What I find most disappointing, irritating, and dismissive about Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted is that it sets the activism bar so high. He’s dismissive of any form of activism except “high-risk activism”: “Activism that challenges the status quo—that attacks deeply rooted problems—is not for the faint of heart.” And since “weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism”, he’s dismissive of such ties as well.
Gladwell dismisses (or at least denigrates) less risky forms of activism and the weak ties that can enable it. Weak ties (and the social media that supports and enables them) can lead to low-risk activism (say a donation to the Haiti relief fund, or voting for one candidate instead of another) or even medium-risk activism (submitting something to wiki-leaks).
Why in the world shouldn’t we celebrate and encourage such lower-risk activism? And it’s not just social media activities that fail the “high risk” test. Most marches and demonstrations in Washington are pretty low risk, so are they unworthy of our efforts? Are silent vigils? Are fund raising events like “walks for <fill in the blank>”?
Gladwell comes off as implying that only high-risk activism makes a difference and that any other form of activism is some sort of cop-out: “It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.” So if I’m not willing to risk my life in my activism, I shouldn’t even bother? Or I shouldn’t call it activism?
Sorry. I don’t buy it. I think every little bit helps change the world. Small is beautiful…even small change.
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