Sunday, February 12, 2017

Activism v. Bullying: Where's the line? #bethechange #LGBTQ

Have you noticed it's increasingly difficult to tell the online activists from the bullies? People on both sides of every issue are screaming and hurling threats, driven by anger and a sense of injustice. The result is a massive stinging swarm.

The reason it's hard to tell the difference is because that's not activism. 

That swarm is a side effect of the tug-o'-war between progress and the comforting illusion of 'the good old days.' Every time something like this happens (at least once a generation), you get riots and death threats and screeching, leading to a backlash of counter riots and death threats and screeching. The problem is, none of that creates change and change is what activism is about.

For those of you just getting started, I'd like to offer a few simple tips to help you identify the line where advocating for a better world becomes a pointless tantrum.

Keep it positive. You're fighting for a cause, whatever that might be. The moment your focus shifts from standing up for something to standing against the other guy, you're over the line. 

POTUS is a divisive character. You either agree with his opinions, or you loathe him. For a few weeks, there was a patch of middle ground inhabited by those who wanted to see if an actual human being emerged from under the hateful campaign rhetoric. To no one's surprise, it didn't. Hair dye and a dozen different kinds of ignorance. That's all there is to this guy.

It can be tempting to turn your passion for a cause into an anti-POTUS campaign, but the minute you do, your crusade mutates into something ugly. Follow that a few steps down the path, and you end up with a life devoted to hatred. We can all name several groups like that and, let's be honest. That's not much of a life.

Focus on what you're fighting FOR not who you're fighting against.

That brings us to the second point...

Don't make it personal. There's a difference between calling out the new administration on their lies and harmful policies and engaging in an online cat fight. POTUS is a perfect example. His Twitter feed is a non-stop display of what you don't want to do. Name calling isn't activism and engaging in that kind of behavior ruins your credibility as a serious activist. 

Read some of the statements coming from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the ACLU. That's activism! They're as pissed as we are, but they stick to the issue. They make rational, factual statements. Meanwhile, POTUS' camp counters with sniveling and name calling. Who looks more credible when the conversation ends?

That brings me to the final and most important concept...   

Be aware of the consequences. Not everyone will brush off what you say during a rant as inconsequential. Especially when your comments are directed at a public figure. Libel is a real thing (as several people have discovered over the past few years). When you call someone a bigot or homophobe online, you'd better have evidence to back it up. Otherwise, you could be looking at a defamation lawsuit. It happens. Ask Frank Ocean! It may sound silly, but there's nothing laughable about the legal fees it will take to defend yourself.

It's not always easy to keep your cool as an activist. I've lost it more than once. You will, too, but over time you'll learn to recognize that point where the only thing you have left is angry rants. When you reach it, that's the signal to log off and cool off.

Stay tuned for next week's post on what to do when you end up sliding into a meltdown, or worse, burnout.

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