This is an article for lazy people.
If you’re so lazy that you don’t want to read it, here’s the point of it:
The most effective way to change the world is by investing your time, energy, and money in ways that divert power from oppressive, exploitative institutions and into institutions that empower your community and are accountable to your community. For example, stop buying produce at Whole Foods and start buying from a local cooperative farm.
Now, the actual article
Look, general assemblies are boring. Organizing meetings are tedious. Protests can be cathartic, but they always fall at the wrong time. Sit-ins, hunger strikes, blockades, Occupying wherever — it’s just not for you. Maybe you’d love to be involved in political action more, but you just don’t have time to commit to it. Maybe you just don’t know how to start.
So, for whatever reason, you’ve become a Slacktivist — a slacker-activist: one who wants the world to change, but isn’t going to do a whole lot of obvious work to change it.
First of all — being a slacktivist is okay. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s possible that your single Facebook post about child detentions may turn out to be the thing that keeps Great Aunt Betty from voting for Trump again. Maybe the one Black Lives Matter protest you attended with your roommate ended up inspiring her to read The New Jim Crow and become an advocate to end the prison-industrial complex. It’s totally possible, and I mean that sincerely.
But the kinds of slacktivism we typically see, from Change.org petitions to supporting Elizabeth Warren for president, are not giving you the best bang for your buck. If you don’t have a lot of time, energy, action or money to invest in activism, invest it as strategically and consciously as you can.
How to be an effective Slacktivist
As cathartic and grand as rising up against the oppressive system may sound, resistance and rising up will not create permanent changes to society. The lasting change to the fabric of how we deal with ourselves and each other involves much subtler and less glamorous work. Things like, changing the ways we meet our needs, cultivating new systems for meeting our needs, changing the way we relate to ourselves and each other, minute by minute, day by day.
One of the most appalling features of our current system is that it makes us complicit in our own oppression, exploitation and disempowerment. The options we have available seem to force us into giving our time, energy and money to places that exploit us, abuse us, degrade us, alienate us, and disempower us.
We’re told all kinds of solutions to this pattern, from protesting in the hopes that someone hears us, to voting for a slightly better candidate who still won’t give us the world we want. We tend to focus on particular issues, on political candidates, and on resisting the bad. We don’t focus on building the good.
Politicians who take campaign donations from real estate lobbyists will never push through universal rent control or curtail harmful gentrification. Politicians who take campaign donations from fossil fuel lobbyists will never push through sweeping energy reforms. Politicians who can get elected without the support of you and your neighbors will never be accountable to you and your neighbors. The entire system is broken, and the world will not change until there is something for it to change into.
But you don’t need politicians. You can vote for them or donate to them or campaign for them, but they aren’t the best bang for your buck either.
The most effective way you can create a better world is by investing your time, energy, action and money in building or supporting alternatives to society’s dominant exploitative, oppressive institutions. Make regular, habitual changes to your day-to-day life that bring power back to you and your community.
Invest in alternatives.
How do you spend your time, your energy, and your money? What businesses do you buy from? What institutions do you rely on? What services do you use?
I know what you’re thinking. Is this another one of those trite “Stop using plastic straws to save the whales” kind of pitches? In a way, yes. But bear with me.
Yes, I know the response. “71% of CO2 emissions come from only 100 companies. I can drive a Tesla all I want, it doesn’t make a dent. My personal choices are moot, the system disempowers us, and that’s the problem.”
Exactly. That is the problem. But the solution is not to forego personal choice; that’s just a recipe for inaction and further disempowerment. The solution is to destroy the system’s power by building an alternative.
Invest in your own power.
How does the current system disempower you? What alternatives exist? What options exist that keep decision-making power in your community?
Whether or not you’re explicitly anti-capitalist, our current capitalist system has become an oligopoly, and oligopolies benefit no one. The vast majority of news broadcasting is concentrated in just a few channels. The vast majority of financial transactions are handled by a few banks. The vast majority of online social interactions happen on just a few platforms. And you are not in charge of them.
Fortunately, in many places, there are alternatives. Local, independent media. Local credit unions. Local farms and grocery stores. Community solar farms are springing up all across the country as an alternative to utilities. Community land trusts that get land and housing out of the speculative market and put control over it back into communities.
- Take stock of the where you invest your time, energy and money.
- Spend your time and energy researching alternatives that put power back in the hands of you and your community.
- Choose ones that make sense for you.
- Invest your time, energy and money in those alternatives.
For instance, do you buy your produce at a chain grocery store? Could you switch to a CSA or cooperative local farm, or join a community garden, or plant a garden if you have the space and time to tend it? What options exist, and what makes sense for you?
Do you bank with Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi? Could you switch to a local credit union? What options exist, and what makes sense for you?
Do you regularly tell other people what they should do? Could you switch to asking them what they need, telling them what you need, and offering to help? What options exist, and what makes sense for you?
Do you own a business that employs workers? Could you transition that business to a worker-owned cooperative?
Do you work for a business? Could you unionize your coworkers?
What do you need? What needs of yours could be met in a different way? What’s possible for your situation?
This will take research, questioning, and creative thinking. Go slow, and be honest with yourself about what’s possible for your situation. Just for the hell of it, I’ve turned it into a challenge:
Take The Challenge
- Every week, for a full year, pick one thing in your life you could do in a different way.
This could be product you’re buying, place you’re shopping, service you’re using, way you’re interacting with people, thought pattern you’re stuck in, anything. If it helps, start with something that’s been bugging you.
- Write that thing down.
- Write down what need you’re meeting with this thing.
- Research alternative ways to meet this need that put power back into the hands of you and your community.
Maybe there’s another organization, company, product, place, strategy, tactic. Maybe the need can’t be met through just one alternative, but requires a few working together.
- Find an alternative that’s possible for you, and actually make the switch.
One thing, every week, for a year.
I’ll post an example from my own life at the end.
The ways you spend your time, energy, action and money are how you put yourself into the world. What are you giving to the world? How can you give to the world in such a way that transforms it into the world you want it to be?
What matters is being conscious, deliberate and aware of your choices, and being honest with yourself about what you can change.
To change the world, change your world.
The best opportunities for world-changing action arise every day, in the regular moments of our regular lives. When we talk about changing the world, what we’re really talking about is changing the regular moments of our regular lives. That’s what makes up the world, after all.
I hate Donald Trump too, but to be frank, Trump has far less impact on my day-to-day life than my landlord does.
Focusing our precious time, energy, action, money, and attention on the problems that aren’t in our power to change just further disempowers us and perpetuates a system in which we don’t have the power to change our lives.
Focus on your own life. Even the most resounding defeat of our exploitative systems will prove a waste of time if we have nothing but the same old exploitative systems to fill the void up again. Fortunately, countless alternatives exist and more are springing up every day. They may take time, research and effort to uncover, and further investment of energy, time and money to make fully viable, but the seeds have already been planted.
Start watering them.
My task for the week of June 9th, 2019:
For the past couple of years, I’ve been banking with Chase. I shit you not. It made some kind of sense at the time, I think. I was living internationally and traveling a lot, there was a Chase down the street from my mom’s house when I was back in the U.S. and needed to set up a new account, it was convenient… Okay, mostly, it was convenient. I was too stressed with other stuff to care, and I just never got around to changing it once I got back to the country.
It’s really bugging me. I’m not going to waste any further energy shaming myself for this decision. There is nothing I can do now to change the fact that I banked with Chase in the past. What I can do now is change what I do now. That’s how Now works.
So, I’m switching to a local credit union. Or a local bank. I actually don’t know the difference, or if there is one. I’m going to learn about that. I don’t know anything about banking, but I’m taking the time to learn, research, and find a better option.
I’m spending the next couple of days researching alternatives, seeing what options exist, and weighing them based on the factors that matter to me. By the end of this week, I’ll open a new account with the best possible option and transfer over all of my money.
Smell ya later, Chase.