The Importance of Thoughtful Activism

Around the beginning of December you may have heard how Greenpeace damaged part of the Nazca lines in effort to spread their message about climate change. In fact, Peru is now investigating one person in Greenpeace and seeking charges of “attacking archeological monuments”, a crime, which if he is convicted, will likely carry a prison sentence*.  Their actions were not an example of thoughtful activism. And if you want to change things, you need to think very hard about the best way to do that. I don’t know how long they brainstormed or if this was their first idea, but it was clear that they did not think this through.

When you fail to act thoughtfully, your message can get lost. People begin to talk about what you did instead of why you did it. Most people are talking about what Greenpeace did. Their actual message gets a one sentence mention in the article. This does not help further your cause. Thoughtful activism can get people thinking and talking and doing about your message, not about how you chose to try and get your message across.

You also hurt the reputation of your cause. People are not going to want to associate with a group who is doing things that are having a negative impact on society. Whether this be because they don’t think through their actions, because they shame or blame people, or something else. In the past, some movements have had issues with this. So I don’t make it seem like I am just picking on Greenpeace, I’ll pick an example from a cause that is dear to my heart, the pro-life movement. In the past, some people have shot abortion doctors. This tends to just undermine the work of thousands of pro-life activists who would never dream of taking a life to end abortion. The careless, unthinking activism of one or a few individuals can damage the reputation of many, many others working for the same causes. To speak of Greenpeace again, several individuals in Greenpeace have denounced these actions, but it doesn’t speak as loud or become as memorable as those individuals who carried out this piece of activism.

Of course, this post would not be complete without the mention of slactivism. What is slactivism? It’s a combination of slacker and activism. From Urban Dictionary, “Engaging socially in activism that requires little or no effort as part of a lifestyle or self-identity. Slactivism usually produces no appreciable results and often perpetuates poor research and hearsay.” I’m sure we’ve all seen these – remember when it was going around to post the color of your bra to your Facebook status for “breast cancer awareness?” What does it actually do to raise awareness of breast cancer? Nothing. But it often makes us feel like we are doing something. This falls in the thoughtless category because it’s mainly something to make us feel like doing something without actually doing something. You want the actions you take to mean something and to matter, to truly make a difference for the cause you are fighting for – that’s thoughtful activism.

In the end, it’s really important to me that people get involved in their society and stand up for what they believe in and fight to end injustices. But I really just want people to think about what they are doing and why they are doing it when they decide to champion a cause. We need people who are really committed to changing the world for the better and are willing to take the time to think about the best way to accomplish that without their message getting lost or damaging the reputation to their organization or doing something completely ineffective.

Go change your world, but think about it first.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

*Source link broken as of 6/8/15

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