The Age of Slacktivism: BLM Advocacy Beyond Keyboard Crusading

Don’t deny it: whenever an atrocity like George Floyd’s death occurs, many of us flee to our social media.

We’ve been taught and told by others that change can be incited from our fingertips. We see the abundance of Black Lives Matter posts being shared and if we don’t follow the herd by doing the same, it gives off the impression that we aren’t true activists. There is a false sense of commitment to the cause, an instant gratification that comes with sharing a Martin Luther-King Jr. quote or changing our twitter handle to #BLM.

Slacktivism is the notion that people can advocate for a certain issue with minimal effort and involvement, while still believing they are making a difference. We might be locked to our couches right now, but that doesn’t mean we have to succumb to a slacktivist approach.

Sharing endless quotes, tweets and Facebook posts is like pouring a glass of water on a ravaging house fire and hoping it does something significant. It’s the bare minimum and yet, there is a certain pat-on-the-back feeling we get from doing it. Long before Floyd’s death many have abused this approach, including myself. This approach allows us to be involved in the conversation from a safe distance. Many of us want to do more, but just don’t know where to begin.

As a white anthropology student, I have been introduced to a multitude of advocacy approaches that I had never considered in the past. My own positionality has led me to seek out these approaches, knowing that while I cannot experience the pain of racism firsthand, I can use my voice to prevent these injustices from being silenced.

Last year, one of my professors launched into a 40-minute improvised lecture about how useless slacktivism is, a term many of us surprisingly hadn’t heard before. The faces around the room ranged from anger to disappointment to outright shame. “Do you really think these short-lived sentiments are going to start a revolution?” my professor asked. Sure, the act of sharing posts and signing petitions has good intentions, but it only goes so far.

In an article titled “How to take activism beyond your keyboard,” author Maggie Zhou writes, “Don’t fall into complacency and give yourself smug pats on the back … acts of allyship aren’t meant to tickle white egos.” Zhou’s article also links numerous reading materials, social media accounts worth following, and practical steps to be a proper advocate.

Awareness is unquestionably necessary, but if you’re relying on the passive act of sharing a post to absolve yourself from your white privilege and to reconcile your past faults, you’re not advocating for the right reasons. Reach out to your black friends and family, read works written by black writers, support black businesses, listen to podcasts, donate to an array of funds, educate yourself and, if you’re not sure about something, ask!

With all this in mind, I’m not saying you need to abandon your social platforms. Instead, I ask you to think beyond the means of advocacy you’ve been taught and become comfortable with. Decolonize your media, as Zhou puts it. If you can afford a music subscription or a new pair of shoes, what’s a small donation to a worthwhile cause? If you really are strapped for cash, prioritize educating yourself and others—it’s free. If you can educate even one person and enable them to re-evaluate their thoughts and reactions to the current movement, you’ve just become a catalyst for change.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth










Concordia statement on Black Lives and demandsfor an anti-racist pedagogy



Irony hits the SPVM

Photo by Joseph Leger

“Fuck the police. Know your rights!” my friend Nick texts me after I send around a SnapChat clip of the kettle I’m in. I delete the message as soon as it pops up on my screen. What are my rights?

The sergeant is lazily reciting some sort of routine arrest warrant. It’s procedure. It isn’t about whether we hear and understand it or not. And it isn’t about whether we had time to take down the number we might need to call (514-842-2244.) I get a kick out of “You have the right to remain silent” — just because!

I overhear a group of friends say, “well, I guess we should just order the pizza next time instead of going outside to pick it up.” This is when I realize that Montreal, during protests, becomes a police state. Over 250 people (notice the omission of “protesters”) were arrested on Friday and according to reports, none were a huge threat. In fact, no one really had time to start protesting as police had already set up their barricades and preemptively arrested a bunch of people.

Passerby or not, if you were there at the wrong place at the wrong time, you were . . . well, just that. I meet a guy while handcuffed on the STM-turned-SPVM bus who was on his way out of class when we got trapped right in front of UQÀM. He has a bus to catch at midnight for a $270 organized trip to Boston celebrating St. Patrick’s day.

About half of us are journalists, begging the cops to take a look at our press passes. It’s more than plain bad luck when half the people arrested are the media and frankly, that’s not a good image for the SPVM’s reputation, which is more than tarnished at this point.

According to Thursday’s Metro, the number of complaints sent to Montreal’s ombudsman’s office went from 103 to 1,577 per year since its creation in 2003. Police brutality, I am sure, made up most of those in 2012 and 2013.

We’re on Ste-Catherine St. between St-Denis and Sanguinet and the air is cold and wet. One of the guys who started the commotion is on the ground in pain as an ambulance with a cop in it passes by. A few girls are crying, but when the officers stop screaming at those of us trying to negotiate, things get quiet. Our fate sets in and we start fraternizing. Is the sheer ridiculousness accountable for the light atmosphere or is it because we’re a bunch of kids?

Even some of the cops exchange some sympathetic looks with me as I explain to my father over the phone why my boyfriend had to pick my little brother up at the bus station and not me. One of them goes to pick up my gloves that fell out of my pocket on the ground behind him.

Only after did I realize how lucky I had been when I learnt about how Kelsey McGowan, the only protester to be hospitalized, was pushed, dragged and allegedly kicked by cops as she had been standing on the corner (on the sidewalk) of St-Urbain and Ontario.

“I [made] an assumption that there were several protesters running from the riot police because I felt about 10 heavy blows to the back of my head, shoulders, back and legs,” said McGowan, only to realize that the only people close enough to touch her were police officers.

It’s wildly ironic that the very thing we protested on March 15 became a staple for the event. It isn’t that it’s a reality we’ve accepted, it’s that it’s a reality that we’ve come to know. There’s this civil — see municipal — war going on between our future and those who protect it and that very notion is so scary.

As university student Shawn Austin told the Montreal Gazette, “we were never given a chance to prove we can be peaceful. We’re not out here to say all cops are bad. We’re out here to make the point the police brutality is unacceptable and I think tonight, the police made that point for us.”


Protesting police brutality

Photo by Keith Race

Montreal’s 17th annual anti-police brutality march was a disjointed and hectic affair that led to the arrest of more than 250 people.

Service de police de la Ville de Montréal officers descended on the Friday evening protest early, separating groups of demonstrators and making arrests moments before the event began.

Officers clashed with small groups of protesters on Ste-Catherine St. near Place-des-Arts several times between 5 and 7 p.m.. The busy area was crowded with police, demonstrators and bystanders as officers used tear gas and concussion grenades to disperse crowds and form perimeters.

The protest informally ended when more than 200 people were placed under mass arrest on Ste-Catherine St. near Sanguinet St. where two large groups were surrounded by police, handcuffed and taken away in city buses. Kettling, a police tactic often used during last spring’s demonstrations against tuition fee increases and Bill 78, sees protesters contained within a limited area and provides only a single option of exiting. Journalists from several media outlets, including The Concordian and The Link, were also detained but released shortly after.

According to the SPVM, the majority of those arrested were in violation of municipal bylaw P-6. The controversial law, which was passed in the midst of last year’s student protests, forbids the covering of one’s face during a demonstration and demands that authorities be provided with a protest itinerary lest participation be declared illegal.

Those detained were given tickets and released before midnight.

The historically violent march began on a tense note with several hundred people gathered at the corners of Ontario St. and St. Urbain St. amidst a heavy police presence. Cavalry and riot squads attempted to block off the roads leading out of the square while other units moved through the crowd, searching protestors and making preventive arrests.

“You can see from the police here that the SPVM are becoming more efficient as a paramilitary force, and the problem is that this is exactly what people are protesting against,” said demonstrator Marc-Antoine Bergeron. “Evidently, the police don’t want this protest to even take place.”

The march was declared illegal minutes after 5 p.m. on the basis that a planned itinerary was not provided to police, and demonstrators were ordered to disperse.

At that point the march began to make its way south on St. Urbain St., but did not reach the end of the block. Police charged the group, breaking it into smaller factions that were then forced to flee a Sûreté du Quebec riot squad that materialized out of an underground parking garage.

The tactic disorganized the demonstrators, and they did not manage to re-form as a large collective. Smaller, splintered groups were confronted by police for the rest of the evening.

Twenty-two of the arrested face criminal charges that include obstruction of justice, disturbing the peace, outstanding arrest warrants and possession of incendiary objects. Two police officers were injured during the evening’s events.

The anti-brutality march has traditionally been notorious for violence. More than 200 people were arrested at last year’s event, at which a police cruiser was overturned and windows of businesses along the march’s route were smashed.

Police prepared for the worst Friday morning, going so far as to hand out flyers downtown warning the public to avoid the protest. By the march’s end, a few patrol cars that had been damaged with bricks were the only acts of vandalism reported.

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