Troy Davis, Joseph Kony, Benjaman Kyle, and the Benghazi situation. What do these seemingly incongruent events and people all have in common? You don’t care about them. Don’t worry, neither do I. Now go to Google to try to refresh yourself on something that right now is just a faint memory, tucked away neatly in the recesses of your mind, locked away in its own proverbial dungeon. If any of these names start ringing a bell, there is probably a good reason for that.* At some point in the last 8 years each has been a major source of passion and controversy in social circles across the country. At some point in the last 8 years each has been forgotten about just as quickly as they came. In the last 8 years each has been susceptible to some serious bandwagon activism.
* (For those of you scoring at home: Troy Davis was the prisoner executed in Georgia, Joseph Kony was the Ugandan Crime Lord accused of amassing an army of children, Benjaman Kyle was the man who was senselessly beaten outside of a Burger King Franchise, and Benghazi refers to the attacks on the United States Embassy in Benghazi, Lybia.)
It really is a sensitive era that we live in. Phones can bring the entirety of human knowledge anywhere at anytime with the touch of a button; social media sites and the constant influx of news have all exerted pressure on the average person to be more connected than ever. One of the ways of staying inside the loop that has gained traction in recent years is to become an activist for a cause. Now I would have no personal issue with this if there were a strong reason for any given person to support the subject, but society has collectively slowed its conviction to such a lethargic pace that people will hop on any movement without really having any vehement feelings towards it. The logic is simple; the basic human instinct is to try to be in the center: center-stage, center-field, center-anything. The easiest way for anybody to get closer to the center is to be involved with as many things on the peripherals as possible, by juggling all of these things people feel more connected to the world around them and in turn more in the loop of the mainstream. The occupy movement is a quintessential example of this lunacy: full of people dying to fit into the protestor mold, the only thing the Occupy movement changed was how we should view modern protest, and not in a positive light.
A common reply to this would be to call me a cynic (among other things) and ask “why is it bad if people start taking an interest in different things?” For the sake of clarification I want to address that question. In no way am I advocating for people to stop caring about important issues, but instead just ask yourself the question “am I going to care about this in two months?” Having an opinion is wonderful, I love to have opinions about things, but where we have gone awry is turning our opinions into flavor of the month activism that really benefits nobody.
Numerous Twitter accounts sprung up during the whirlwind day of the execution of Troy Davis. Memorial accounts were created, celebrities went on the record tweeting their disgust about the whole situation, and in general a collective sense of activism was strong throughout the social media world. Now go to today, the last tweet about Troy Davis was about a guy on the San Francisco 49ers with the same name, and the last time any of the Troy Davis Memorial accounts tweeted anything was March 13th 2012, almost a full year ago. This is bandwagon activism. The reason there has been such an influx in this type of behavior in recent years is due to the simple fact that being an activist for any cause has never been easier. Now it is as simple as joining a Facebook group, updating your twitter, or re-blogging something on tumblr. (Please don’t hate me for knowing what tumblr is). Almost every single day there are new causes that compete for our attention, and we have fallen into the trap of subscribing to every single one of them, for fear of guilt or alienation if we do not help out, especially because it is so easy to do so now. This is the exact same tactic (albeit an effective one) that charities employ when someone is out shopping, asking the patron if they would like to donate X amount of dollars to charity and just add it to their bill. The easy access to involvement has led us to spread ourselves across an impossibly wide range of issues. Instead of passionately arguing for one motive, we settle instead for lackluster, half-spirited attempts, which result in general averageness.
This isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, in fact an easy argument to make would be that, while you could concede people aren’t always truly invested in any of these causes, it is better than not being invested at all. That is a fair point, after all, something is better than nothing, but to that line of thinking I would like to bring up the almost infamous issue of Joseph Kony and the organization that “tried” to bring him to justice. I will spare you the details, but if you are interested, a quick Google search should be able to give you all the information you need and more. The organization that attempted to bring Joseph Kony to justice has been brought under some severe scrutiny in the last year, all stemming from the questionable actions of some of the officials that led the group. This is where bandwagon activism comes back to haunt us. If there is a way to exploit the American populace for cash, somebody is going to find a way to do it, and if we do not take good care with our actions when trying to make a difference, we can easily be preyed on, a la the invisible children organization. Tons of people lined up to buy their merchandise in anticipation to support a seemingly good effort for a serious global problem, but because we did this without due care and with mediocre determination, companies like this are able to swindle and thieve while we line up so they can pick our pocket as we watch.
Please don’t get me wrong, the point I am trying to make isn’t that we should stop caring or become jaded by a few bad apples trying to profit off of our emotions. The point I am making is that collectively we need to be leery about what we decide are valuable causes and the best way to move forward in assisting. As the old saying goes, you need to stand strongly for something, or you will surely fall for anything.