Activism is Not a Popularity Contest
You know how you kill a social revolution? You take it off the street. You turn it into a commodity. You slap a logo on its back. The hippie movement was effectively dead the moment it became possible to buy tie-dyed shirts at JCPenney.
Which is not to say there isn’t a role for corporate or political actors to play in the push for social change. There is. But it is important to remember that the corporation, the politician and the activist answer to different masters. Activism is often a threat to the status quo, while business and politics are its bedrock. And while business and politics are about appealing to people in mass numbers, activism is designed to make people uncomfortable.
One struggles to imagine John Lewis or Gloria Steinem competing in contrived stunts pitting voting rights against women’s rights between car commercials on CBS. One suspects they’d have too much respect for their causes — and themselves — to participate in such foolishness. And that they would understand the difference between fighting for change and being co-opted into irrelevance.
CBS is betting most of us won’t understand — or care. Lord help us if they’re right, if we really are as shallow and unserious as that. Because you know what’s worse than a country where activism is entertainment?
A country that no longer knows the difference.
(Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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