Slacktivist vs Activist: Which One Are You?

Often, we slacktivists read from slacktivists blogs and posts written by slacktivists who complain about politics… and it can get kind of stale. We’re all posting and tweeting about the same thing, but no one actually does something about the problem. It becomes this cluster of similar content that does not get results. It’s hard to stay inspired, too. But what is “slacktivism?” It is a combination of the words “slacker” and “activism.” The word is used to describe people who “support” an issue or social cause through online posts or other methods that have little effect besides giving the person self-satisfaction. There are many individuals and groups that can help us get out of this cluster: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Stephanie Syjuco. From the 1960s to the present, these people have fought back against the traditions and tried to break the stereotypes through nonviolent mediums.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, was an organization that focused on bringing equality to the world. It was founded on April 1960 by Ella Baker at a student meeting at Shaw University in Greensboro, North Carolina. The SNCC protested by having sit-ins at restaurants and publicizing their activities. They played a huge role in the Civil Rights Movement. They put themselves at risk as Freedom Riders, and played significant roles in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedoms. In addition, they had a lot of propaganda that advocated peace. Among all these works, one poster stood out the most to me: Danny Lyon’s “Come Let us Build a New World Together.”

The SNCC’s poster “Come Let us Build a New World Together” that shows 3 figures with their heads bowed down.

I first came across this photo during my lecture in L&S 25 Thinking Through Arts & Design: California Countercultures class at the University of California, Berkeley. Leigh Raiford, our guest speaker, presented on Civil Rights Movement Photography. The lecture contained countless slides with photographs in them from the SNCC and the Black Panther Party, but most of them just flew by head. Until this one came up.

This photo stood out to me because it was not like any other “black power” photo I have seen. The black and white poster shows three figures (two men and one girl) with their heads bowed down. It was obvious that this picture was of a protest. But the people pictured do not have aggressive body language. They are on their knees, with their heads bowed down, as if in a prayer. Their inclined heads also show a sign of respect. Furthermore, everyone is young, which supports the SNCC’s belief that the youth control the future.The SNCC used propaganda that was much different than the Black Panther Party, a militant self-defense group that watched and challenged police brutality. The Black Panther Party used striking figures laden with weapons in their posters. They left me feeling a sort of anger and fear that made me feel like change would be forced.

Posters from the Black Panther Party that show women holding weapons.

What inspired me in this lecture was the story about the girl in the center of the picture. Apparently, after this photograph was taken, a white man threatened to “mow down the protesters” with his truck. Everyone got out of the white man’s way except for this little girl, who stood her ground until the truck hit her and sent her to the hospital.

This girl gave so much more meaning to this photo. It shows that anyone can make a difference. The bold statement “COME LET US BUILD A NEW WORLD TOGETHER” was an open invitation and a call for action to the world. I feel like this way of calling for a change is much more effective than being aggressive.

More currently, Stephanie Syjuco has also been making a statement her own way through art. She is an Oakland-based artist and Assistant Professor in Sculpture at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work involves creating large-scale spectacles of collected cultural objects and temporary installations that involve the public’s participation. An example of this is her Counterfeit Crochet Project that she launched back in 2006. The basis of this project comes from middle class men and women around the the world crocheting their favorite designer handbags and sending snapshots of them to Syjuco. Some works include crocheted Prada, Chanel, and Gucci bags. The project has since gained a lot of followers and grown its fan base.

Counterfeit Crochet Project: where crocheters create their own versions of designer handbags.

This project is a “Critique of a Political Economy” as stated on Syjuco’s website. It is an attempt to show that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on something when you can make your own. The point of using the method of crocheting, a humble medium, on the handbags is to show that the value doesn’t come in the materials but the handwork behind it. Syjuco wants to see how this project parallels contemporary manufacturing and distribution channels. It is identical to outsourcing labor, but adds a chaotic level of creativity. Critics claimed this project to be encouraging the illegal replication of another company’s products. In fact, the fashion industry giant Louis Vuitton mailed Stephanie a letter asking her to stop this project. They claimed that it was encouraging people to not buy their products anymore. While counterfeiting is illegal, I personally do not see Stephanie’s project as a threat to the fashion giant’s profits. There is an obvious difference between the authentic LV handbags and the counterfeit ones. Furthermore, Syjuco never puts the handbags up for sale. The Counterfeit Crochet Project helps spread Syjuco’s beliefs to the public, and gets them to influence others too.

Money Factory: participants cut and glue stacks of fake Taiwanese bills.

Another example is Money Factory. In this project, participants are invited to sit together and cut stacks of fake Taiwanese bills. What they create is the money they make, and they can then “spend” this money on souvenir cards that represent different goals in life such as buying a car or house. This art creates a space where visitors can discuss whether or not this is a viable economic system. This project gets people thinking about their own situation, and if they agree with what is going on in their economy.

Stephanie Syjuco and her banner that she created at her 100 Days Action workshop.

Finally, Stephanie Syjuco was invited to participate in 100 Days Action against Trump by hosting an open-source banner making workshop. 100 Days Action was proposed by artists and activists as a response to Trump’s 100 Day Plan, which entails the actions he wants to take immediately after he is sworn in. Participants in Syjuco’s workshop learned how to make customized banners, and even mentioned that they were going to use them in Women’s Marches and other protests across the country! I really enjoy the aspect of inspiring people to fight for their beliefs and giving them the resources and skills to do it!

As a student who would much rather stay in bed than participate in a protest, I truly admire the tenacity of these people. The SNCC and Stephanie Syjuco have shown me that one individual can make a huge difference. Although these two differ in many ways, what they share is a common goal to actively make a change and to inspire others to do the same. The SNCC was started by college students, and have left an impact that can be seen to this day. The photo “Come Let us Build a New World Together” inspires people to make a change and battle racism peacefully. The courage of the little girl showed me that I can be courageous too. Furthermore, Stephanie Syjuco is influencing others to do better through her passion: art. She stands up against large designer companies such as Louis Vuitton through her Counterfeit Crochet Project. In addition, she takes an active political stance against Trump by participating in 100 Days Action. Let’s put an end to slacktivism, and start standing up for what we believe in. If one person can make such an impact to the people, how much can do we if we all work together?