Activism from home: Is it worth it? – Labour Article
Even though we have had to stay indoors for months, the world’s problems haven’t slowed down. Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ rights, the environment, the Yemen Crisis and political accountability are just some of the issues that need to be addressed.
Protests have taken place and have sent a powerful message to our government and society. However, many have felt unable to partake in them for fears of further spreading coronavirus. I, for instance, am shielding and so have had to try and find other ways to show my support for these causes. In this article, I am going to explore the different ways to be politically engaged in activism during a pandemic and assess their effectiveness.
Perhaps the easiest way to show one’s support for a cause is to sign a petition. It is free, takes mere moments to complete and can be used for any topic. In the last few months, I have signed countless petitions on a broad range of issues. They are often promoted under popular tweets and shared by friends on Facebook. It would feel wrong if I were to just scroll past them.
However, do they actually achieve anything past a brief moment of satisfaction that I have done something vaguely non-selfish? Cristina Leston-Bandeira has studied the effectiveness of UK petitions. She has concluded that they are useful for creating more awareness about an issue, especially when a petition gains more traction. However, only around 5% of petitions submitted to the UK government result in measurable change and action from the government. Therefore, petitions should be part of the process of activism, especially during lockdown, as they are a way to make our voices heard without going outside. But, they cannot be the only thing done if you actually want to make a difference.
Writing, or emailing, people in positions of power is another free tactic to raise awareness for a cause. I have anecdotal evidence that in the right circumstances this can make a difference. For instance, during the Dominic Cummings debacle, I wrote to my local MP. He is in a very safe constituency for the Conservatives and nearly always toes the party line. His response to those constituents who had voiced concern over Dominic Cummings was to criticise him and the government.
It was a measured response that deflected some blame by highlighting Labour and SNP politicians who had also broken lockdown rules. Nevertheless, for an MP with his record to openly criticise the government feels like something was achieved. It was not groundbreaking but it did make a difference. Therefore, writing to your local MP, especially during lockdown, is a good way to be active from home. Although it may not work every time.
Of course, money can also make a difference. It is not an option for everyone, especially in these trying times, but it is still effective. This applies to not only donating to charities but also supporting socially responsible brands who have shown support for movements. You can also buy materials to educate yourself on certain issues. Supporting socially responsible brands can be an easier option for many people. It can also have longer-lasting effects especially when it comes to the environment, for example. Financial pressure in this way can lead to some change.
Activism from home, at least the examples I have written about here, may seem a little futile. What real, quantifiable change have any of my examples brought about? Sadly, practically nothing. Individually, I think most people can do very little. However, I do believe that this all adds up in some way. Eventually, if enough people do something, then change can happen.
During lockdown, what we can do to make a difference is even more limited than normal. That doesn’t mean we should stop doing it. Building on this, I think people should understand that it is not only pressuring the government in power that can bring about change, but that voting will also help. We need more involvement and engagement in elections to make a difference. Until then, do what you can to show support and to try and make a difference.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Freya Jhugroo
Point of Information
Innovation and adaptation – a Conservative response
Expressing one’s opinions is one of the vital organs of a functioning democracy. However, the people must adapt during these difficult circumstances which is why I am surprised e-petitions have not become more prominent. The UK government have made these extremely accessible to the public by stating that petitions with over 10,000 signatures will receive a response by the government and those with over 100,000 signatures will be considered for debate in parliament.
A petition to “scrap the tampon tax” was started in 2015 by Laura Coryton. It gained media attention and the petition got over 320,000 signatures. That being said, for a petition to become successful it has to persuade MPs and other important individuals and companies to support it. I sincerely believe petitions can make a difference.
Writing to your MP is also a great way to question government action and to raise important points of debate. I have brought up the progress of Brexit several times with my local MP. More notably, Marcus Rashford penned an open letter to MPs demanding the government to make a U-turn about not providing school meal vouchers during the summer holidays. Sometimes stature and prominence do make a difference with writing to MPs. However, I have found that MPs are very responsive and concise when it comes to taking a look at national and constituency issues.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski
A stepping stone, but online activism can’t replace physical protesting – a Liberal response
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Freya to Point of Information. She has written a great first article.
In this time of lockdown restrictions, uncertainty and fear, physical activism has become very hard. These problems are also exacerbated for people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly.
It is because of this that I agree with many of the points that Freya has raised regarding alternative methods of activism, such as activism from home. A perfect example of a movement that has benefitted from activism from home is Black Lives Matter. Petitions and donation pages have sprung up everywhere on social media. From Twitter threads to Instagram stories, even the TikTok “for you” page is getting on the act; (if you know, you know).
One donation page that has caught the eyes of people on social media has been the Minnesota Bail Fund. They saw a record $30 million raised after protests erupted in Minneapolis because of the murder of George Floyd. This only happened because social media platforms have the power to spread the link to the donation page quickly.
However, most of the success in bringing Officer Derek Chauvin into custody and charging him with murder was, in fact, a result of the nationwide physical protests. These protests have shaken America to its core. They forced the authorities to take action and charge Chauvin with murder.
This is in contrast to online activism which, sadly, can be easily brushed off as just a trend. Granted it would create some civil discourse for a few days. But before it picks up real momentum, people switch their attention to the next “controversy”. That is until the next Black man dies at the hands of the police. And the cycle just keeps repeating.
Petitions and pictures of black squares on Instagram help create massive awareness about the issue of racism. However, physical protesting and showing numbers on the streets to create peaceful civil disobedience is still the only effective way to create actual, long-lasting change. Especially at a time when change is needed more than ever.
Written by Liberal Writer, Imran Mydin
Hello, I’m Freya. I am going into my third year at Exeter, studying International Relations and Spanish. My main areas of interest are the environment, societal injustices and foreign affairs.
I am Max Jablonowski, a second year student studying French and Politics at the University of Exeter, and I am about to go on my year abroad to Paris to complete two internships. I was Academic Events Manager of the Politics Society in Exeter and I was privileged enough to organize events such as Question Time, co-host the 2019 General Election Hustings with MWEXE and host the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire MP, the current Minister of State for Security.
I am in my third year of studying Economics and Finance at Heriot-Watt University. I have had an avid interest in politics since I was child, and this was partly due to my father’s interest in it.