Since 2005/2006, I've had a growing fascination with world politics and, in particular, social justice on a global scale. It started with relief work in Biloxi, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. I saw people living in homes without walls, as their FEMA trailers had not yet arrived (and still wouldn't for several more months), mothers searching the rubble for any toys they could find to make their children happy, and overall - a town that was forgotten by our government at large. The help received was from churches and private aid groups. This got me interested and from there the snowball expanded and took on so much more.
Next was Invisible Children and through them, was connected to even more groups (Charity:Water, Liberty In North Korea, Falling Whistles, etc) and then I joined YWAM and worked for The Redemption Project, helped with the Hakani Project and supported the efforts of my friends with PhotoGenX fighting sex trafficking (check out their book, Sex + Money). After this, I took a break, did a video for YWAM and then joined These Numbers Have Faces to work as their Video & Media Intern for the summer.
So when it comes to causes being the new trend, I pretty much fit the bill. I better than fit the bill, I feel like, as I re-read this, I wrote the bill. I write all this though, due to the growing talk about how trendy causes, awareness, and advocacy have become and our growing distaste for them. I wonder though if we should have a more optimistic outlook on the growing trend of social awareness.
At this time, I cannot think of a better trend to have. Social Awareness and advocacy becoming something popular? Think of the things we could accomplish! There is always a downside though, which is a side I've seen a lot of people discussing lately. With the growing trend in social justice campaigns, and rise of the name brand non-profit with cool t-shirts to match (I'm not dissin' it, I own a lot of them and have designed a few of them) it seems that many are jumping on the bandwagon because the shirt is cool and a sense of do-goodness is placed within. The purchase of this t-shirt is helping the people of this country. When it comes to knowing the situation though, they don't know that the Sudan and Uganda are different geographically and have a surprising lack of knowledge for what is happening around the globe. The t-shirt caught their eye or a cute guy or girl talked to them for a bit and convinced them to sign-up for a newsletter.
I've seen this and spoken to people who are exactly as I've stated above (I thought of them when I wrote what I did). Because of this happening, I can see why some are getting aggravated with the trend. These people not having a knowledge of the situations they supposedly support can be very irritating and can even make those interested in knowing more possibly lose their interest. The other side of this are those who have the knowledge but no action. I think this one is more prominent than the other. Seeing so many of your friends out there, on the ground, working to end sex slavery or free child soldiers and then seeing someone pat themselves on the back because they bought a bracelet and have their feel good moment. They might even mention something in a blog about the cause but it doesn't go much further than this.
I am basing what I'm writing on what I've heard others say, so if I'm missing something, feel free to add to the conversation. I in no way think I'm an absolute authority on this, but simply someone who thinks out loud and enjoys discussion more than blatant statements telling you how it is.
So while I can see where people are coming from and even agree with them to an extent, I know that without awareness, I would have never of gotten as involved as I have with groups. Having worked as staff for 2 non-profits, traveled to other countries and volunteered for numerous other groups, I think I have the action to back my support of these groups and causes. When I hear people talk about the negatives related to social awareness as a trend, I wonder if we would have as many people seeking to bring action alongside their support without it. In other words...
If social justice and advocacy had not become trendy, would we have as many people working in the field as we do?
I would probably say that, no, we wouldn't. I've seen younger people who started out in the negatives I've mentioned, get older and wiser and see that action needs to happen. I think, without the bit of knowledge they had and the cool t-shirt that may or may not have persuaded them (with some...i think it did...but that's okay) then they wouldn't be looking into college degrees dealing with social or justice type work in some form. I think that, while some people find the gratification from saying they support this cause and have the t-shirt - but it goes no further, that most find themselves looking into more. Maybe I think to optimistically but awareness is awareness, and without it, we would be in dark with a lot of these issues.
I also think that we place ourselves on pedestals sometimes. I've heard some friends complain about those who give monetarily but have no action to back it. Their satisfaction comes from their giving but they don't get their hands dirty. I feel like this is a very selfish way to look at it though. If it weren't for those willing to give what they are able and blessed to give, These Numbers Have Faces wouldn't exist and the South Africans we help would have no help. If it were not for these generous people, so much of the work that a lot of us are capable of doing would no longer be done. We live in a world that requires money to function. It's just one of those things we need. We don't have to like it, but we have to realize that it's how the world works. Everything can't be done without money and to say that their giving is not enough is a bold statement and upsets me. I feel like one cannot work without the other and both have so much to give.
Let us not forget that we work in the fields we do because we are able to, but many of us are only able to do so with the support of those who can give towards our work and missions.
I feel like I'm not getting across exactly what I'm trying to say. I think it's cause I'm typing and am also distracted so it's coming out in bursts at a time. Basically, I think my point is that we should embrace this growing trend. A few people thought it was going to die within a few years but now we're moving towards a growing surge towards women's empowerment across the globe (which TNHF is proudly near the forefront of...or they are in my mind cause I work for them, haha) and I think we need to grab the opportunity and steer it instead of see the flaws and grow disheartened. Acknoweledging the flaws is a good thing but I think action should be taken towards redirecting what we see as flaws. Instead of starting the discussion about the negatives we're relating to, let's open the discussion towards taking advantage of the growing fire within the youth towards advocacy. I think if a lot of them were simply given a direction to go in, they would go and we'd find ourselves entrenched in a whole new abolitionist movement, a whole new activism and a whole new community of people fighting for the rights of those around the world.
I'm not calling (or trying not to call) anyone out in this. I simply wanted to express that I think this is a good discussion that should be looked at from various angles, especially one of embracing this trend and finding a way to direct it towards good. I think it's a great discussion to have and I hope you'll join me in it.
To go the awareness route, here's links to my work and some groups I've mentioned: