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Jun 11 2013

Blogging Isn’t Activism

Yesterday, I tweeted a link to Miri’s open letter to CFI from Women in Secularism and got this response:

@ @ Anyone know why (other than sexism/misogyny) women being so consistently failed by atheist/secular orgs: CFI, JREF, SCA,..?
@borngeek
A Green

I hazarded a couple of guesses, of the sort that fit in a tweet:

@ @ There's always the fun we-were-not-served, we-did-not-donate, we-are-not-donors, we-are-not-served cycle.
@szvan
Stephanie Zvan
@ @ We are also predominantly online, which old guard considers neither real nor activism.
@szvan
Stephanie Zvan

When I looked at my mentions today, lo, who should appear?

@ @ @ Blogging is much different than activism - being on the 'front lines' and fighting for change in-person
@justinvacula
Justin Vacula
@ @ @ I encourage bloggers to be active with their communities and to make changes beyond the keyboard.
@justinvacula
Justin Vacula

First off, allow me to note the irony of his tweeting that the day after I put up a post containing this:

We’ll know we have gender equity when our qualifications aren’t diminished at every turn. We won’t be referred to as “bloggers” and “commenters” (to name two of the least dismissive and demeaning names flung our way) but as the organization leaders, members, and donors; writers of books and articles; and media personalities that we are. Those of us who are philosophers will be credited as such. Those of us who are scientists will be given the credit that entails in this movement. Those of us who were already seasoned activists when the secular movement was starting to emerge from its infancy–lo, those…several years ago–will be recognized for our expertise. Those of us who are good at arguing will be considered assets rather than inconvenient pains in the ass.

Let’s get one little thing straight right off the bat. I’m the associate president of one of the oldest and largest atheist groups in the United States. I host and interview for one of the very, very few explicitly atheist shows on commercial radio. I’m a backup host for our television program. I wrote an essay for our very well received collection of atheist stories, which is also a fundraiser for the group. I represent us at public events. I guest lecture on religious skepticism at a local community college. If CASH says they’d like me to do something, I’m there. I donate to several atheist organizations. I work for and donate to political campaigns and communicate with these politicians after they’re elected. I’ve been doing volunteer science education and entertainment work since before Vacula was born. This past Saturday, I turned down a position on the Secular Coalition for Minnesota executive committee because I am seriously overbooked with all I do.

You can try to explain meatspace activism to me if the idea really floats your boat, but you’re only going to end up looking like an ignorant, arrogant, mansplaining ass.

Now that we have that out of the way, what exactly about blogging is categorically not activism?

Is it providing a space for communities to form? David Niose said on Saturday at the Secular Coalition meeting that Meetup.com has been one of the best things to happen to the secular movement. It has allowed people to not only see that they are not alone as nonbelievers but also to build supportive social structures and to organize around shared interests. Similar networks build around most blogs that reach a decent size or maintain a specific focus. Whether this happens online or off, it allows people to develop their identity as a nonbeliever. Given that this identity is key to much of our secular activism, how is helping to develop it not important activism?

Is it putting relevant information in front of an interested audience? Activist organizations use newsletters to get information to their members. Some of them even still use paper. They’ve been thrilled that Facebook, email, and–yes–blogs have allowed them to get that information out faster. There’s huge value in knowing what’s happening in the news, whether it’s locally or around the globe. Sometimes bloggers even help to make secular activism become news, as was the case with Jessica Ahlquist’s court fight. Given that we need to know what’s going on in this world we hope to affect with our activism, how is sharing news within the movement not important activism?

Is it promoting events and opportunities for activism? Activist organizations work their butts off to get out this kind of information. They issue action alerts. They use social media and ask others to pass it on. They send out press releases. In fact, many of them send out press releases to bloggers, because we’re already acting as news conduits. Given that a great deal of activism involves getting people to show up, how is spreading the word not important activism?

Is it writing our takes on the questions raised by lack of belief? Some activist organizations run magazines for which they ask people to write about just these questions. Mainstream magazine articles that appear online are passed around as important writing. Books that tackle these questions are lauded, as are their authors. This kind of writing opens a window on our common points of view and our important differences for a world that doesn’t understand nonbelievers very well. It frames discussions about where we go next as a movement or as an increasingly nonreligious society. Given that this kind of writing tackles the how and why and what of our movement and our lives, how is writing on these questions not important activism?

Is it arguing over the priorities of the movement? Activists do this sort of thing all the time. You can’t properly study the history of an activist organization without paying attention to internal disagreements. Those disagreements, and the arguments made on either side, are what direct the course of an activist organization. Disagreements between organizations and between leadership, big donors, and grassroots are what direct the course of a movement. Given that opportunities to influence a movement are critical to maintaining its support, how is arguing over these issues–provided that actual argumentation is what occurs–not important activism?

I suppose it may be possible to blog openly as an atheist in a way that doesn’t amount to activism, but I’m not really sure how you’d do it. At least in the U.S., there are big advantages to simply being a visible nonbeliever. Or perhaps you may feel that your own blogging doesn’t rise to the standard of effective activism. If you think that’s the case, however, maybe you’re better off taking a close look at what you blog rather than claiming everyone else’s blogging isn’t activism just because yours isn’t.

21 comments

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  1. 1
    seraphymcrash

    I expect that if you declared the sky was blue, Vacula would turn up to deny it. He’s probably just working his way down the sexist bingo card, excited for all the times he’s already gotten to shout bingo.

  2. 2
    Shari

    all right. I am bordering on off-topic here, but I can no longer see his name in print without reading ‘jackmonkey’ instead.

    you’ve been at this a long time. your credentials are solid. heh. I even saw your name in wikipedia as associate president of MN Atheists – just wikiesearched you today.

    even if blogging WASNT real activism, are there atheist bloggers who Aren’t real activists for skepticism? I am only familiar with the FT bloggers, and they all seem pretty activist-busy…..

  3. 3
    Hank_Says

    Well, that’s rich. A man whose last bit of “activism” was to attend WIS2 – a conference whose mission and perhaps mere existence he more or less completely disagreed with – and (like a Brave Hero) do nothing but snicker from the back of the room then publicly ridicule its attendees (via someone else’s infantile photoshopping) is lecturing someone else on what activism is (using his usual weapon – a snide, passive-aggressive goddamned tweet).

    What a laughable and embarrassing lack of awareness. What a stalwart Voice for Men.

  4. 4
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Lolwut? I am amazed that you have the patience to respond to such statements. Then again, I find you to be rather amazing in general. Vacula, on the other hand, wouldn’t know a “front line” if it sneaked up and bit him on the ass.

  5. 5
    Stephanie Zvan

    Hankstar, he did a thing with an atheist banner in a town that doesn’t like them sometime around WiS. It might have been more recent than the conference.

  6. 6
    lcforevah

    The more we pay attention to him the more he feels justified. This a boy with no head for nuance, or the back and forth of a real conversation. There has to be a point where he is just ignored.

    Besides, he’s ugly, and therefore I can’t take any of his writing seriously. /snark

  7. 7
    tigtog

    I wonder whether setting up a Documenting the Harassment tumblr for this stuff might be an effective way to keep track of all their bullshit in one place while not giving them undue attention on individual blogs? Multiple users for the tumblr, open to reader submissions and maybe just a regular brief blog update of how many entries have been added to the Tumblr each week?

  8. 8
    Hank_Says

    Thanks Stephanie. But hey – since I personally didn’t hear about it or discern an effect, it probably doesn’t count. I’m assuming that’s the standard he’s applying to “online activists” – why wouldn’t it apply to “real” activists?

  9. 9
    Stephanie Zvan

    tigtog, I wouldn’t object to anyone who felt moved to do that. The problem, as ever, of course, is getting people to look.

    lcforevah, Vacula is more of an indicator than anything at this point. He doesn’t really come up with anything original. He just adds his voice and the little bit of credibility he’s earned through actual activism to the chorus. That means that when he’s saying something (at least the first time or two) there are a bunch of other people somewhere else saying the same thing. So, when he manages something new, it’s sometimes worth commenting on.

  10. 10
    carlie

    I became an atheist because of what I read from atheists on the internet.

    But I guess that wasn’t activism on anyone’s part, eh? Just, um… exposure to the radiation from my computer monitor?

  11. 11
    Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

    Goddammit I was literally going to write this exact post last week but never got around to it. Usually it’s Kate who steals my ideas. :P

    Oh well, I was going to use a slightly different angle, so maybe I’ll write it anyway.

  12. 12
    A. Noyd

    Of course, if blogging isn’t activism, if it’s so ineffective, why are the pit stains so eager to “protect” the movement by getting bloggers to shut up?

  13. 13
    Stephanie Zvan

    Hah! Kate tweeted that she was going to write it tonight but that I’d gotten there first. :)

  14. 14
    Rob

    Stephanie, Miri and Kate all with the same thought! Aaaargh. Clearly a Feminist Hive Mind. Still, I can’t argue with what you’ve said.

  15. 15
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    Devaluing the contributions of bloggers because they’re bloggers? Now where have I seen that before…

    You see, my province (British Columbia) is on the West Coast, and tends to have the leftist reputation the left coast gets. Only thing is, we keep electing right-wingers (okay, it’s a “centre-right” coalition formed in the 1940s to keep the evil socialist CCF out of power, that has turned hiding the fundie right into an art form). Why is this? Well, since the 1950s the two largest papers (the Province and Vancouver Sun) have been jointly owned, and most of the media has been corporate owned. Furthermore — and especially in recent years — there has historically been a revolving door between the Legislature’s press gallery and advisory positions for either the (usually right-wing) government or the rightists’ campaigns. There is one mainstream reporter who is well-respected by most people yet unable to find a reporting job now because he didn’t give the rightists enough deference when in the mainstream media — so now he blogs.

    The impression I get, in short, is that the right and their rich backers want to turn the coast into a retirement community/vacation spot for themselves, and use the rest of the province as a resource farm.

    Now, of course, recently blogs (like the aforementioned blog run by a former mainstream media reporter) have been popping up, both taking the current (far-right) government to task for wrecking the province (at least for anyone who isn’t rich already), and taking the media to task for doing such a wonderful job of papering over the government’s misdeeds that they’ve gotten re-elected three times even though their misdeeds go well (like, humongously and staggeringly) beyond the misdeeds that got our last leftish government turfed out in a rare election where the winning party scored a majority of the popular vote (and because of our fucked up first-past-the-post system this left the leftish party with only two seats in the Legislature). They’ve done such a good job that in this last election, they basically tone-policed the leftish party into alienating their base and losing an election the polls said was in the bag.

    And what do the right-wing politicians, and the media pundits say? “Oh, they’re just bloggers”. Because blogging doesn’t count. Personal experience doesn’t count. We need to be Objective, which means listening to Real Sources who are either Big Names or Trusted Media Outlets, because they would Never Ever Ever Have An Ulterior Motive. That is Simply Not Possible and only a Radical Leftist, or perhaps an Anarchist -scary hand waving- would suggest that.

  16. 16
    Deanna Joy Lyons - Mentioner of Patriarchy

    I believe blogging sure as hell *is* real activism. In the last couple of years the blogging about inclusion of women and minorities in the movement has served to influence my husband and I greatly. We have a podcast where we interview people about their leaving religion stories. At first, we just talked to atheists we knew personally in our area, which turned out to be mostly white men. Due to what I’d been reading on Skepchick, here on FTB, and other places, I said really early on that we have to make sure and include more voices. All we had to do was to pay a bit of attention. Now, I am proud to say that we have a 50/50 balance of women to men and have interviewed minorities of many kinds. We never talked about this much, we just *do it* thanks to the activism of others.

    I’m certain we are not the only ones influenced by these pieces.

  17. 17
    embertine

    It’s no good, I want to be objective and assess his words on their merits, but I simply cannot take anything seriously when it comes from someone who gives himself the title of “Brave Hero” entirely without irony.

  18. 18
    Kevin

    …but you’re only going to end up looking like an ignorant, arrogant, mansplaining ass.

    Well, at this point I think it might be appropriate to point out that he doesn’t “look like” an ignorant, arrogant, mansplaining ass. He is an ignorant, arrogant, mansplaining ass.

    He’d have to work hard for the next 30 years at being the opposite of an ignorant, arrogant, mansplaining ass in order to just reach the surface of the hole he’s dug for himself.

  19. 19
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Embertine:
    I know what you mean. I was thinking about that ridiculous self applied label and wondering what he’d done that was so brave (specific to the rifts in the community).

    Strangely enough, perhaps that title could be applied to him (not by him) by virtue of being a public atheist. I think it takes a certain bravery in many places of the world to be an out atheist.
    But heroic? Whether before the rifts or after, I fail to see how that label applies at all.

  20. 20
    smhll

    Eureka! I have reversed-engineered the logic of his argument.

    To wit: The internet is for porn and frivolity. Writing that doesn’t kill trees doesn’t actually make a sound.

  21. 21
    rrede

    longtime lurker and occasional commenter at FTB (not sure if I’ve commented here or not–it’s been a touch couple of years–but your blog is one of the first ones I check!–in part because of sf overlap).

    The feminist atheist bloggers are a lifeline–I wish I could do more to support you all.

    I am a queer woman. I live in rural Texas and teach at a Very Small University. I adore many of my students who are first-generation in college, struggling with debt, and family care, and fulltime jobs, trying to get an education.

    But….some of my students (and colleagues) often say and do sexist, homophobic, and racist things (on a spectrum–the most extreme over the past 20 years were the three students who did not see any problem with telling me they or a close family member was a the KKK member!).

    I advise the LGBT (and the SF!) student groups–and am working to create a Safe Spaces program on my campus (it’s taken years to get it going). Hell, it took a colleague and me 18 years to get an interdisciplinary genre studies minor started.

    I’ve had graffitti written about me in the bathrooms of my department building, ongoing attempts to deny me tenure, promotion, graduate faculty status, whatever, that had to be challenged and fought (I’m lucky and privileged enough–white and middle-class background–to have won those–with help from people in my department), one incident of attempted tire slashing, and one use of some sort of pepper spray/gas sprayed into my office, plus several documented online harassment incidents.

    During the past few years, I’ve been morphing from a sort of vaguely animistic pagan stance to realizing that I’m an atheist because of reading the feminist blogs here–you all are incredibly important to me (just as my online slash fandom community is incredibly important)–there aren’t many people around here I can talk to about these things.

    My activism in the community here has focused on women, and LGBT, issues primarily–and I don’t have the energy to even think of trying to do anything regarding atheism (the town of about 8000 has 45 churches listed in the phone book). I hope someday to attend one of the conferences–but until then, the blogs are a daily view into this activist world.

    And as far as Justin Vacula–he’s in a category that I created some years ago that helps me deal with people like him–it’s more or less “if he approves of anything I do, I know I’m doing it wrong.”

    THank you for all that you do.

  1. 22
    Lessons from #AtheismPlus | Reality Enthusiast

    […] activism on Twitter and blogs connects people, gets attention, changes minds, and makes things happen. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, […]

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