How important is offline activism?
i spend a lot of time on Social Media dealing with issues of race and poverty and injustice.
The hope is to share and engage and challenge and invite people to explore different areas where their lives could be better. Most of this relates to areas where i am trying to listen and learn and engage and wrestle at the same time.
i might know or have discovered some things other people haven’t simply by being on some aspects of the journey for longer than they have. But more often than not it is sharing something that has challenged, inspired or encouraged me, that i’m hoping will impact others too.
When it comes to race and justice, none of us are ever going to arrive. The ongoing hope is that tomorrow when i wake up, i will be better than the person i started out today as.
i also learn a lot from many people who have been on some of the journeys for less time than i have. Learning and growing and being challenged is definitely a two-way thing. We all have blind spots. i am grateful for people who love me well and are brave enough to point them out.
The Best Move
About three years ago, i made a decision that i had to be more actively involved in transformation that took place offline. i believe the work i do online makes a difference. It is hard to gauge how much and hopefully it is a lot more than i will ever see.
But part of the challenge i felt was around calling other people to something that i wasn’t actively physically in-the-real-world an active part of. So i looked around for some organisations i could volunteer with so that worst-case scenario – if everything i did online was a waste of time, i would still hopefully be making a difference.
i found some space to volunteer with two incredible organisations – Bottomup and The LifeMatters Foundation.
Wow! i wish i could find the words to express how much of a gift that has been to me, which feels completely wrong. i was meant to be helping them [or so i thought] but a lot of the time i just wonder if i’m not in the way. Both organisations are run by incredible visionaries who i have learned so much from.
The critical thinking work that BottomUp does with its learners i am convinced is up there with some of the best education in the country. It is certainly far and above anything i received when i was at one of the so-called top former model C schools in the Western Cape [although i do semi-joke that i was just there to help keep the average down]. This at schools in the greater Grassy Park area that are not as well-financed or supported or looked after as many others. In an area so many people tend to dismiss.
During lockdown, led by some very talented staff and volunteers, we have seen Whatsapp challenges taking place that seek to understand current events and the systems and structures and forces that drive them. Every week we have a number of students online either working on speeches that seek to unpack present contexts and challenges, or as members of their Representative Council of Learners wrestling with ideas like learners returning to schools and the current syllabus and more.
Give someone a fish to eat and they will eat for a day, but teach someone to think and they will design a fishery and feed the whole village. That is the kind of thinking we see on a regular basis from Ashley Visagie and the team he leads.
Talking and Thinking must lead to Doing
For me, this is the key. And i know that i was in more danger than most, which is why i made the shift. The dangers of Slacktivism are real, yo!
i believe that online spaces hold so much opportunity to connect and engage with people who we might never get the opportunity to sit face to face with. But we can also get caught up in only ever talking about things or only ever thinking about things. Thus offline activism is key!
One philosophy or value of life that i have been drawn to in the past few years is the idea of Both/And. When we tend towards extremes we often get into trouble. But in so many areas of life there are spaces for more than one ‘right answer’. Sometimes these can seem to contradict and we end up holding things in tension. But more often than not i find they compliment each other. The connection i have with people online affects and infects [in a good way] the work i do with people when i am with them.
i do also think that some people do much better offline and there is no need for them to feel pressure to be online. For those who tend to do better online i would say that the offline space often helps bring grounding and reality so whether it’s time or money or presence or skills i do think everyone should have some kind of offline commitment. But there is no one way of doing this well. And we have so much to learn from each other.
For me, i’ve found it helpful to have regular checks [either by myself or with accountability people in my life] to review how i am spending my time in both the online and offline spaces. It is often helpful to take a break from certain online spaces that might become too conflictual, or even from online altogether. Regular unpluggings and stepping away can be good for the heart and soul [and sanity!]
How are you doing in this area? Is there a healthy connection between what you say and what you think, and what you do? And if not, is there any tweaking or bold moves that need to happen?
[For more on my time doing offline activism with BottomUp, click here]