Votetivism is not Activism

Part of the Solution — By on August 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm

In 1988, I had been a Christian for a couple years, when I first really read Matthew 25, “..when I was hungry you fed me, when I was naked you clothed me…” and James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I remember thinking, “I don’t do any of that.” That was the day I determined to be about, “A little less conversation and a lot more action” as Elvis would say.

Not long after that day, God called me to care for orphans.  I knew that was my life calling.  So, I proceeded to fight for orphans the best I knew how at age 19.  I joined the fight against legalized abortion.  I myself had thought I was pregnant as a 16 year old and I had considered abortion.  Thank God I wasn’t pregnant.  Later, when I became a Christian at age 17, it freaked me out that I could have had an abortion without my mom even knowing.  And worst, without really knowing myself what I was doing or my other options.

I became very active in the cause.  I was arrested several times outside of abortion clinics during the late 80s and early 90′s.  No, I never screamed at a girl going in, opting to talk to them if they were open to it, instead.  Mostly I prayed.  But occasionally I got close enough to squirt glue into the locks on the doors.   And one time I did handcuff my self to a trailer parked in front of the doors, hence the arrest.

I also volunteered in a crisis pregnancy center.  I knew it was important to be both for something positive while being against something harmful.  I believed then, as I believe now, that there has to be a real alternative offered, a caring action has to follow a protest against something.

But then over zealous fanatics started shooting abortion doctors.  Things got crazy in the anti-abortion movement. What started as peaceful resistance, as calm, grace filled protest, had been taken over by people that could only see through fear and hate colored glasses disguised as righteous anger.  I had to walk away.

But I still continued to be very politically active in the pro-life arena.  And I found that was easier.  I decided that I would just vote pro-life, like 99% of professing pro-lifers do and that would be the solution.  Certainly, if we could get a pro-life president and/or a congress that was majority Republican, we could see the end to legalized abortion.  So that’s what I fought for.  George Bush was elected, twice, served eight years as president, and the Republicans controlled congress.

Yet, nothing changed.

Abortion was then and still is legal.  Small gains have been made, but the bottom line is, it’s still legal to have an abortion through all nine months of pregnancy and women are still making that decision, many times, without completely understanding the full scope of what abortion is and also what it can do to the body.

So around 2005 I started to once again reevaluate my activism.  I had spent years watching Christian organizations spend thousands of dollars to rally voters, I had been an active member of these groups.  They worked hard to get Christians to the polls to vote in “Christian” leaders but that resulted in very little positive change and sometime very negative change.

And as I started to research the effectiveness of moral voting, I discovered that since 1990 teen pregnancy’s continued to dropped at the same rate under both Republican and Democrat presidents.  Also, abortion rates steadily declined under both Republican and Democrat administrations, increasing slightly at the end of George Bush’s presidency.

It was plain to see that voting in Christian candidates had no effect on the outcome of the issues I was most passionate about.

It was also around 2005 that the world of social media started to really blow up.  Everyone started a  blog.  We all started communicating through Myspace, then Facebook and then Twitter.  And when it was election season, people started to use social media to raise awareness of issues, call out candidates on issues, organize online petitions, rally the troops.  I really thought that all of this awareness would result in action.

But oddly enough, in the 2008 presidential election, the election that so many Republicans cared so much about on Twitter and Facebook, the one they felt could possibly usher in the Anti-Christ or not,  voter turn out was down instead of up.

And that would be fine if it was because people started to realize that being change would generate better results then trying to just vote in change.  But that was not the case.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The volunteer rate declined by 0.5 percentage point to 26.3 percent for the year ending in September 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. About 62.8 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2009 and September 2010.

Even more telling is the additional statistic revealing that Persons in their early twenties were the least likely to volunteer (18.4 percent).

So basically, the most aware generation in the history of America – the generation that literally has all the information at their finger tips and screams the loudest on facebook and twitter about their “passion” - is not voting and even worse, this generation has not stepped up as instruments of change, either.

No wonder articles about “Clicktivism“and “Slacktivism” have garnered so much attention recently.  Social media can be a great tool to raise awareness and rally action.  Just look at what happened in Egypt.  But in America, voting and volunteerism statistics show the reverse effect.  Instead of engaging in the cause dearest to our hearts, we have opted to sign online petitions or “like” a cause’s page in order to feel like we are helping in some way, like we are at least doing something.

Social media awareness and activism, can be a part of the solution.  But the combination of awareness, legislation, and most importantly, personal action, is what it will take to see real change.  When we vote pro-life but fail to take care of the children in the foster care system, and/or the AIDS orphans around the world, we are not really pro-life.  When we vote for pro-family legislators but do little to help poor families, we are not really pro-family.  We have to put our feet where our vote is and refuse to just be Votetivist and begin being real activist.

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    10 Comments

  • Carole, this needs to be said and you said it very well. Thank you.

  • Benjamin Dolson says:

    Carole, this is a great article. It’s always interesting to learn what compels people to become activists. Very interesting.

    I did want to ask for clarification on one point. You conclude that “the most aware generation in the history of America – the generation that literally has all the information at their finger tips and screams the loudest on facebook and twitter about their “passion” – is not voting and even worse, this generation has not stepped up as instruments of change, either.”

    Which generation are you talking about? There seem to be 3 generations of voting age Americans actively on social media: Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. That’s covering a lot of generational ground. Plus, I don’t think these 3 generations are interested in the same political goals. So, I guess my point is that it’s confusing to say that this generation has not stepped up as agents of change because I do not think we all agree on what should be changed and how. Does that make sense?

    A couple articles of interest, perhaps:
    -Malcom Gladwell writes about “why the revolution will not be tweeted” here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell

    And some angry guy on CNN writes about why Millenials suck at everything, including gainful employment: http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/08/05/navarrette.millennials.jobs/index.html?iref=allsearch

  • Benjamin, I am referring to all of us really. The stats show an across the board drop in volunteering so that would be all ages but it specifically stated that people between the ages of 19-25 are LEAST likely to volunteer and polling has shown for years that that demographic, doesn’t vote. So, I believe everyone has become comfortable with using social media instead of action or voting.

  • Benjamin Dolson says:

    Thanks Carole. That’s totally fair.

    I think it is important to point out that the 19-25 age group is historically a non-voting group. The “youth vote” has always been an electoral unicorn (Woe to any politician who counts on it). So it’s not just this specific group of 19-25 year olds that isn’t voting. I think we’ll have the same stat in 50 years on voting turnout among the youth (though it’d be great if this changed of course). I mean, who would have guessed that Hippies would have become Baby Boomers?

    I guess it has to do with being a stakeholder right? That age group, regardless of era (whether Hippie or Hipster), is bound to feel disenfranchised (no money, unsatisfying jobs, little power). But when they “grow up” they’ll start voting, not because they suddenly become passionate about an issue, but for practical reasons…because they’ll have kids, pensions to protect, business interests, etc. (I’m talking about the average voter here, not activists).

    Also, I think volunteering is awesome. I am a proud volunteer (at resume writing workshops, anti-trafficking events, and a community garden that donates all of its yield to the hungry). But I also work at a non-prof where we host “corporate engagement” volunteer events, which sometimes feel like feel-good photo-opts for wealthy professionals. I guess I’m just not convinced that volunteerism is even a great way of tracking civic involvement. I’m ranting now, sorry…

    But you definitely got it right that it takes a combination of things (activism, awareness, personal involvement, etc) to enact change…totally true.

    PS…Did you coin the term “Votetivist”? I’d copyright that if I were you!

  • EmilyTimbol says:

    A few things:

    1)What made you take the leap from “taking care of orphans” to fighting against legalized abortion? Over 90% of abortions are done during the first trimester, and at less than 12 weeks, while it is definitely a life, a fetus is not an orphan. An orphan is a child that was born, that has no parents, or has been left by his or her parents. So how did you interpret that verse to refer to abortion?

    2) When you say that “it’s still legal to have an abortion through all nine months of pregnancy” You are aware that less than 100 abortions happen a year in the third trimester right? And the overwhelming number of those are due to severe birth defects or the risk of the life of the mother? Very, very few women who have a third trimester abortion have one because they “want” one. Most women who are pregnant for 7 or 8 months are pregnant that long because they wanted to be.

    3) Who is “anti-family?” You said that “When we vote for pro-family legislators but do little to help poor families, we are not really pro-family.” Is there a group you think is “anti” family? I don’t know of a group that wants to criminalize families, so I really need some clarification on this term. Unless you’re referring to the gay community, who are actively fighting for their rights to legally HAVE families, but that wouldn’t make sense.

    I’m not trying to be mean. Like you, I want to see the numbers of abortions in this country reduced to as few as possible, but I think we probably have much different ideas of the best way to make that happen.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,880,00.html

  • 1. I was young, I had no idea what “helping orphans” looked like but taking care of vulnerable, abused and/or neglected children also falls under that umbrella to me. I started to research abortion, fetal development, etc and was actually horrified that such a thing was legal once I knew all the details. I became an active pro-lifer for that reason. Now I realized that if I had had access to organizations that were active in helping orphans in day to day life, that may have been a more productive outlet but that was then, this is now. I don’t regret any of my time spent in the movement.I was always kind to the girls, clinic workers, law enforcement, as were MOST of the pro-lifers that I knew. I had many a conversation with Pro-choice activist, not arguments, but conversations. I fought for what I believed in, as they did.

    2. I’m 44 years old Emily, I’m also a research junky, so I know the statistics. I also know many wonderful people who were told their defect would kill them soon after birth, would unduly burden their family, they would be a vegetable, etc. I get what you are saying, it’s a small percentage, but I am a person of faith so I believe faith has to come into play with such news about an unborn child and also the value for life has to come into play, even a life that seems unimaginable for us. I have compassion for a woman faced with such, I would never condemn them. I just believe it should be illegal.

    3. Do you really not know any “pro-family” organizations? Focus on the Family, Family Research Counsel,etc. You can Google “Pro Family Organizations” or “Pro-Family Movement” for an extensive list of links. These organizations fight against gay families, as you referred to. but my point is that if they are so big on protecting families, then they should be active in helping families. Most of the pro-family group members are not active in helping poor families, vulnerable children, orphans, etc so they have a lot of time to fight against Gay marriage, gay adoption, etc. I was not making an accusation against any other organization as being “Anti family”.

    I hope this answered all your questions thoroughly. Let me know if you have any more :-)

    • EmilyTimbol says:

      Thanks for clearing some stuff up. I definitely think we don’t see eye to eye, but that’s OK. I can respect and appreciate your desire to help both unborn children, and children that have already entered this world.

  • Emily, I wish we lived near each other. I love talking to Christian women who have strong, yet different beliefs then I.

  • Rebekah Mays says:

    Thanks so much for this article, Carole. I’ve been struggling with the right approach to this issue as well — your take reminds me of Mother Theresa’s, when she said that she would accept any child from parents that would abort him or her. I completely agree that so many Christians who are pro-life accept destructive anti-life habits, whether it’s watching pornography or avoiding eye contact with the homeless man on the street. Well said.
    You seemed to hint at this in the article, but if no real change for the better on this issue has been made under the authority of either Republicans or Democrats, then the notion of single-issue voting doesn’t make sense. Although I consider myself conservative on some things and more liberal on others, I’ve had friends tell me I must vote Republican because of this issue, I hesitate, not because I don’t think this issue is important, but because there isn’t a correlation between Republican and the establishment of pro-life legislation. I’d love to know your thoughts on how we as Christians can think about that.

  • Rebekah Mays says:

    Thanks so much for this article, Carole. I’ve been struggling with the right approach to this issue as well — your take reminds me of Mother Theresa’s, when she said that she would accept any child from parents that would abort him or her. I completely agree that so many Christians who are pro-life accept destructive anti-life habits, whether it’s watching pornography or avoiding eye contact with the homeless man on the street. Well said.
    You seemed to hint at this in the article, but if no real change for the better on this issue has been made under the authority of either Republicans or Democrats, then the notion of single-issue voting doesn’t make sense. Although I consider myself conservative on some things and more liberal on others, I’ve had friends tell me I must vote Republican because of this issue, but I hesitate, not because I don’t think this issue is important, but because there isn’t a correlation between Republican and the establishment of pro-life legislation. I’d love to know your thoughts on how we as Christians can think about that.

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