Activism Versus Clicktivism

38 Degrees describe themselves as “one of the UK’s biggest campaigning communities, with over 1 million members.” Apparently they are “united by a set of shared values; to defend fairness, protect rights, promote peace, preserve the planet and deepen democracy.” Launched in May 2009, 38 Degrees are proud to have been “inspired by the impact of groups like MoveOn in the United States, GetUp in Australia and Avaaz around the world.” All groups which are barely hidden front groups for liberal (rather neoliberal) elites, be they the Labour Party in Australia or the Democrats in the United States.

The connection however runs deeper than inspiration as Ben Brandzel, one of 38 Degrees founding board members, is not only the former Director of New Media Campaigns and Fundraising for the US Democratic Party, but was also a founding board member of Avaaz and has previously served as the Advocacy Director of MoveOn. For a critical discussion of the non-empowering clicktivism embodied by such groups, see John Stauber’s useful article “Paid to Lose: The Progressive Movement is a PR Front for Rich Democrats.” Stauber being better known as the former head of the Center for Media and Democracy, and coauthor of Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damm Lies and the Public Relations Industry (1996).

Likewise it is not coincidental that another 38 Degrees board member, Paul Hilder, is the former Campaigns Director of Avaaz. Hilder also sits with Ben Brandzel on the advisory board of another feel-good elite project known as SumOfUs.org, a group which refers to itself as “a new world-wide movement for a better global economy.” By better economy they mean a nicer, kinder, form capitalism! For a withering critique of this group, see Cory Morningstar’s “SumOfUs are Corporate Whores: Some Of Us Are Not.”

Two campaigning tools that surmise 38 Degrees limited approach to social change are online petitions and template letters (which you email to your local MP). Both tactics play a important role in enabling all manner of activist groups to develop their political objectives, which is exactly why it is so problematic that clicktivist groups like 38 Degrees continue to isolate these strategic tools from the daily grind of democratic organizing in the real world. Surely the point of any meaningful activism should being to empower people to participate in political activities that directly impinge on the world around them; thereby working to build democratic alternative to the capitalist status quo that will enable the world to be run to meet the needs of the many instead of to meet the insatiable needs of just a few.

Needless to say although 38 Degrees are quite clear that they are “independent of all political parties” it is apparent that they aim to do little more than tinker with a political system that is totally bankrupt. More than this, they aim to use their online petitioning to help make capitalism become more sustainable, something which many of us will agree it quite impossible with all the best will in the world. With all their talk of political independence they seem to have forgotten that capitalism is simply incompatible with democracy; hence its endless wars and ongoing attacks on the living standards of the global working class.

Such a blinkered political world-view helps explain why communications (read: propaganda) specialist Nina Kowalska acted as a founding board member of 38 Degrees, coming to this post after dedicating her career to the misnomer that is corporate social responsibility. Her ongoing work at 38 Degrees being very much in keeping with her previous duties undertaken at the Prince of Wales’ Business in the Community — a group whose current board members include the Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (John Cridland), the chief executive of healthcare and prison privatizer Serco (Chris Hyman), and Bupa senior executive (Alison Platt).

That is not to say that all corporate powerbrokers are heartless, and:

While hard to believe, the City of London Corporation does appear to possess a heart: a grossly muscular organ whose life-sustaining pulse of goodwill is perfused by the City’s profligate and largely psychopathic profiteering. This charitable facade of tenderness is affectionately known as The Heart of the City.”

…and it is here upon the Heart of the City’s board of trustees that Nina Kowalska now comfortably resides, making connections which are no doubt useful to her “grassroots” activism at 38 Degrees.

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