Token efforts cheapen activism

Staff Writer

It’s easy for young and wild-eyed 20-something year olds to get caught up in a movement. We have grown up learning about the passionate displays of 20th century activism — the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Civil Rights volunteers, Vietnam War protesters, Peace Corps trainees and Red Cross nurses. We have seen our own generation join in supporting environmental coalitions, grassroots presidential campaigns (think Ron Paul) and countless goodwill organizations. 

We are a generation that is bombarded with solicitations from the more venerable organizations (Peace Corps, Red Cross, World Vision) and are familiar or associated with newer causes (Darfur, Tibet) that are propagated by social-networking sites and non-traditional media campaigns. The viral campaigns of the Internet have forced us to reconsider how removed we actually are from the problems that constantly plague the rest of the world.

We have a deeply ingrained and unhesitating belief that, yes, we can make a difference — that our $10 will help a worldwide humanitarian effort and our voice matters. 

Because of the ubiquity of genuine humanitarian efforts and causes, it’s no surprise that corporations try to cash in on the idea of social activism. Sure, it feels nice to believe the coffee I bought at Starbucks will benefit Third World children, the album I purchased on iTunes will go towards Tibetan cultural preservation or a (RED) T-shirt purchased at Gap will help fight for the elimination of AIDS in Africa.

But, I wonder if this type of hands-off, awareness-heavy activism does more harm than good. Perhaps just the idea that we are “world-conscious” is enough to satiate. Maybe we end up foregoing traditional boots-on-the-ground commitment in organizations for a weekend or weeklong dabbling in a variety of programs, according to our ever-changing sensibilities.

Unfortunately, attending 14 Convocation events that enlighten the community about 14 problems afflicting society will not solve any of those problems.

I am not advocating ignorance, of course. Action without understanding can be worse than no action at all. All too often, uneducated efforts prove counterproductive or are misdirected by disingenuous leaders.

But, when passion and information combine with targeted, sustained action, the world can be improved tremendously.

There is nothing wrong with daylong involvement with an issue. Every little bit helps those in need, and a social commitment to Step Forward Day might inspire a student to a lifelong dedication to service. Students should not smugly rest on the laurels of past achievement, however, when greater problems persist.

Pepperdine affords students countless opportunities to ameliorate society’s problems, but true change requires a deeper commitment.      

Sometimes, the increased awareness to the abundance of social outreaches hardens me to the point of nonchalance. If someone promoting a cause approaches me, I can just shrug it off with a thought: “I always give to something else, some other time, when I have the time.” It’s an assurance that I’m not sure I want to have.

Submitted 10-02-2008