#PINKOUT: More than ‘Slacktivism’ (op-ed)

It’s not slacktivism. Making your profile picture pink to #StandWithPP is a valuable way to show support and start conversation.

Planned Parenthood has been highlighted in the national conversation lately due to recent Republican-led efforts in the House of Representatives that sought to defund the sexual health organization for one year. It has since been blocked by the Senate (and the President pledged to veto it). Planned Parenthood’s President, Cecile Richards, made headlines after appearing before a House committee to defend the organization.

As the suits in D.C. fight about funding, fraudulent videos and false information, people across the U.S. are showing their support by doing #PinkOut for Planned Parenthood, turning their social media profile pictures pink to #StandWithPP. I did it, my friends – and probably some of your friends – did it, and Lena Dunham, Elizabeth Banks, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton did it.

The cynical may initially think this is useless fodder. What good does it do to add a pink filter to your profile picture on Facebook or Twitter? There’s a word for this – slacktivism. It’s showing support for a cause without really spending much time, effort or funds to support it. It’s passive activism, an oxymoron.

However, “pinking out” isn’t so passive. In my experience, most of these Facebook posts were accompanied with a personal narrative about why standing with Planned Parenthood was so important.

I wrote a post. I grew up in a conservative, Christian community in Spokane, Wash., where teachers regularly condemned abortion in class, encouraged strict gender roles and made sure everyone knew being anything besides straight was wrong (oops).

I had been politically quiet on Facebook for some time – why engage people who so strongly attach their religion with their politics? Why be condemned when I could just be silent?

In the November 14, 2014 issue of The Mooring Mast, guest writer Leah Larson wrote about Slacktivism during the rise of popular FCKH8 campaigns. The campaigns, discussing issues of women’s rights and homophobia, utilized viral videos to sell T-shirts with catchy slogans like, “Some chicks marry chicks. Get over it.”

Larson said this wasn’t really activism – it was slacktivism. “Effective advocacy,” she writes, “means engaging in thoughtful discourse with people around you, even if it’s just on Facebook.”

I agree with my fellow Mast op-ed writer. Advocacy and activism requires not being silent. It’s about speaking up, supporting things that others may disagree with (or may not understand) and having thoughtful conversations with those around you about issues.

It worked with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised $100 million. It has worked in raising awareness about net neutrality, which helps us keep an open web. It worked in showing sweeping support for same-sex marriage throughout the years with rainbows and equal signs.

To me, that meant a post about standing with Planned Parenthood could work, too. So I wrote one.

“I declared my second major today: Women and Gender studies. It seems to fit well in today’s conversations regarding Planned Parenthood.

“The House decision is not a pro-life decision. It is not a conservative decision. It is a misogynist decision. I stand with PP because I stand with women everywhere who deserve to choose how sexually active they want to be and when. Who deserve good sexual health. Who deserve expert sexual health care. Federal funding for Planned Parenthood provides that.

“I recognize many of my Facebook friends are pro-life (i.e., believe abortion should not be legal). You have every right to believe that and advocate for that. Please don’t comment about how unchristian I am or send me anything hateful. I almost didn’t post this today out of the fear what some of you may say.

“That’s not how advocacy works, and I’m going to advocate for women. Today, Congress demands it of me more than ever.”

Few, if any, of my Spokane friends “liked” my post or wrote anything to me. But it’s likely some read it – and even if they wrote me off after, it’s important that a different perspective just got in their heads.

This is why choosing to #StandWithPP is not slacktivism. That pink profile picture often results in real conversations, further awareness and true advocacy – whether the conversations happen in person or via digital means, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter if you change someone’s mind.

What matters is getting the word out: so more people are attentive to issues that matter.

This op-ed was written for the Oct. 9, 2015 issue of The Mast and is available online here. 

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