EDITORIAL: Activism must balance itself in order to be successful

Line between activism, trends is becoming increasingly blurred

Activism is generally seen as an activity that younger generations partake in.

For example, the current Hong Kong protest, which is an extreme form of activism, is mainly populated by younger people.

“Hong Kong’s youth are at the forefront of protests this month that have thrown the city into a political crisis, including a vast rally on Sunday that was perhaps the largest in its history,” according to The New York Times

Activism does not always take such an acute and potent nature, and it is not always about tearing down or reforming governments or other tyrannical institutions. Oftentimes, activism is used solely to garner attention to an otherwise neglected cause. 

With the advent of the internet, spreading ideas and facts about specific issues have become easier than ever, and young people are at the forefront of this. That being said, the internet is still extremely infantile in the grand scheme of humanity’s existence, with older generations growing up without any access to it at all.

This leads to a generational misunderstanding about the power of the online forum, as well as its capabilities. Older people, such as the Baby Boomers of yore, grew up during the civil rights era, when change was achieved only by literally taking to the streets, sit-ins and gargantuan marches to Washington, D.C.

It should come as no surprise that they do not understand the power of the internet. Oftentimes, online activists are criticized for their passive action by older people.

The truth is, internet activism does not require the effort that activism of days past did. It is an alien concept for many, but that is the main point of the internet. It is to take things that were difficult prior to its existence, and making them much, much easier.

For example, the Ice Bucket Challenge, which dominated social media in 2014, seemed like a silly act of posturing to many. After all, all you had to do was dump some ice water on your head. That could not really be helping, could it?

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $115 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research. 

No-Shave November, its mechanism explained by its namesake, has raised $2 million for cancer research. 2010’s “I Love Boobies” campaign netted more than $5 million for breast cancer research. 

These childish, informal ways of activism are clearly very successful in terms of raising money. Why are they successful? They are easy to partake in, they foster a sense of community and, most of all, they are enjoyable. 

Nonetheless, internet activism also raises some concerns as well. 

First, while the money raised by these campaigns is undeniably positive, one must question the intentions behind those involved. Do these “activists” really care about the cause they are supporting, or are they just trying to gain some easy social media points? 

That may seem like a counter to everything written above, but there are issues that come with the apathetic activist. Many issues do not solve themselves quickly. ALS is still a devastating disease, with very little chance of prolonged survival once diagnosed. Beloved creator of SpongeBob SquarePants Stephen Hillenburg died from it recently, only a couple years after he was diagnosed.

Apathetic activists who drop a trend the second it is no longer in Vogue are not creating sustainable change. For an issue that requires all hands on deck for the long haul, such as ALS, activists who leave quickly are detrimental to the cause. 

Rutgers holds an annual dance marathon, creatively titled the Rutgers University Dance Marathon (RUDM). The proceeds of this event go to children impacted by cancer and other diseases. Again, this is not to invalidate the money this event does raise, but to question the intentions of those partaking in it.

Many sign up after being forced to by their fraternity, sorority or other campus group. Like ALS, cancer is an issue that will not be resolved anytime soon. Once-a-year activists, while better than someone not helping at all, are not really contributing nearly as much as someone genuinely concerned with the issue, who consistently helps out and donates.

This raises a complex question: How do groups make activism fun and inviting, while also attracting a legion of members who will stick around for an extended period of time?

That question cannot be answered easily, but there are some precautions that groups can take. The Rutgers Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) is an example of a group that makes activism fun, but also assuring that that fun is geared toward the issue at hand.

On Oct. 23, the group held a “Falafel and Philanthropy” event. Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern dish, and philanthropy is emphasized in the title. By gearing the enjoyable part — free food — toward the issue at hand, it assures that it can gather a large group of students with philanthropic intentions. 

This is not to shill for PCRF, but rather display them as an example of what other groups should be doing when trying to gain attention for its cause. 

The key is to make activism fun, without forgetting the issues at hand. Campus groups ought to adopt this method for optimal results.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority   of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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