Alan Turing was a great man. He was code breaker for the British government during World War 2 and an instrumental figure in computer science, yet he suffered the major indignity of being prosecuted by the then British government for being gay.
Not only was he prosecuted, but he was then chemically castrated and committed suicide 2 years after.
Sad story and unfortunately true.
So what has the unfortunate tale of Alan Turing got to do with online activism? Gizmodo ran an article yesterday about a petition being setup in order to have the British government apologize (I presume to his family) for his prosecution and castration.
As I said the story of Turing is sad and unfortunate and he deserves his apology, but let’s be honest here, aren’t there better things we can be doing if we’re really interested in being “activists” (there’s a reason I put that in quotes which I’ll get to in a bit) and making a difference?
Human trafficking, climate change, cancer research, child molestation, education reform, demilitarization, disarmament, development of the Third World…. The list goes of problems that can be addressed that actually exist today goes on and on ad infinitum yet, we’re going to get our collective activist mentalities in a twist because Turing had his plonk chopped off in 1954?
How many other people did this happen to? Where are their petitions?
How many other people suffered injustices in the past that will never have a petition created for them?
There is the problem with online activism. It isn’t! It’s the lazy man (or woman) signing an email address or clicking a link to something that he doesn’t really care about. That he’s not invested in.
The online activist will probably have forgotten by dinner time what petition they’ve signed at lunch time!
Online activism is cheap and cheerful! 5000 or 50000 email addresses may look impressive but at the end of the day they mean bugger all and achieve about as much.
Real activism means getting out there, talking to people. It means people who are actually interested separating the hermetic seal which has developed between their backsides and the couch and making their voice heard. Meeting local politicians, organizing meetings, protesting, creating a real groundswell of opinion amongst people who actually care.
It’s all very well to talk about it on the web. The web can be used as an amazing tool to inform those who care about what is going on and to draw people to where the real activism occurs.
Real activism occurs in your home, in the streets, in conversation with the politicians, in the choices you make and actually follow through on. It occurs with placards outside town halls, courthouses and government offices. It means meeting people, talking to them and making them believe. Making them understand, making them actually care!
Activism is not simply adding an email address to an online petition. Any fool can do that and care less.
Update: 11-09-2009 :
The British Government finally gave Alan Turing his apology. We’re still waiting for one for everybody else.