I had a colourful weekend. A grey Sunday morning transformed into a clear, balmy summer evening, the sky turning from pastel pink to dark purple. My flatmate bought flowers, which I maintain is probably the nicest thing you can do for yourself for under a fiver, and my social-media feeds were awash with rainbow filters, as friends, colleagues and, yes, brands all flicked a button to join in with the Pride celebrations – the latest example of slacktivism in action.
You could say it was a cynical attempt by corporations and individuals to jump on a bandwagon without really doing a great deal. You could say that the mass take-up of the Celebrate Pride Facebook filter was people getting a quick hit of sweet, sweet praise by just allowing an app to put an overlay on their profile picture. You could say that. But tiny acts taken up en masse can have far-reaching, positive implications – why do nothing, when it’s so easy to do something, and when that something can be shared and influence someone else?
Slacktivism plays on the rapid-fire nature of social media, and a social anxiety of not being involved in the conversation, suckering you into supporting something thoughtlessly. It’s easy to understand the objections towards it – people think it’s reductive, that rather than adding to a cause it actually compromises it by being half-hearted in its nature. In comparison with writing to your MP, or voting, a retweet is a drop in the ocean.
But, in this case, where the Supreme Court’s decision to legalise gay marriage nationwide in the US was a breath of fresh air in what has been a traumatic few weeks across the world, it was lovely – and meaningful. Everyone switching their profile pictures allowed people some respite from that tumult, allowed people to believe – if only briefly – that we are making progress. Hundreds of drops in the ocean, making a wave.
We can always do more, but there’s a lot to be said for just doing anything at all
As well as witnessing the online activism, I went to the London Pride parade this weekend. I’d never experienced Pride before, and found myself getting genuinely emotional within about five minutes of being there. The good news coupled with the blistering heat had everyone in a kind of glittery, delirious stupor. My girlfriend and I picked up signs, we chanted, we marched, we high-fived, we petted dogs with rainbow collars. I also saw *real activists, people for whom these marches aren’t just a nice day out, for whom they are an essential part of the democratic process – people who believe in the strength of the collective voice.
It’s easy to slip into a state of apathy when you see all these protests coming up empty, which often gets mirrored across the web. “What will this do?” “What will this change?” “What effect will this have?” But, really, the rank inequality that exists in the world is centuries in the making – it won’t be undone overnight. It’s in the next generation and the next generation where the seeds of these marches will bear fruit, just as how the most recent decisions to legalise gay marriage wouldn’t have happened were it not for the activists of the post-war era.
We can always do more, but there’s a lot to be said for just doing anything at all. Signing a petition, sharing if you agree – these are all tiny steps in comparison with the huge sacrifices and struggles real activists have faced throughout history, but they are tiny steps in the right direction. I am not foolish enough to assume that queer culture or identity can be reduced to an Instagram filter or a swift rebrand, but sometimes you just want to nail your colours to the mast, even if you’re not the one steering the ship.