When I walk under the West Hall corridor, jostled by people on either side, endangered by weaving bikers, I know what’s to come in a few more steps. The Diag guarantees a barrage of flyers, posters, causes and fundraisers. Everyone is trying to sell you something, cure cancer or save Darfur. They want your change, your time and your conviction.
The idea behind it all is valid and the participants’ hearts are probably in the right places — but at some point we all need to step back and ask, what is all of this really doing? How is a flyer going to benefit anything when there is a good chance it will end up in the garbage two feet away? It’s wasted paper and a wasted attempt to solicit compassion. Don’t get me wrong, my heart hurts for Darfur too, but I’m not going to waste a bunch of trees to inform educated, liberal college students about shit they already know. Convincing a student at the University of Michigan that horrible things are happening in Northern Africa and Tibet and Darfur is like going down to the Westboro Baptist Church and persuading the congregation that being gay is a sin. You’re not going to be breaking any new ground.
Day upon day, flyers are shoved in my face — “Please come to our show”; “Animal cruelty is compromising ethical values”; “Give to the Japan relief fund.” I don’t mean to pick on people trying to make a difference, but don’t call yourself an activist for sitting at a booth in the lobby of Angell Hall raising pennies for countries that need more than pocket change. We live in a world of information technology which is following an exponential growth curve — enlightening an educated portion of the public of the tragedies and travesties of mankind isn’t going to do anything or offer anything new. These menial efforts are hurting and belittling the causes they are trying to support. The market of humanitarianism is so over-saturated; a cause that actually has merit is diminished to ‘just another.’ This is the tragedy of incessant “flyering” and the spawn for my criticism. I do care about organizations that are making a difference, we just need to assess our involvement and its impact.
We need to start being kinder to the people around us. If we can’t build a community and support our neighbors in need, how are we going to unite the world? Activism starts small and gets big. If you want to go to Japan and volunteer in the earthquake relief forces, my hat is off to you because that’s making a difference. But if that’s not on your agenda at the moment, quit trying to raise degrading pennies for people suffering and dying from nuclear radiation. A mother of one of the Japanese workers in charge of removing radiation from citizens spoke about her son on a Fox News interview, saying, “He told me (the workers) have accepted that they will all probably die from radiation sickness in the short term or cancer in the long term.” These people are willing to die in order to carry their neighbors in times of crisis. Japan is a stable nation that’s more than capable, both physically and fiscally, to conduct a proper rehabilitation from this disaster. Natural disasters of this scale are horrific and it tears at our hearts and emotions — but quick emotional responses and knee-jerk reactions to donate a few dollars are not going to help Japan.
I am no authority on humanitarianism and activism, and I don’t have a solution or a “better way” for you to get involved, but I feel that our focus could be used more effectively. Maybe start by reducing your personal carbon footprint, picking up trash outside or feeding someone who is hungry. These are direct actions that give results and make an impact. How much energy is wasted printing those flyers and posters that are so liberally distributed to the masses? How much paper is consumed? It seems a little backwards to me — we want to help people in need, but in doing so we consume epic amounts of resources and leave those in need only superficially aided. So next time someone shoves a flyer in your face on the Diag — just keep walking.
Blake Obi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.