Exploring the Activist’s Tool Box

I was taking a friend on a tour of Miriam’s Kitchen, the feeding and social services program housed in our church. Along with an amazing breakfast and dinner, Miriam’s provides a full array of services for our homeless guests. When we walked into one of the offices, I introduced her to the Development Associate by saying, “This is the woman behind the Tweets.”

My friend said, “I tried Twitter. I was on it for about an hour. And that was it. I just don’t have the time. How do you find the time?”

The Associate responded, “Miriam’s makes sure that I have the time.”

I smiled at the exchange. The question of time is important when it comes to social media. But as Miriam’s raises funds and awareness around the issue of homelessness, they know that Twitter is an important part of their strategy.

Miriam’s Twitter feed is fun and insightful. They tweet the menu of the day, statistics on homelessness, needs of the guests, and appreciation for volunteers. They retweet what people say about them, and they quote funny things that the chefs say. They let people know about fundraising events, and the tweets have spurned other organizations to hold events for them. One day, our guests received a box of socks from California, because someone on Twitter read that they needed them. Twitter, as silly as it seems for those who are not active with social media, is an important tool in social justice work.

When a church or nonprofit group engages in advocacy, when we need to get the message out about an issue like homelessness in our city, there are many things we can use when we put together a strategy. There are the traditional avenues to get the word out about an issue, like direct mailings, press conferences, and press releases. We can assemble print, radio, or television ads. Each of these is important. But they can also take a great deal of money, time, or power to pull them off. If an organization has those things, then using traditional media can be extremely effective.

But what if our church or organization doesn’t have these things, but they still want to speak out on an issue? Then there are many other tools in our box now, and even though they take time, they are often easy and cheap to utilize them.

Blogs allow us to generate news and information, without having to worry about the layout of a regular newsletter. Furthermore, they allow people to respond in comments, and many are set up so that the article can be shared over Facebook and Twitter. While a direct mailing only targets the person to whom it’s addressed, the impact of a well-written blog, one that tells personal stories and relates important information, can allow for interaction, involvement, and sharing. Through blogs, we can become aware of other people who are working on the same issues, and begin to form important constellations of thought. Facebook can be a place where people share causes with their friends and Twitter is an effective means of getting the word out, recruiting a young volunteer base, and raising money around an important cause. The tools are changing all the time. There are on-line petition sites and advocacy networks that gather similar organizations around particular causes. There are sites where we can post Power Point presentations, YouTube videos, podcasts, or Livestream events.

While traditional media allowed a person to consume information, new media lets a person interact, respond, and share. It’s also important to note that younger generations are putting down print media and turning off the television more and more. So as church leaders seek to engage young activists, then they will need to use the same tools that a new generation is using. This is an exciting time, when so much of how we consume and share information is changing. In the midst of all of this, we will need to use as many tools in our box. When the tools are used well, it will worth the time to keep up with it all.

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4 thoughts on “Exploring the Activist’s Tool Box

  1. This is dandy, Carol. Totally agree with the great inroads new media is making. In fact, I’ve been asked to function as a sort of consultant several times in recent weeks to help organizations get off the ground with social media. But I have two big concerns.

    1) What about rural communities? My congregation is in a town of 1100. Two of us tweet. But not only that, there seems to be a larger pushback to new media here than in my other social circles. Could it be that, as rural communities are beset by change and challenge, the move to new media acts as another wedge which makes folk actually feel less connected to the urban mover and shakers?

    2) Related to 1, but I also wonder how many people we are leaving out through the use of new media who we wouldn’t expect to leave out. For instance, blogging is a great platform — I use it, I love it — but huge swaths of my friends don’t read my blog or any blog. In my grad level Communication course this week, the prof asked how many of us used RSS readers. I was the only one. I worry that us new media folk might be tooting our own horns and forgetting those who will always have an aversion to blogs and Twitter and online social networks. To use a Christian phrase: who is “left behind?”

  2. Adam,

    I often get the criticism that my work doesn’t reflect what’s happening in rural ministry. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s been seven years since I’ve served a rural congregation, so my biggest connection with rural life is my family. My cousin’s children (in Goose Creek, SC) blog/facebook all the time. But my nieces (in NE) don’t.

    Yes, some people are wired and some people are not. And not everything I write is going to apply to every context. But I write about social media, not because I think it’s going to save everything or because I think that everyone is into it, but because it does work in our context and it’s a growing edge for congregations. In a time when so many budgets are getting slashed, it can be a cheap way for us to reach out. Most of us know how to do this stuff traditionally. And if we don’t… there’s plenty written on that already.

    I hope you’re writing about lessons learned in your rural experience. There’s a lot of people who want/need information from that context!

  3. Thanks, Carol. That’s helpful. I’d love to see how others are doing the rural thing, and I’ve been thinking myself lately that I need to write more on that myself (the best was an article in the Century a while back called “Generational Ties”)

    I’ll keep thinking about this, but after just a smidge of tech theory and the realization they are “cyberfeminsits” and people who work on technology with the lens of post-colonial theory, I’ve been wondering if I’m missing something. I try to use a feminist lens at all times to notice where sexism continues, as with racism, etc. But is there a ludditism developing? I don’t know. Early thoughts. Thanks so much and, yes, this was really helpful to our session last night to help us work with the dishonest manager parable of Luke 16.

  4. Carol,

    First, thanks for writing a bit about our social media work. We get a lot of inspiration from you, to be honest.

    Second, I appreciate how you frame social media as one of the tools in the activist’s toolbox. As Adam pointed out, social media isn’t the end-all be-all but in many communities (including our homeless community), social media is very powerful and a great way to share conversation and activate others to do good. We are really proud of our online community, just as we are proud of our ‘offline’ community. They work in tandem, and often overlap. But without social media, we may have missed a lot of opportunities to help our homeless guests.

    Thanks for talking about such an important topic, and letting us be a part of your online community.

    –Jenn from Miriam’s Kitchen

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