MouthPiece Theater and Slacktivism

The above charming video appeared on the Washington Post yesterday. The premise was funny; lampoon the over-exposed “Beer Summit;” Obama’s effort at healing relations between Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. James Crowley. But the skit went way too far when Dana Milbank said “And we won’t tell you who’s getting a bottle of ‘Mad Bitch” after which we are shown an image of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And the strategic placement of a six pack of HoeGaarden adds just the right classy touch.

This is exactly the kind of instance where it’s easy to let the sexism slide–”it’s funny” they say, “it’s all in good fun.” Well, it’s all fun and games until two of the nation’s most visible political journalist wink and snicker as they imply that Madame Secretary Clinton, one of the most accomplished women in the world today, is a “mad bitch.”


The Washington Post apologized and took down the video a few hours later after a campaign that combined Twitter messages and emails was quickly launched by online activists, On Twitter Search you’ll find several pages of search results for the hashtags #milbankbeer (we recommended beers for Milbank like Pale Male Fail Ale) and #wapofail. Additionally, we tweeted directly to both Cillizza and Milbank. That’s the beauty of Twitter–instant and direct access.

Forgive me for going on a bit of tangent here, but I was accused yesterday of not being a good activist because I chose to take a few moments out my day to spread the message that sexist speech by two of the best known political journalists in the country is not okay. Never mind the presumption on the part of someone who knows what I do with less than 10% of my day, the accusation shows an unfortunate ignorance about the benefits of online activism when it’s combined with boots on the grounds action. And that makes me want to say a few words about what some call “slacktivism.”

Slacktivism is a pejorative term used by some to describe “lazy” activists who sign internet petitions, wear wristbands, and send email but never make the leap to boots on the ground activism. There has been a lot of moaning and groaning by many that slacktivism means the death of grassroots activism. Far from it; the Obama campaign is a real world example of how online tools and tactics can be combined with on the ground action to win campaigns. The Obama campaign was able to leverage tens of thousands of so called slacktivists and turn them into real activists. And that my friends is the future of social and political action. The job of organizers is not to bemoan the supposed laziness of “slacktivists” (a uninformed myth according to Future Majority, folks I hold in high esteem), but to figure out how to convert them into projects and campaigns that make lasting social and political change. The tactics have to change but the potential for activism and civic engagement has grown exponentially along with the reach of the internet.

And so I’ll continue to use online tactics when it makes sense and on the boots action when it makes sense and combine the two whenever I can. Every activist should have a toolbox full of different tactics that fit many situations. For instance, Twitter can be used to build online momentum that’s easy to translate to influential members of the media (not to mention fellow activists) for press coverage while “call your legislator” campaigns are a more direct approach to impacting legislation. However, online tools have increased the potential of traditional campaigns and vice versa. To run either kind of campaign in isolation without using all the tactics available to you–online and on the ground–doesn’t make sense any more.

Similar Posts:

Enjoy this post? Leave a comment below or subscribe to my feed. You also can sign up for email delivery by clicking here.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

[...] people from all over the country, of both genders and all political persuasions tweetbombed and wrote the Washington Post, the video was pulled a communications director, Kris Coratti, issued this statement: “The [...]


Don’t let the people trashing online activism put you on the defensive. They are the ones who are doing a disservice to their cause by not reaching people online. Online and offline complement each other, duh. The fact we’re even discussing this is depressing, it’s so freaking obvious.

Not defensive, more like incredulous…..

I completely agree with your premise Tracy and am quite grateful that you are pushing back against the premise of “slacktivism”. I spent the bulk of my college career trying to help bridge the nexus between online and offline activism on college campuses, but sadly there remain far too many purists who think that everyone pretending it’s 1968 and collectively resorting back to the methods of the “good old days” is the only way for progressives to be effective.

This is especially true in Madison…a city that is an island of liberals lying disconnected from most national organizations and campaigns. However, even within this progressive oasis amidst a sea of conservative farmland, the example you cite (i.e. the Obama campaign, which was kinda sorta effective) is starting to permeate. There is no clearer example of how an integrated online and offline approach is the best way to move forward, and how both sets of tactics reinforce the other.

Speaking out in any form is not only activism—-it is citizenship in action!

Hopefully, activists of all stripes realize this reality and reconcile how it should impact their tactics moving forward.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.