Is advocacy ever enough? - Generocity Philly


Nov. 2, 2016 4:04 pm

Is advocacy ever enough?

TL;DR — checks, not check-ins.

Lansie Sylvia.

(Illustration by Hannah Agosta Illustration, based on a photo by Jessie Fox)

How to Give is a biweekly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.


I’ve seen a lot of people in my newsfeed “checking into” Standing Rock. Is this really helping the cause? If something unconscionable is happening far away from me, is it enough to give my support or should I be doing something else?

Oh my my my, does the internet move fast! By the time I received this question, researched it and formulated an opinion there was already a Snopes article debunking the “Facebook check-in at Standing Rock” phenomenon. So let’s debrief and then deconstruct.

Over the weekend a viral Facebook status update urged users to “check in” at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, ostensibly in order to prevent the Morton County Sheriff’s Department from geo-targeting the #DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) protesters.

By checking in, supporters of the DAPL effort would “confuse” or “overwhelm” the police force, making it harder for them to monitor the protestors and/or Water Protectors (their preferred identifier.) Supporters have even taken to calling it “Randing Stock” in their Facebook updates in order to throw law enforcement off their digital trail. Clery Vever.

According to Snopes and Mother Jones, this claim isn’t true. The police have stated: “The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is not and does not follow Facebook check-ins for the protest camp or any location. This claim/rumor is absolutely false.” The protestors/Water Protectors themselves said that while they didn’t start the call-to-action, they still “support the tactic, and think it is a great way to express solidarity.”

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There’s that sticky wicket, wibbly-wobbly phrase: “expressing solidarity.” An internet kissing cousin to “raising awareness.”

This begs a larger question: What exactly is the value of “raising awareness?” Does our awareness, once suitably raised, via social media or otherwise ever really, ya know, mean anything? Does it help?

More than 1.5 million people checked into Standing Rock over the weekend. But if we’re to take the Morton County Sheriff’s Department at their word (a dubious prospect, but stick with me), they’re not checking social media. So 1.5 million people just thumbed their nose in the wrong direction.

Sure, it may feel good to fling our outrage and solidarity into the interwebs. But while we’re “checking in” to Facebook, these people are being arrested and jailed. Some are sustaining injury. They’re incurring legal fees. Hospital bills. Your check-in won’t fix those things.

You know what will?

Your check.

(Or your credit card. Or Venmo. Not PayPal, though. PayPal sucks.) 

Please note: This is not to discount the importance and significance of advocacy. Of course advocacy is important. I’m just saying it’s not enough. Advocacy is but one act of a larger play toward justice. Taken on its own — it’s simply insufficient to enact real change.

Cue the WordArt! Because Lansie’s here to teach you how to support large-scale causes in just three easy steps!

1. Educate

Any problem that needs fixing is probably complex enough to warrant more than a five-minute read. So get reading.

Seek out nonpartisan sources. Check their work. Double-check your own. It’s not enough to know what you think. You really need to know why you think it. Because if you don’t know why you think what you think … you don’t really know it. Ya know?

2. Advocate

See? You do get to advocate! The first step toward starting a movement is finding your tribe. And the best way to do that is to put yourself out there. Once you know where you stand … and you’ve learned what everyone else is standing for … you can stand together!

Those 1.5 million checker-inners care. And there’s something affirming and, dare I say it, noble about standing together and facing down injustice.

3. Donate

So, you’ve read enough to know what’s up. You’ve stood astride the lines and bellowed out your call for justice. Now put your money where your mouth is and donate to the cause.

If you want to express your solidarity for people unfairly jailed, help pay their legal fees. Giving your money may not feel as awesome as advocacy … but that’s the point. Acting for social good isn’t really about how you feel. It’s about what you do. And giving money to support these people is a concrete, tangible, essential way to help them. 

TL;DR — checks. Not check-ins.


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