What a field day for the heat, thousands of people in the streets.
Singin’ songs and carryin’ signs, mostly sayin’ hooray for our side.
(Buffalo Springfield, 1969)
The traditional activist role is experiencing growing pains. We’re not just on campus shouting slogans and waving signs, we’re deeply involved in actual change…at least trying to get involved. Therein lies the rub for many of us, especially when it comes to social media.
- I know I can make a difference, but how and where the heck do I start?
- These kids won’t let me play—they’re so much smarter…and better…than me.
- I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do…so I’ll leave it up to you. (Lee)
I’ve said all those, a lot. And a whole lot of other wannabe’s feel the same. We are needed. It takes numbers to make a difference so any cause must attract a critical mass of do-er activists. More activists buy in more fully when there is a clear opportunity to channel their good intentions and energy. It’s human nature, and classic engagement theory: I know that what I’m doing matters, I’m making a difference. I’m earning my way.
With social media specifically, stuff is in the way of regular people getting engaged at a meaningful level. Here are a few examples of barriers, please add to or refute these observations
(first, before I forget again…thanks to The Godfatha for the post title and really righteous song)
The real barriers to social media-based activism are not in the stuff that activists are trying to accomplish but in the human interactions and organizational issues encountered along the way. We can be our own worst enemy. I’m a student of organizational effectiveness, from a group dynamics / human behavior angle. Not a credentialed expert, just studied and lived it. There’s a lot of research and lots of data that indicates if you don’t tend to people issues—navigate the human complexities and needs—you won’t even come close to maximizing task effectiveness and results. It’s the same obsession with process over people in the work world. Task-first applies to social media groups too.
But what are we doing?
Dunno… git-r-done, git-r-done.
Social media is addictive, both an upper and a downer. There’s great food for thought for anything you want to learn more about, but it can be maddening trying to find a clear path toward resolution. All that deep thinking has you hooked and it’s impossible to find a way out. It’s the nature of the medium more than anything. Information–sharing and do-er groups can both be extremely high-traffic, so much so that excellent input is lost in the shuffle. Serious attention deficits are common as the group’s focus moves on to the next hot topic mid-conversation.
Social media has brought together an overabundance of conceptuals, inventers, deep thinkers–a whole lot more than builders and grunt labor. Broadly, there are two types of social media activist groups: (1) information and idea-sharing sites, usually heavily populated with intellectually engaged people who are not overly committed to action-oriented involvement. Highly educated experts can be incredibly possessive of their brain babies. Then there are (2) doing groups which is where serious activists congregate, bringing their strong emotions and passionate commitment. Alpha members may be more common than in information-sharing sites. In a nutshell, that means do-er groups, with exceptions, can get really nutty and prone to power struggles.
It’s rare for thinking and doing to come together on one site. Please share if you’ve found exceptions. While it’s a real rush cruising at 50,000 feet most activists need to touch down now and then and stretch their legs. Information-sharing groups just aren’t geared up to promote action planning and manage the related human issues. Even with a proliferation of contributors’ profound revelations, there’s rarely a clear path to action. But that’s the nature of the media to a large extent.
It’s hard for a non-expert nobody to crack the inner circle. Most of my wannabe activist friends and I grass roots folks—no special initials or formal titles before or after our names. It’s tough to get accepted, especially when it comes to well-established, heavily fortified causes. Castle drawbridges are not lowered for just any commoner, only petty barons at minimum from loyal and subservient fiefdoms are allowed in. Serfs can’t scale the castle walls, the moats are teeming with gators to boot.
To hold together in cyberspace, social media groups require a clear, compelling narrative that is shared among community members. Narrative provides stickiness, purpose, focus, motivation, and group identity both internally and for the rest of the world. Narrative is vital to the sustainability of teams, movements, organizations, nations, societies. A group may have a narrative, at least in words. But when it comes to staying on message, it’s pretty much like herding cats. Most sites have “what-is” statements in their About section but not the compelling, clear call-to-action narrative do-ers need.
Social media activism is a grand new experiment and we’re just not too good at it yet. We’re better suited to sitting cross-legged around a campfire and talking things out before decisions are made. But we outgrew tribal norms and structures long ago, in my opinion not necessarily a good thing. Along comes the internet, the 21st century version of passing the pipe around the campfire—incredible potential power, but largely misdirected so far. We’re still small bands of nomad hunter-gatherers.
The bigger the group the more structure and rules evolve, inviting power struggles, special interests and other slimy political stuff. Numbers are needed but there can be weakness in numbers (chaos and anarchy?) too, frustrating to anyone driven to make a meaningful contribution toward real action. And alpha activists can become that which they abhor…the establishment.
Following are a few specific examples of think tank goldmines with incredible insights that too often lead to nothing. No slam-these sites are among my favorite hang-outs.
Peter Gray’s regular columns in Psychology Today explore my #1 avocation–alternative education and social / education reform. Gray has an impressive following of well-educated, responsive and vocal readers. He will sometimes write an article in response when a hot topic / recurring theme surfaces with readers. But while Gray’s articles and the comments are plentiful and jammed with insights, to what end?
But wait! Maybe an exception to the Talkin’ Loud, Sayin’ Nuttin syndrome? The Alliance for Self-Directed Education is a favorite meeting place for self-directed education thinkers including Gray followers. And there are apparently outlets for do-ers too:
The Alliance for Self-Directed Education is a grassroots, nonprofit organization devoted to advancing the SDE movement…We’re creating a world where Self-Directed Education is a normal, effective, and accessible educational path that any young person can choose.
As a member of the Alliance, you’ll have access to a vibrant online community and real-life local connections, too. You’ll also have opportunities to interact with well-known SDE visionaries through a variety of live events. Best of all, you’ll be able to make a difference by participating in our SDE advocacy projects — or starting your own projects with support from the member community.
My vision is to play even a small role in an action-triggering initiative that leverages the rich outpouring of expertise and passion out there. The Alliance may be headed down that road, must learn more.
The Great Transition Initiative is a thought incubator that explores saving the world from humanity—pretty big stuff. Officially:
The Great Transition Initiative is an online forum of ideas and an international network for the critical exploration of concepts, strategies, and visions for a transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and a resilient biosphere. By enhancing scholarly discourse and public awareness of possibilities arising from converging social, economic, and environmental crises, and by fostering a broad network of thinkers and doers, it aims to contribute to a new praxis for global transformation.
GTI publishes a pretty elite group of writers, it’s a bountiful hunting ground for thinkers. While “fostering a broad network of thinkers and do-ers” is in the “About” statement I haven’t found a visible linkage that promotes organized action. And while I’d love to get involved in the think tank it’s a select group and a grass roots everyman guy like me can’t expect my club application to be accepted. At least that’s the way it appears…am I wrong?
The Greater Good Science Center and Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning are other expert academic sites I like to frequent. Both sites espouse the importance of systemic inclusiveness in implementing social-emotional and other cutting edge learning. Yet the research, models and highly informative articles have decidedly education-only content. Academic silos crafted and guarded by highly credentialed educators, targeted at expert peers. What’s missing: any kind of benchmarking or involvement from key stakeholder puzzle pieces—grassroots citizens, public and private sectors. And do-ers. No linkage to do-ing…..
There is all kinds of how-to advice in the GGSC and CASEL articles and material. But contributing to the dialogue, adding to the body of knowledge or sharing practices at any meaningful level appears to be experts-only. Can’t find the doorway.
In Defense Of…
Social media sites attract mega traffic. Site owners must manage huge amounts of input, especially in an open contribution format. Site managers must right-sized purpose, scope and objectives / deliverables and stay focused on what they can realistically deliver. Understandable.
So the dilemma remains: HOW can the grass roots make a contribution? And especially…HOW can the great concepts and ideas be put into meaningful action? Maybe the doors are out there and I’m looking in the wrong places. But I’m here to tell you, they’re way too dadgum hard to find.
Priority What-if #1: what if there was a collaborative central meeting place for do-er’s to develop and champion initiatives for any number of worthy topics? Activists’ playgrounds partnered with the appropriate think tanks that provide insights and focus with access to top-rate relevant input. Thinker sites send do-er activists to the action planning site, do-ers refer thinkers to their conceptual counterpart. The burden of supporting action planning and dealing with do-er activists stays off think tanks’ plates, and vice-versa. Better focus and powerful synergy if the collaboration is truly two-way and well-managed.
So much for the “what-if” for now. What are your observations? Am I missing something? What do you think would help grow do-er activists’ opportunities be actually become active in a meaningful way?
I smell a Part Two with a whole lot more “what” and “how”. Sneak Peek: there’s a tricycle involved. Needs some thought. Yathink? A little help?