You see all the misfortune and inequality in the world, and you want to do something about it. But, what do you do? Some people run for office, some volunteer at soup kitchens and hospitals and some people champion a cause by discussing, protesting, holding demonstrations and anything else that they think will help. These people are activists. And while activism is the reason many of us have the rights we do today, it isn’t perfect. Sometimes, activists spend so much time trying to better the lives of the people around them that they forget to take a look at themselves and how they are doing it.
While activists put together a lot of great events that push their cause forward, sometimes they go too far. I call it “nitpick activism.” Basically, something happens that is minor, but important, and people disprove. This could be something like a media source not using the preferred term of a specific group of people, or making jokes that could be potentially triggering for people. Some activists respond by beating the issue into the ground and then beating it more.
Not all activists do this. There’s plenty of people who will handle it by going to the right people, explaining their point of view and requesting it not happen again. A reasonable response, to say the least. However, all too often, people take things too far.
A good example of this is when radio show host Rush Limbaugh insulted Sandra Fluke on his show because she had gone before Congress to talk about birth control access. The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) came out in full support for Ms. Fluke. There are laws against slander that, with FMF’s help, Fluke could have sued if she wanted. Instead, FMF launched a campaign to get Mr. Limbaugh to censor how he speaks about women by pressuring his advertisers. At least 45 adverts pulled from his show.
This is what I’m talking about. Yes, what Limbaugh said was wrong, and yes, it’s good people responded in support for Sandra, but this all happened in the beginning of last year and was pushed for many months afterward. What could have been a slander lawsuit turned into a campaign to censor someone that lasted months after the actual comments were made.
As the new president of Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, it’s important to me as an activist in a leadership role to look at what effects our organization’s actions have on an issue. Nitpick activism doesn’t really help anyone. It might empower the people involved, but what else does it do? Sure, it annoys and pushes people outside of the movement, but it also takes time away from the larger, more pressing issues like race and gender inequality. Let’s do more about that, and less about what comments were made in a newspaper or radio show.
By Meghan Beatty