Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Clicktavism - The Future or a Dead End?

(written in reponse to a comment piece Clicktivism is ruining leftist activism'’ first posted on Comment is Free.While the article references campaigns of one political persuasion, this response is a-political onn the left-right spectrum). 

To serve the present age,
my calling to fulfill;
O may it all my powers engage
to do my Master's will!  (Charles Wesley)

Open your email inbox and, if it’s anything like mine, there will be a mix of personal and campaigning emails.  These days it appears organisations are ‘click happy’ and find it easier to engage their supporters through emails rather than more traditional forms of campaigning, such as town-hall meetings, face-to-face lobbying and hand-signed petitions.   Micah White recently argued that this alteration into ‘clicktavists’ has made campaigning a benign activity that delivers little yet meets key marketing requirements.   Reading this I was struck by a simple question ‘Does it matter that these days campaigns fill inboxes and not town halls’?

My outlook on campaigning has been heavily shaped by what is called the ‘organising’ approach.  This method, shaped in America (one of its most high profile community organisers was President Obama) has been transported over to the UK.  It views campaigning as following 12 key principles, and is a way of advancing a cause by demonstrating power, personalising the message and affirming the people (both activists and policy makers) when policy advances are made.   To put this into context, it would be an educated guess that the organising approach, adopted by the Citizens for Sanctuary campaign, was key to delivering the pledge to end the detention of children, just as it continues to be the mechanism through which civil society helps deliver promises of payment of the living wage to a wide range of people in London.  This works because community organisations use face-to-face contact.  The discussions and links made mean, when required, that contacts and people can be called on and rooms filled at a moment’s notice.  Therefore on this one point alone the argument against clicktavism stands firm.  Online campaigns cannot guarantee follow through – instead you can get a petition of a million signatures but it is more difficult to be firm that you can then deliver people to the face--to-face lobby. It is definitely easier to click a button and press send, than it is to write a letter and post it.  This softer interaction with campaigns has already upset an MP but what is not clear is what happens when a power source calls the ‘bluff’ of an online community.

However, what the comment piece misses is a simple truth.  Effective campaigns do demonstrate power, give praise and personalise – but they do so using the correct medium.  Look at recent campaign successes and you see that email and online campaigns are a key part.

Greenpeace have scored to clear victories – with online campaigns directed as Nestle and Apple Computers.  The latter was successful because the online community are Apple’s key audience, the former was in part successful because Nestle demonstrated, at the time, a very negative approach to the online campaign which  won more support for the campaign (I suspect) because it insulted the community not just the online message.

As the opening hymn demonstrated, I believe that active Christians must look at the current age and use all our powers to fulfil our calling to walk humbly, act justly and love mercy.  Campaign tools that have worked in the past can deliver in the future, but we cannot just dismiss new campaign tools as they emerge and are tried and tested.   We can only speak to the world of today if we use the communication tools of today.