About Chess.”  It focuses on openings. Now, there are thousands of chess openings out there and you could probably read chess theory on specific openings for decades; however, I liked this video because instead of focusing on specific openings (such as the Sicilian Defence), he focuses on the overall goals of the opening and gives some general guidelines for openings.  Here are the guidelines he gives:

  • Develop, develop, develop!  (get your pieces off their original squares)
  • Control the centre
  • Don’t move a piece twice
  • Castle early (before move 10)
  • Don’t bring the queen out too early
  • Develop with purpose
  • Think about your opponent’s moves and threats
  • Connect the rooks

These guidelines were really helpful because they made me realize that I don’t need to memorize specific openings.  Instead, I can just play solid moves following these guidelines… What a relief!

That’s all for now!  I will keep you updated as I move forward on my quest.  Next step?  Playing in a chess tournament at the University of Regina tomorrow. I imagine I will feel much like that poor baby elephant again, but I hope it will still be a good learning experience.