The fight against fake activism

Standing around with people and making colourful signs does not make you an activist

By Craig Allan, Staff Writer


On September 23, 2019 Greta Thunberg made a speech in front of the United Nations Climate Action Summit chastising world leaders for failing to do enough towards climate change. This speech garnered Thunberg a tremendous outpour of support, with people like Barack Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Woody Harrelson at the end of his Saturday Night Live hosting stint on September 28, 2019. Everyone may look at Thunberg’s speech as a turning point. However, I think it will likely be just another moment that someone has made an impassioned speech that leads people to action momentarily, only to fizzle out when other more pressing issues come forth. This is the reality of fake activism.

Many are praising Thunberg’s speech, but I think it was hollow. It had no ideas of how to stop climate change, and even more dangerously discredited the adaptation of technological improvements that she claims, “barely exist.” It was a speech made out of anger—not out of ideas. This kind of speech is dangerous in these times because while it does get people rallying to a cause, that is all it does. One only has to look at recent history to corroborate that.

After the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting in Parkland Florida, Emma Gonzalez, who was in the school during the shooting made an eerily similar speech regarding gun violence at a rally in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The speech even contained the line, “To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.”

That quote led to the crowd to chant “Shame on you!” Very similar to Thunberg’s “How dare you” in her speech. That speech was made on February 17, 2018 and as of October 1, 2019 the only change that can be seen is that now some Florida teachers can now have guns in the classroom.

In another case on September 28, 2018 during the Senate hearings on the inauguration of Brett Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court of the United States, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher cornered Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator to make an albeit informal impassioned plea to not vote for Kavanaugh’s entry into the Supreme Court. The outcome of this? The vote got delayed by one week and Flake still voted for Kavanaugh’s entry.

Impassioned speeches do not work. They garner immediate attention and can lead to a greater support for the cause, but it is mostly short term. Outside of extra attention for a march or rally that is happening within close proximity to the speech, it does not have the legs to last.

Speaking of marches and rallies—I think most marches and rallies are useless. They weren’t always useless. They had their worth back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there were only so many channels and the media was arguably more bipartisan. Now, there are hundreds of channels, streaming services, and news sources which can direct you to articles that skew your point of view. Because of this, I think these rallies are becoming less of a formidable hero for a cause, and more of an excuse for people to go out and showcase their creativity with a colourful or funny sign.

This is more of the opinion, but I do not believe that the people who protest at marches and rallies ever go beyond that. I do not believe that most people donate to causes they are rallying for by way of their money and time. I also believe that the majority of people who attended the climate rallies that occurred on September 27, 2019 most likely plan to travel on planes in the immediate future, and to eat meat, even though those two actions are proven to be disastrous for the planet in regard to climate change.

Attending a march is fine and does have some action, but in order to make real change one cannot just take a day off to go stand around with a bunch of people and think they are making any difference. In order to make a difference you have to sacrifice—whether it’s money, time, or convenience. Acting is much more efficient and impactful than simply making a sign asking other people to do it.