Even I, who have not watched television since the 2008 Olympics, have seen those “easy button” commercials. And my husband and I joke about how Amazon.com makes it so easy to order (just 1-click! great!) that we end up buying way more than we really needed (and paying more; we’ll do just about anything to get stuff delivered).
We know that there are two ways to shape behavior: the hard way, which requires motivating people to do something different, even something that they may not really want to do; and the ‘easy’ way, which relies instead on changing the context in which behavior happens, so that we reset the default.
I still think that there’s a lot that we can do to make it as easy as possible for people to advocate, and I still think that’s a fundamentally good idea. There are enough barriers to action naturally that we need to make sure that we’re not constructing any more.
But, the more that I think about it, the more convinced I am that, unfortunately, we just can’t make activism too easy.
If our targets–those decision-makers we want to listen to us and to our concerns–know that it’s that easy, I worry that our impact will be sorely diluted. I mean, the movements that have really changed societies (and, in the process, laws) have required far more than a click from people. And that has been precisely their power, the ability to demand much of people who, in the process, discover much about themselves and their leadership.
I don’t know what the tipping point is, certainly, that spot at which advocacy becomes too easy to be very meaningful. And I’m not going to stop thinking about how we need to build cultures within our organizations and our movements that create as many entry points as possible, that provide people with activism mentors, and that integrate advocacy into people’s lives to the greatest extent possible. To do otherwise is to pretend that “real” advocates will do anything, against any odds, and that kind of martyr complex doesn’t do anyone any favors.
But I’m also not going to spend a lot of time figuring out how to “amazon” our advocacy efforts, how to strip them down to such a low threshold of engagement that we are asking very little of those we want to move.
Because, really, are we moving them much, in the ‘1-click’ school of activism?
I get it, I do, that building activist structures is probably easier than helping people connect meaningfully with a cause, and with each other, and overcoming the powerful inertia built into our psyche and our culture in order to bring people together for transformation.
I guess I’m just concluding that our world is a little different than buying books (and loaf pans and tape refills and everything else my husband finds for us on Amazon). Here, there has to be some sacrifice, because the advocacy is a signal to those in power of what we’re willing to expend to address the problems that motivate our action.
And that doesn’t come with free shipping.